The real impact of overwhelm on employee stress...

What ever happened to the simple principle of picking up the phone or walking over the other side of the office to talk to someone or ask them a question? Have we all become so lazy or forgetful that we think that “I’ll just send an email” has replaced all other forms of communication? Laziness may not in fact be the cause… it may be a sign of something a lot worse. Let me tell you an interesting story.

It was a few years ago now that I was referred by one of my clients to meet this ambitious, entrepreneurial business owner who needed some guidance with his leadership team. After I met with, let’s call him – Bartholomew the Business Owner – he told me he felt his leadership team needed to have a more positive mindset in order for them to create a foundation for a high-performance leadership culture.

While Bartholomew’s business had been quite successful in the past, the last year had seen issues come to the surface where leaders were not dealing with performance issues and not consistently driving results within their teams. My suggestion was for me to come in and coach each of the leaders regularly on specific leadership development strategies and report back to Bartholomew each quarter on the leaders’ progress – to which he thought was a great idea and agreed.

After I met with the leaders individually, a common theme started to form. I came to the realisation while the leaders did have some areas to develop, the common theme was actually their leader, Bartholomew who was easily distracted and lacked focus. He would regularly go to conferences or find a new approach or fad and this would mean he changed direction or scope easily.

It all started to make sense to me now. The leaders were struggling to cope with lack of focus and constant changing of approach and direction. I know an important ingredient of a growing, thriving business is change, agility and innovation – however – as we can see in Bartholomew’s situation if it is done without focus, it can create a bit of a messy tangle… which ultimately leads to stress. What I saw in this scenario is that the leaders didn’t have clarity of focus which led to them having one of two problems – either taking on too much responsibility or procrastinating (emails, social media) and not focusing on what needed to be done. Then they were starting to feel overwhelmed with too much information. I call this Infobesity. What I saw in Bartholomew’s leaders is this struggle manifesting as stress: their performance would drop as they felt like they were incessantly chasing ‘the next new thing’.

Everyone knows people go to work to feel like they have ‘achieved’ something. In order to achieve things, people need goals, but more importantly, they need FOCUS. You can spot a lack of focus in your organisation, just like I did in Bartholomew’s team by looking out for a few of these tell-tale signs:

  • Seemingly endless meetings, held back to back, usually with the same group of people
  • Decisions not being made easily, decisions by committee or even worse – decisions not being made at all
  • Continuous reworking or rewriting – perfecting a document unnecessarily
  • Leaders stepping in and ‘doing work’ instead of ‘delegating work’ when they shouldn’t be (not letting go… this can create so much confusion in teams!)
  • And finally, emails, emails and more emails… regular 10+ email train correspondence examples, that could have been avoided with one simple phone call


Did you spot any lack of focus red flags in your organisation? If you did, don’t fret. You have the power to do something about it.

The question you need to ask yourself is “How do I create focus for MYSELF?”. You need to look inwards first… by creating focus for yourself, this behavior and mindset becomes contagious and others will naturally follow suit. By starting small and becoming aware of what you are truly accountable and responsible for, will create the space for others to understand take responsibility of what they are accountable for. By creating focus, you create clarity… and clarity is one of the best ways to defeat overwhelm and ultimately achieve goals.

Once I had identified these signs in Bartholomew’s team, I was able to work with him directly, as a leader to help him narrow down the direction and really focus one key approach. I was then able to work with his leaders on their individual leadership development areas. By giving Bartholomew the tools to better focus, his team of leaders became less stressed and performance once again, began to lift.

So, next time you want to continue the vicious cycle of overwhelm by sending an email that is probably going to result in a train of responses and no decision, try picking up the phone instead. Get yourself into the habit of creating FOCUS and beat overwhelm.