Balancing Well-Being And Productivity How To Navigate Overutilization And Prevent Burnout Among High-Performers
Talent Published Date, 2023

Balancing Well-Being And Productivity: How To Navigate Overutilization And Prevent Burnout Among High-Performers

Created By: Rossemary Martinez
October 10, 2023

Organizations across the for-profit and nonprofit sectors are continuing to face challenges in employee retention, heightened turnover, and burnout. Across nonprofit organizations in particular, mission-driven work combined with strained resources has often led to another primary talent issue: overutilization of dedicated employees being tasked beyond their capacity.

Individuals who experience excessive workloads often endure heightened stress and anxiety levels. A recent study from ActivTrak Productivity Lab revealed that nearly one-third of employees currently face overutilization. Similarly, DDI World’s Global Leadership Forecast for 2021 indicates a significant portion of the nation’s workforce feels overworked, under-resourced, and disengaged. This sentiment is echoed by leaders within the nonprofit sector, where 60% reported feeling overutilized by the end of the workday.

To exacerbate this issue, nonprofits tend to assign heavier workloads and multiple priority projects to their high-performing and exceptionally skilled employees. While these individuals have demonstrated their capabilities and reliability, overloading and overworking your greatest talent can result in burnout.

Identifying signs of burnout is crucial–by being vigilant and proactively intervening when high-performers show out-of-character behaviors, early action can be taken. (Educating employees about burnout warning signs is equally crucial).

The following indicators may signify burnout among your high-performing individuals:
  • Emotional Irregularities. Severe burnout may lead to noticeable emotional irregularities. Overloaded employees find it more challenging to manage their emotions. Situations that were once manageable under stress now trigger heightened reactions.
  • Avoiding Delegation. Despite expressing that they are operating at full capacity, high performers will continue to take on more responsibilities. Avoiding delegation is a common response from overloaded employees who would rather handle everything themselves in attempt to manage stress. Unfortunately, this reaction to stress is counterproductive–causing increased burnout as they accumulate more work.
  • Extending Work Hours. While exceeding regular hours for certain projects is often necessary, the risk of burnout escalates when prolonged work becomes the standard practice. Be observant of your top performers who are constantly working long hours, as this is detrimental to both well-being and productivity.
  • Declining Productivity. Your high performers are usually setting a benchmark for excellence within the organization. If you notice that they are unexpectedly missing deadlines, making unintentional errors, and taking an unusually extended amount of time to complete tasks, it may be indicative of underlying burnout.
Having explored the signs of burnout in high-performing employees, let’s now delve into strategies for preventing the overutilization of your top performers.
  • Informed Planning. Observing utilization rates is a valuable tool for organizations to gain insight into how long employees dedicate time to certain tasks and projects. The data collected during this initial process can be beneficial in the planning stages as your organization develops a talent strategy. Resource management tools can leverage this data along with established organizational patterns for forecasting and capacity planning. Forecasting presents the opportunity to make informed predictions about the resources required for upcoming projects, whereas capacity planning involves assessing the current and upcoming workload of each team member and assigning tasks that align with their capacity.
  • Equitable Workload Distribution. Avoiding imbalances in workload distribution can minimize the risk of burnout and resentment within a team. Although high-performing employees excel in efficiency and quality, not every task requires their involvement. Effective distribution involves adopting a comprehensive approach to the tasks at hand. Empowering others on a team by assigning them to new projects will allow for a more equitable workload distribution while promoting skill development. 
  • Ensure Adequate Staffing. Having a workforce that is sufficient in numbers but high in quality is ultimately significant to an organization’s success. Adequate staffing addresses a nonprofit’s capacity to tackle challenging tasks and allocate resources effectively. An organization with sufficient staff has the resilience to meet demands and navigate complexities. A team with the right number of skilled professionals increases productivity and ensures that work is distributed appropriately.
  • Prioritize Employee Well-being. APA’s 2023 Work in America Survey revealed that psychological well-being is a high priority for workers. Acknowledging that employees need to prioritize their mental and physical health to sustain productivity is a great way to start. To support employee well-being, consider integrating mindfulness practices into the workplace and implementing health and wellness training to nurture a culture of empathy and teamwork. Encourage employees to make use of their vacation time and take advantage of their health benefits. Encourage a culture that champions psychological safety, ensuring that employees feel comfortable discussing their well-being openly.

Organizations play a crucial role in not just identifying the signs of burnout among overutilized top-performing employees but also implementing proactive strategies aimed at its prevention. Through these efforts, nonprofits can cultivate a workplace environment that prioritizes the balance between the well-being of employees and the collective organization. Fostering a culture of health, sustainability, and productivity will ensure a thriving work environment for everyone involved, and by doing so, you’ll provide a foundation for employees to feel supported, invested, engaged, and thereby enhance opportunities for retaining your top talent.

Is your organization looking for ways to attract and retain great talent? Get in touch with Orr Group to understand how we can help you drive and maintain strong work cultures.

Rossemary Martinez is an Associate Director on the Talent team at Orr Group. Rossemary assists with recruitment efforts, onboarding, and other Human Resources functions for Orr Group’s nonprofit clients. 

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