Whilst eavesdropping in a Café, I tuned into this statement: “I’m overloaded & overwhelmed.”
Don’t be surprised, I eavesdrop all the time – it’s a challenge to avoid hearing these intimate conversations which people choose to share in very public spaces!
Away from the Cafes, I’ve heard this same statement across different: organisations, genders (although more women than men), ages and peoples’ career stages.
It’s said by people in different roles and predominantly by people who are responsible for people.
So, who has confided in you that they’ve overdosed on these two problems – Overloaded & Overwhelmed?
Experiencing these two heavy weights, Overloaded & Overwhelmed is exacerbated and aggravated when a belief is held that there’s an expectation to still play optimistic. I hear sarcasm when told that there isn’t much left to give of their positive self.
Fortunately, when people acknowledge they’re experiencing a problem, stating their current state, they’re in a better position to act or receive support. In general, people want to lead resilient relationships however, when their resilience drops, it takes every piece of energy to return to their normal state.
Being the leader/manager/colleague of someone experiencing ‘Overloaded & Overwhelmed’, requires your involvement. Observing a person’s change in behaviour, including their emotions, requires an intervention. People are most likely experiencing conflict when you see a behaviour change and they are trying to regain their self worth.
I recently read that ‘overloaded’ is taking on too much work. I suppose it’s like packing for your travels: the suitcase is overweight before you depart, you have an oversized cabin bag, jacket over an arm, neck pillow in one hand, your phone is affixed to your other hand and even when you can’t hold one more item, someone asks you to hold something for them, and you say “sure”.
Whereas, ‘overwhelmed’ is an inability to focus; it’s a feeling which debilitates your ability to take control, be assertive and confidently make decisions. I know myself and concurred by others when I share, “it’s like saying “Yes”, when you feel unable to say “No”. When you feel you don’t have control in relationships, you’re more susceptible to letting yourself down when decisions are required.
I recently used, with a team, the Emotional Culture Deck of cards and almost every person identified with not wanting to feel, ‘Overwhelmed’ in their workplace. This was a wake-up call for their manager.
What about you? Is this a trend? Have you overheard these ‘overworked & overwhelmed’ conversations in your Café?
When I’m working with clients, and we uncover this ‘over’ problem, I use this ABC approach. One for the individual and one for their Boss:
1. ASK FOR HELP
· Sometimes, you can’t see the wood for the trees, you get fixated on a matter and your rigidity disables your functioning.
· Acting, yourself, asking for a meeting with your manager to outline what you’re experiencing and how’s it is affecting your effectiveness is a positive act. I regularly suggest to my Mentee that they list everything they are working on and prioritize the list, together with their manager, not on their own.
· “I can’t sleep at the moment” is what I often hear from women as they explain how overwhelmed they feel. I often ask, “what professional help have you sought out?” and often hear, “no-one”. It’s OK to ask for help; many organisations make it easy with Employee Assistance Programs as relationships and trust may not be resiliently high or skill levels vary across the organisation.
· Most people will want to help you. Being asked for help appeals to a person’s intrinsic motivation. However, not everyone feels skilled or confident to take on your concerns. Give some thought to who you ask.
· I found myself in dire straits a few years ago; I was being pulled in too many directions with too many responsibilities. Thankfully, my husband could see I wasn’t being my ‘normal self’ and asked, “how can I help you?” The toughest task was to say “yes, I do need help”.
· Asking for help is an assertive and accountable approach when you feel overwhelmed. Give it a try.
· Create a conversation to unpack what’s going on. Change the environment by meeting somewhere other than the workplace. Go for a coffee (However, consider where you go!)
· Suggesting to your team that they avail of the Employee Assistance Scheme – it’s giving them permission and removing the stigma attached to ‘asking for help’.
· Acknowledging and sharing how you feel about your workload, and how you manage when you feel overwhelmed or have taken on too many projects.
· Set new boundaries with your team of what is an acceptable and unacceptable workload.
· Be cautious if you’re working inordinate hours; you’re setting the example of what ‘re expect of your team.
· Host weekly progress sessions; a short check-in to identify what people are focusing on, who needs support and if possible, how people are feeling about their week ahead.
· When you’re not present, unable to observe what’s going on, avoiding regular conversations, the problem will exacerbate, and you’ll have a bigger problem in your team.
2. BREATHE & CONCENTRATE ON BEING CALM
· As simple as it sounds, taking time to concentrate on your breathing, and I mean proper breathing, will enable yourself to calm down, creating space in our head to take control.
· The practice of Square Breathing is what I learnt in my busy corporate role and I’ve used it daily for the past 20 years.
· According to Dr Fiona Kerr, of Neurotech, reading a book of fiction when you go to bed enables your brain to shut down the ‘to do list’ component, minimizing any stimulation. Stick with the characters in the book, which turns on compassion in your brain which calms you down.
· We can take a leaf out of Brené Brown’s books and split your meetings to shorten them. ‘Circling Back’ enables you to check back with people on how they feel about the action and feedback shared in the first meeting. People don’t always speak up in meetings, they need to think first before they can confidently respond.
· Encourage walking meetings rather than sitting in rooms where there is an expectation to sit down. Walking stimulates your breathing and encourages more listening, rather than talking!
· Ask for feedback, a colleague, on how calm you appear in meetings. Is your behaviour contributing to the feeling of being Overwhelmed? Better still, ask your team what they observe you do.
· And, join the many workplaces which welcome animals. I’ve used shared workplaces to host workshops where dogs and cats roam around and their calming influence is noticeable when conversations are challenging.
3. CHANGE YOUR APPROACH & BEHAVIOUR
· Either change the environment or change how you’re working. I know this has been flogged to death, however, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’re most likely achieve the same outcome.
· Work from home or a different site to gain a different perspective or clarity. Move away from the distractions to enable you to focus.
· Practise your response, learn to say “No” with civility: “Thanks for the opportunity, I’ll have to decline now as I have a project deadline and it’s imperative that it’s met. Or, “Yes, it’s an important request, however, I’m unable to help you with that issue this week. Please ask me in two weeks.”
· Work on setting boundaries and check on how you may be part of the problem. If you micromanage, then this would be exacerbating the issue.
· The cost of mental health injuries, in dollars and impact, is a very serious matter. Don’t fall into this trap of ignoring what’s going on around you. Act, look out for your people, provide them training if need be so that you can all look out for each other and better lead themselves.
· You can choose to connect with me as I can help you and your team with these three steps. Remember, Ask For Help and invest in yourself and your people.
When you next visit your local Cafe, tune into the conversations going on around you and hear what others are concerned about. It’s fascinating to use this data to reflect the data going on in your workplace.