The Burden of the Reliable Employee

By Chelsea Williams
Senior Copywriter
Mar 23 2023 read

You’re a fair employer, right?

You treat all of your employees with the same dignity and respect. They all have access to the same benefits and culture perks. And on paper, you fairly distribute workload.

But if you’re honest, there’s probably someone you go to first when a time-sensitive project comes up. That person who volunteers to help out, always gets things done on time and doesn’t need micromanagement.

All seems well with this dedicated team member, but their cool demeanor could be hiding a growing sense of overwhelm. Relying on one person too much is not good for them — and it’s also not good for your business.

The Burden

Of course, you want employees that are driven and committed. Unfortunately, the personality traits that can turn someone into the ultimate employee can also make them vulnerable to burnout. Hard-working, diligent, engaged people can easily overwork themselves.

Thus, they face a dilemma: protect their personal boundaries and risk upsetting their boss or complete every task as requested, no matter the cost? This certainly isn’t a situation you’re consciously trying to create, but your actions and expectations as a leader can either make their daily work experience feel burdensome or fulfilling.


Spotting an overburdened employee

Imagine your engineering firm is busy and experiencing some growing pains. Having signed several big new clients recently, you’ve been trusting your longest-tenured employee to handle the key client onboarding and project setup tasks. While they’ve taken on the extra work willingly, they’re starting to make more frequent errors than ever. You’re worried because you don’t have another team member who knows how to complete the tasks quite like they do.



The Risk

Depending on some employees more than others might seem like a given in small business. After all, there’s likely to be wide variation in skills and talents across your team. Instead, it’s important to recognize this uneven resourcing as a habit that can be the catalyst for real consequences.

When you establish a trend of letting a single employee juggle far too much work, you’ll see larger effects in the form of:

  • Costly inefficiency: Unbalanced workloads can make everyone on your team less efficient than they would be with everyone doing their fair share. 
  • Ineffective knowledge silos: One or two people will be familiar with many areas of your business, but your processes will lack standardization.
  • Frustrating bottlenecks: When the key link in your workflows is preoccupied with high-priority requests, they could unintentionally slow down day-to-day client work.
  • Team confusion: Any time your point person is out of the office, the rest of the team could feel lost or not have access to important information.
  • Frequent turnover: If they’re overly taxed, your most reliable employees could be tempted to leave, which could result in significant losses and operational disarray.

Recognizing the collective impacts

The increasing number of mistakes on the part of your most reliable employee are concerning, but you don’t have the processes in place to double-check their every move. Nor do you have the time to train someone to relieve them of specific tasks. You’re both concerned about their individual stress level and feeling unprepared to make team adjustments. Your new client relationships may be at risk.



The Fix

Luckily, this common resourcing scenario can be remedied. Once you acknowledge you’ve put a lot on one person’s plate, you can take corrective action — for both their sake and your bottom line. 

Here’s what that might look like:

  1. Make sure the specific employee is OK. Check in on a personal level first. It’s best practice to establish a culture that supports overall mental health, but it’s even more important to provide stress-reducing resources when someone has become your go-to.
  2. Ask for their input. While you shouldn’t expect your team to redistribute resources themselves, they may have some valuable ideas about the best way to hand off work to the most capable team members.
  3. Start by looking at specific tasks. Think about the immediate term first: How can you relieve the overwhelmed person of a handful of tasks? This will reduce pressure, but it’s not a permanent fix. 
  4. Zoom out to analyze processes. Transition to the bigger picture by reviewing your team’s workflows. It can help to assign this job to managers, as they’re best equipped to catch opportunities for positive change.
  5. Consider how tech can help. One of the best ways to make workflows more effective is to automate them. Look to replace underutilized software that’s causing inefficiencies or double entry with a single, client-centric platform.

Correcting your workload distribution

After asking your overwhelmed employee to document their onboarding sequence, you encourage them to take a few days off. Then, you temporarily delegate some of their most important tasks to a few capable individuals. Finally, you determine it’s time to hire for a project management role that can help transition newly signed clients to the project work phase. Your reliable employee learns that the team can provide sufficient backup, and you make progress in distributing their knowledge.



See how human capital software company Tambla overcame its reliance on a few employees using Accelo’s built-in resource management tools.

Accelo could be the fix you need to avoid heavy dependence on a few great employees. Learn how you can automate workflows and provide visibility to your entire team: Schedule a demo or start a free trial today.


About the Author


Chelsea Williams is Senior Copywriter at Accelo, where she shares unique insights with service professionals and tells user stories via blogs, eBooks, industry reports and more. She has over 15 years of B2B and B2C writing experience — primarily in tech, sales, education and healthcare. Chelsea is an AWAI-certified Master Copywriter trained in brand storytelling and microcopy.

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