Employee works too hard – how can I help?

I have an employee who spends too much of her own time working and I am afraid that she will 'burn out'. How should I intervene?

Working long hours can have a significant impact on many different areas in an employee’s life and definitely increase the risk of ‘burnout’.

Often employees who are overworking can as a result be less productive, as they become tired and can therefore be more prone to making errors or not producing the standard of work they normally do.

Personal relationships can be impacted and suffer as a result of overworking. Mental health can be significantly affected, resulting in stress, depression and as a consequence the potential for there to be a long-term absence. Physical health can also be compromised as there is a risk of injury and accidents due to physical exhaustion, lack of concentration, headaches, digestive problems and even heart disease.

Therefore it is vital that employers do tackle and approach employees who are not managing workload or taking responsibility for the number of hours they work.

As an employer advice would be to meet with this employee to set some boundaries in place. Set up an informal meeting and discuss and decide together how much working out of hours is acceptable and what you expect as an employer. There are statutory guidelines of 48 hours maximum working week, so this can be referred to if necessary even the employer has opted out you can enforce a reasonable limit on working hours, also highlight the obligations for you to protect her health and safety.   

Review job descriptions with the employee to ensure everything is manageable within the hours that are recommended. Make lists of tasks and what would be considered a priority so workload can be managed. Start to ensure that regular breaks are taken and encourage this employee to leave her work station for these breaks while they are in the working environment. Check records to ensure that annual leave has been booked in and is being taken ensure for these periods any home working equipment and smartphone is left in the office.

If the employee is continually going outside of those boundaries then review as and when necessary, for example a restriction could be put on place for any emails to be received after a certain time in the evening, if the employee does not comply with this then informal discussions should take place highlighting also the impact this significant working has on other colleagues, who are unable to keep up with the unrealistic pace.

An overall company policy could also be put in place regarding working hours for all employees; this should highlight employer responsibility for health and safety and welfare and the aim of the policy is to ensure that no employee works excessive hours and again emphasise rest breaks and annual leave.

David Price is managing director of Health Assured.

Further reading on business burnout

David Price

David Price

David Price is CEO of Health Assured, a part of the Peninsula Group.

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