overworked team

Before the Breaking Point

Managing An Overworked Team – Before They Crack Under Pressure

You’d like to think of yourself as a great manager. We’re sure you are. But sometimes the work environment is just too overwhelming to keep the hive buzzing. Your team has been given near impossible goals and you’ve got to get them over the finish line – hopefully with all members onboard and everyone’s integrity intact. This is the reality of today – too high goals sometimes with too little staff and limited resources. So how do you manage an overworked team?

overworked team

The Manager’s Resource Handbook has a very s.m.a.r.t. method to take a corporate goal and turn it into doable, bite-sized goals for the team:

  • Specific – When setting goals, be specific as to exactly what you want them to achieve. Vague or too broad goals will not only cause your employee to struggle, but you will also have a tough time assessing their success when writing the yearly performance evaluation.
  • Measurable – Make sure performance targets can be measured in a straightforward way.  Goals should be quantitative and descriptive as to the progress that is to be achieved.  The best way to do this is use actual numbers and percentages.
  • Attainable – The goals you set for your employees should be attainable based on their area of expertise. For example, your human resources employees should not have sales goals.  It’s not what they do.
  • Realistic – Targets you establish should be as realistic as possible and practical compared to past achievements.  Hopefully they also take into account things like resources, skill sets and other objectives.
  • Time-Based – Specify a time by which they need to achieve the goal: an end point is important. Also, time-phasing various parts of the goal can be a great way to help outline the steps needed to achieve it.

Liane Davey, cofounder of 3COze Inc. and author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done gave the following advice on how to manage an overworked team to the Harvard Business Journal.

Goal Setting

Davey notes that, “It’s easy to lay the blame for inappropriate targets at the feet of those well above you in the hierarchy.” The buck has to stop somewhere… so she recommends questioning unreasonable targets from above before even accepting them. This takes a lot of courage, yes, but we’re not saying you have to go full Braveheart on them…  just an honest discussion about the facts and highlight your concerns. If you point out that they are expecting a 35% growth per team member, when the highest growth to date has been more like 18% – these factual numbers might influence a change of goals. It will at least highlight the risk that such lofty increases might encourage short-term thinking – which isn’t good for the employee or the company in the long run. When the cold hard facts won’t sway the board, perhaps you can then ask for more resources to get the job done, such as additional staffing or marketing support.

Being Proactive

No matter what the outcome of your discussion – you will probably still have very high goals. Davey’s advice is to be proactive in not only offering your team helpful suggestions to achieve the goals, but also to nip unethical behavior (such as the Wells Fargo fiasco) in the bud. Here is where your managerial finesse comes in:

  • What you want – constructive options to attain their personal/team goals. Analyze what has worked in the past, provide data and let the team come up with feasible solutions. Keeping tabs and extolling successful strategies along the way are a great way to encourage all team members.
  • What you don’t want – define what options are off-limits. Have a frank and open discussion to set-up clear boundaries of ethical business practices. It’s not a foolproof plan and you’ll have to keep an eye on things, but it’s a good start in the right direction. Shady behavior will haunt you and your team member’s careers in the future.

It’s not an ideal situation to have to manage overworked teams given nearly impossible goals… but this is the corporate reality of today. Your job is to guide your team towards successful results as productively and ethically as possible. It invariably all boils down to “the numbers” and your reputation. Your goal should be high marks in both.


About the Author

Carol Peitzsch is a wordsmith specializing in marketing and branding text. With over 25 years experience in the corporate world – from Silicon Valley to Europe – she shares her knowledge through various media outlets and gives marketing lectures at the EU Business School in Munich.


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