Overwhelmed employee syndrome: How to invest in human capital this year.

It’s rarely a leader’s intention.

To wear their employees thin, not keep them happy, and negatively impact their team’s productivity.

But it happens over and over in organizations big and small, and it’s an issue that can impact the effectiveness of your leadership. The issue is this: your people have overwhelmed employee syndrome, and we’re not addressing it enough.

What causes employees to feel overwhelmed?  

It’s pretty easy to define what being overwhelmed is. It’s a little more difficult however, to identify what it looks like. So, I’d like to begin by identifying just that, what it looks like (note: there are many additional factors that I couldn’t include in this blog alone). Identifiers that your employees are overwhelmed include:

  • No celebration of small wins.

  • Mistakes become common.

  • Increased cynicism.

  • Decreased productivity.

How to invest in your overwhelmed human capital.

Although this list above is just the tip of the iceberg, it covers some key areas that I’d like to address a bit further. These focal points are areas that leaders can apply simple and specific concepts to address; also areas that I use the Kolbe Index and coach on, on a daily basis.

Please celebrate small wins.

It’s absolutely crucial that organizations celebrate even the smallest of wins. The reason for this is that no matter the size of accomplishment, our brain perceives an active sense of accomplishment from the achievement. This accomplishment, can mean the difference between a motivated and unmotivated employee.

But that’s just the start. As a leader, you’ll need to understand “how” your team wants/needs to celebrate these small wins. Whether it’s financially rewards, verbal affirmation, or another form of acknowledgement, how in this case is extremely important.

Learn why mistakes happen.

Similar to the importance of celebrating small wins, making mistakes evokes a powerful response; this time it’s just negative. As a leader, I suggest that you take time to learn why your employees fail. In many cases, failure is a product of the misconception of the employees role in the company; or the misconception of what they need to be to be successful. This situation is 100% solvable, assuming that both the manager and employee are willing to talk about “why” employees fail in a productive and intentional manner.

Cynicism isn’t the worst.

Cynicism isn’t always a bad thing, depending on how you lead through it. One perspective is that your employees are negative and non-effective. Another is that they care enough to feel negatively about something. In your leadership, be careful to not confuse cynicism with pragmatism; sometimes your employees just care enough to tell you no.

And if your team really is cynical, focus on what you can control; how you listen to their cynicalness. If nothing else, admitting that you don’t have all of the answers can help create a sense of community that’s powerful.

Productivity isn’t a one size fits all.

For as beautiful as it would be if productivity looked, acted, and performed the same for every employee, this isn’t the case. Each of your employees have unique instincts, and by identifying those, and building a system around them (or hiring the right types of employees for your system), you can be more productive. It’s my recommendation that you take time to understand and know your employees instincts.

It’s my hope that if your team is experiencing overwhelmed employee syndrome, that you address it effectively. If you’re interested in how I’ve consulted organizations through this very problem, using the Kolbe Index, I’d love to talk with you more.

Here’s to being less overwhelmed and more productive.


Stephen Tisch