If Workload Is Not the Culprit For Stress...What Is?

A relatively new area to hit the leadership literature is the concept of job crafting. Many organizations are leaning more on the individual worker to “craft” their job by changing everything from accomplishing tasks, to strategizing important relationships, and mapping business goals. This idea of “job crafting” actually has been cited in leadership studies as being aspirational and motivational, allowing the individual to self-actualize and find meaning and purpose in work.

Job crafting has been cited as increasing work productivity, employee engagement, effective problem solving, and overall employee performance. Before I even knew it was called “job crafting” I always thought of it as “just do what you need to do to get the job done." Be responsible. Be accountable.


An article in The Leadership Quarterly (the Bible of Leadership Studies) by Elizabeth Solberg and Sut Wong took on the question of what employees perceived as their ability to craft their job in the context of work overload.


In English: If I have work overload, do I feel I can do what I need to do to get my job done?

Job crafting is often classified as a proactive behavior and reflects traits such as self-initiation to bring about any needed change. However, it turns out that job crafting is not necessarily anticipatory. Most scholars view job crafting as a behavioral response to one's current work situation. Rather than being future-oriented and strategic about what work we have, most of us will just react to the load we currently face. It really is the “tyranny of the moment” that is a key factor in our ability to be able to craft the job into what we need it to be.


There are two important findings that come out of this study as it relates to job demand and role crafting. When employees are feeling the overload of work, their anticipation for a positive resolution and their leader’s need for structure are two very important factors.

As always in leadership studies, there is more than one variable that must be considered. When studying the leader one must also study the follower. When thinking about employee performance and work overload, the literature will support this idea.


It is a good idea to ensure you have people on your team who can be proactive in adapting and initiate change in order to relieve the work overload.

The follower needs to have some skill or trait in their overall ability to be able to manage change. There is an accountability and expectation that rests on the shoulder of the follower that when work overload is occurring they can cope, manage, and make proactive changes.

Point taken. Followers need to be accountable.


However, follower accountability is only half of the story. The other half of the story is how much control the leader exudes.

According to Dragoni and Kuenzi (2012), leaders engage in leadership behavior consistent with their own goal orientations, producing a work climate that influences their employees to adopt aligned goal perceptions. This research also shows that the more controlling the leader, the less willing the follower will be to exhibit autonomy and make changes that are needed to alleviate work overload.


If team members in your organization are overworked and feeling stressed, maybe it isn’t the workload to blame. Maybe it isn’t all of the quarterly tasks. Perhaps it is your need to control as a leader. If our need for structure across all time and circumstance is consistent, then in times of heavy workload, your workload is going to increase even more. Why? Because in order to get things right, the followers are going to need you to think for them. If, as leaders, we want to feel less stress or have more time to think and create, then perhaps letting go of control might be just the gift to give yourself and those on your team.

What can you as a leader do to loosen your control reigns? What value would giving your team more autonomy have on the overall effectiveness of your team?