The increasing use of technology, instantaneous methods of messaging and the on-demand culture of the modern working environment has a dangerous link to overworking.

Overworking may not appear to be a negative issue. After all, the employee is carrying out more work than they are expected to; this can be seen as a positive for the business. However, overwork is closely associated with an increase in stress and poor mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.

In Japan, there is a word for this phenomenon; “karoshi” means death from overwork. In one case, a female Japanese journalist died of heart failure after completing 159 hours of overtime in one month.

Whilst the UK expectations of employees are lower than Japan’s, the impact of excessive pressure, long working hours and a failure to switch off will have a similar impact on staffs’ physical and mental health.

What can HR do to tackle overworking?

  • Monitor working hours proactively – where staff are staying logged in to the system late or clocking out past their finishing time, HR should identify and take action to limit this.
  • Make amends to task loads if necessary – employees who consistently stay late every day because they are failing to get their tasks completed on time may need their workloads assessing. Providing training on task management, organisation and setting realistic deadlines will also help reduce overworking.
  • Recruit to increase staff numbers – it may be that a number of staff have all left in a flurry or a continued increase of work is leaving current staff members overwhelmed. Recruiting to fill the void will reduce work expectation son the remaining staff and will lower the risk of more staff leaving because they feel overworked.
  • Positively manage absences – where the reason for the absence is related to mental health conditions, such as work-related stress, HR should hold a return to work meeting with the employee to discuss what can be done to support them with their workload to reduce their absences.
  • Remind staff that they should use holiday for rest and relaxation – it will be important to ensure work is set to allow this. The employee should not be expected to log on and do work so a quick meeting to check they’ve completed their tasks, or to check if these need to be handed over, can be arranged.
  • Train managers on spotting signs of stress a work – if a stress at work or mental health policy is in place, managers should also be trained on how to follow this.
  • Train staff on the correct use of technology – training is likely to reduce the overuse of emails and improve email management to stop staff feeling overwhelmed. Having online notice boards or to-do lists will also help manage tasks and plan the working day.