Collaborative work environments aren’t just trendy anymore — they’re table stakes. Whether we’re talking about virtual meeting rooms, entire hosted cloud collaboration platforms, or any of the myriad technologies in between, teamwork has never been more essential to operations. But sometimes, despite your best intentions, employees can suffer from collaboration overload and burnout.
What does this mean, and what can you do to prevent it? According to a report in Harvard Business Review, big time collaboration overload is the point at which someone is so overwhelmed with collaborative responsibilities that he or she effectively becomes a bottleneck, unintentionally slowing down or inhibiting the flow of work within an organization.
Burnout is a Real Thing
There is a less obvious side to collaboration overload, too. It’s the side that will show over time, when there are simply too many emails, too many phone calls, too many meetings that should have been emails, too many Slack pings — you get the picture. Sometimes, all that noise makes it difficult for a reasonable person to stay focused . We’re always on, 24 hours a day, which can be great for productivity until it simply becomes too much.
HBR reports that employees engage in collaborative work 50 percent more than they did a decade ago, and that work takes up a whopping 80 percent (or more) of their time. University of Virginia, McIntire School of Commerce Associate Professor Rob Cross, coauthor of the aforementioned HBR report, so aptly called collaboration burnout “death by 1,000 cuts.” As a leader, what can you do to prevent collaboration burnout on your team?
Make Sure Your Employees Know They Can Say “No”
Empower team members by encouraging them to prioritize their own workloads instead of jumping in on every project or meeting. Doing a few things with skill and enthusiasm is better than doing a hundred things in hyperdrive. Allowing your employees to say “no” in reasonable situations also helps to build trust and rapport within your organization.
We’re always on, 24 hours a day, which can be great for productivity until it simply becomes too much.
Open the Lines of Communication
HBR’s report noted most Fortune 500 organizations are leaning toward, or have already adopted, matrix-based systems in which employees report to at least two managers. Make sure your employees know they can be honest about workloads and collaboration preferences without repercussion, and encourage them to come forward with any concerns or suggestions. Try to streamline the communication process as much as possible, especially with multiple managers in the mix.
Don’t Rely Too Much on the “Extramilers”
The extramilers are your best employees, the ones who consistently go above and beyond the call of duty. As Business Insider reports, they likely have what’s known as “success syndrome” — and they’ll probably quit soon if you’re not careful. Extramilers don’t often turn down work, and they’re more apt to suffer burnout because of it. Rather than relying so much on these diehards, use (and thank) them as mentors and examples for other employees.
Look at the Data
CIO Magazine reports the best way to prevent employee burnout is to track the data about employees’ workloads, usage of collaboration tools, and dependency on other departments. This can provide a big picture view, helping to prevent productivity bottlenecks and make sure employees aren’t silently overcommitting.
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What’s the Next Step?
Call to mind your extramilers right now: How do you think they’re handling the stress? How open is the communication between teams and their leadership? Maybe you’ve been faced with collaboration burnout in the past. If so, what was it like, and how did you correct it?