Fixing engagement? Consider employee workload, report says

As leaders address employee experience as a critical factor for organizational success, they should consider employees’ workload, according to a May 23 report from McLean & Co.

At companies that struggle with ineffective workload distribution, employees report higher rates of disengagement and turnover. In contrast, employees who report a reasonable workload are two times more likely to be engaged at work.

“Workload optimization requires more than a band-aid solution. For meaningful change to happen, organizations must address underlying causes rather than treat the symptoms of workload challenges,” Grace Ewles, director of HR research and advisory services at McLean & Co., said in a statement.

“It may seem like a daunting task, but achieving optimal workload isn’t always about eliminating work,” Ewles said. “Rather, it’s about striking a balance and finding the right amount of workload for each employee at a given time.”

Notably, being intentional about achieving an optimal workload across teams and functions can avoid the risks of boredom and burnout, and in turn, disengagement and attrition, Ewles said. Since workload is dynamic by nature, achieving optimal workload requires ongoing action to identify challenges and implement interventions.

In fact, HR leaders play a strategic role in guiding their organizations on efforts around employee experience, according to the report, and they can help optimize workload through intentional measurement and targeted interventions.

McLean & Co. suggests employers define workload and factors that influence workload in an organization, measure workload with intention, and implement interventions at the organizational, team and individual levels. When leaders focus on underlying causes and what’s really driving workload challenges at their organization, they can better allocate effort and resources, according to the report.

Heavy workloads can interfere with employees’ plans to use paid time off and vacation as well, according to a recent Harris Poll survey. Although most employees said they were satisfied with their employer’s PTO and vacation policies, 3 in 4 said they didn’t use it all due to heavy workloads and pressure to be available and responsive.

That lack of time off is leading to burnout. About 65% of employees said they experienced burnout in 2023, according to an isolved report. Although burnout has decreased slightly since 2022, most workers said it’s still negatively affecting their job performance and productivity.

As more workers report burnout, fewer believe their employer cares about them and their well-being, according to an Aflac report. Offering mental health tools and resources, as well as work-life balance perks such as flexible work schedules, could boost employee satisfaction, retention and recruitment, Aflac’s CHRO said.