Introduction to Overworking

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We’re all familiar with the mantra of work hard, play hard. It’s ingrained in culture that you can work your way to the top of anything, no matter where you start. But is there a limit to how much we can accomplish with the amount of hours we’re given in a day? Here, we discuss the signs and basic information about overworking, how overworking can negatively impact business, and ways that you can address and prevent overworking for yourself and your employees.

What is Overworking?

Overworking is a simple term used to describe working too hard. This could mean overburdening yourself with too much work, work that is too difficult for you to handle, work that takes up more time than you can dedicate to personal health, or simply work that is emotionally or mentally draining as to create negative health consequences. What is overworking? Definitions of overworking may differ, but they all the share the quality of being overwhelming, strenuous, and untenable in the long run.

We’re no strangers to overworking. Here are some shocking statistics about the current state of overworking:

  • In 2016, 40% of the British workforce were guilty of not utilizing their full holiday entitlement1, with one in six employees also admitted to having more than a full working week of unused holiday to spare.
  • Nine out of ten Brits (89%) admitted to dragging themselves out of their sickbeds to go to work2, with over half (53%) having taken no sick days in the last six months.
  • The number of people working over 48 hours has more than doubled3 since 1998, from 10% to 26%.

Signs of Overworking

Many of us have put work before our own health, but how many of us are aware of the extent that this could be affecting us? It’s important to monitor yourself and your employees to determine whether there is overexertion. Here are signs to look out for that could indicate signs of overworking:

Fatigue

Fatigue manifests itself in a number of ways, including lack of energy, continued exhaustion, and feelings of dread or apprehension. Losing a night or two of sleep will leave you tired for a day, but feeling overworked can disrupt your sleep cycle and have you feeling tired for more than a week.

Sickness

If you find yourself or an employee either sick or constantly sick, this could be a sign of overworking. The stress of overworking can often lead to a compromised immune system, which leads to increased likelihood for contracting an illness.

Forgetfulness

Trouble staying concentrated and lack of focus are also signs that you may be overworking. Overworking can be taxing on our mental facilities, draining our ability to think logically.

Anxiety

Anxiety occurs in victims of overworking as a result of the stress, lack of sleep, and mental drain

Insomnia

Overworking can cause insomnia due to stress, being overstimulated, or just simply depriving yourself of sleep to get work done.

Anger

Anger from overworking is typically exhibited through excessive irritability, tension, or having outbursts in the workplace.

Depression

Overworking can induce feelings of hopelessness and dread, leading to victims feeling trapped in depression.

Lack of Productivity

If you notice that yourself or an employee are working extra hours but not seeing extra results, it’s possible that the overworking is generating negative returns on productivity.

Apathy

This is related to the depression that could result from overworking. Overworking can induce feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, and immobility.

Why is Overworking Bad?

Technology has seemingly made our day to day tasks much easier, but instead of leveling the playing field to allow more free time for everyone, it seems to have spurred us all to work even harder to remain ahead. Sure, hard work is great, but what happens when it throws our lives out of balance? And who said that working longer hours equates to working more productively (read: harder) anyway? In fact, overwork has been linked to diminishing returns on productivity4, impacting workplace well being. Work should not come at the price of our mental and physical well being. There are numerous studies that show how overworking, and the ensuing stress, can lead to a multitude of negative health problems.

It Impacts Sleep

In a collective study5 report published by Harvard Business Review, results showed that overwork can significantly impact your sleep. This could be the result of stress, excessive exposure to computer screens, consuming stimulating substances containing caffeine or amphetamines, or just simply depriving yourself of sleep to get work done. Either way, the bottom line is that sleep is an important component of maintaining a healthy body and mind.

Losing sleep can actually make you accrue sleep debt, which has been linked6 to increased risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. In a study on human sleep deprivation7 conducted by the University of Chicago, researchers studied a group of student volunteers who slept only 4 hours per night for 6 days in a row. All volunteers developed higher blood pressure, higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, produced half the number of antibodies, and showed precursor signs of type 2 diabetes and metabolic slowdown. All the symptoms were reversed after the students began sleeping normally again.

It Impacts Your Heart

A London study8 of more than 10,000 government workers found that those who worked three or more hours hours longer per day than the normal seven hours had a 60% higher risk of heart related problems. These problems included death due to heart disease, heart attacks, and angina. In a follow up study9 of 22,000 participants, the results showed that people who worked long hours were 40% more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease. Another study10 from the University College London found that London civil servants who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 13% greater risk of a heart attack, and were 33% more likely to suffer a stroke compared to workers who worked within the 35-40 hour week.

It Impacts Your Mental Acuity

In a study11 conducted by the University of Warwick, researchers examined whether working harder or having happy workers lead to more productivity. Surprisingly, happiness made people 12% more productive than those who worked longer hours, and 22% more productive than those who reported feeling unhappy at work. This says a lot about how our mental outlook affects our work. Additionally, workers are more effective collaborators when they are happy. Working to exhaustion can increase your likelihood for committing errors such as entering data incorrectly or poorly managing your time.

Why Overworking is Bad for Business

Despite the popular belief to the contrary, overworking is, in fact, bad for business. Employees that are overworked are linked to having poor heart and sleep habits, which eventually lead to high absenteeism, reduced productivity, and rising health insurance costs. What is overworking? How does it impact companies? Companies that overwork their employees may have a high burnout rate due to unhappiness with management and dissatisfaction with work-life balance.

According to social scientists Theo Meijman and Gijsbertus Mulder, diminishing productivity can be explained by the “effect-recovery” model. The theory goes that, just like our muscles, whenever our brains and bodies get exerted we need ample time to fully recover between work sessions. Think of the law of conservation of energy. When energy gets exerted, it needs food, rest, and water to replenish, it won’t just automatically regenerate itself. Here are some of the negative side effects of overworking your employees:

  • Unhealthy Employees
  • Unhappy Employees
  • Diminished Work Quality
  • Expensive Mistakes
  • Poor Workplace Etiquette
  • Rising Health Insurance Costs
  • Aggregate Absenteeism
  • High Turnover

How to Prevent Overworking

The more profitable and sustainable route in the long term is for companies to take employees’ mental and physical health into account. By making sure employees have adequate time to recover from exerting themselves, you can improve workplace culture, increase productivity without lengthening hours, and ultimately save money in the long run. Here are some ways to prevent overworking in your company:

Encourage Work-Life Balance 

Encouraging employees to switch “off” their work life, and actively pursue activities beyond the office is important for a number of reasons. Employees with poor work-life balance, who have little to do or accomplish outside their Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, spend too many hours at their desks which can leave them feeling drained, frustrated and less productive when they are at work.

Encourage Positivity and Open Communication

One way to relieve the stress of work is to encourage employees to be honest with you, as a manager, and to refrain from promoting negative modes of thinking. Review the way you communicate with your employees to determine if they may feel comfortable approaching you with a problem. You can also address the “tone” of your company’s internal communications to ensure a positive atmosphere.

Enforce Vacations

Thanks to technology, we often feel like we never really leave the office. In some ways, this can help, but when your employees need time to recover and recuperate, you should enforce vacations as times when they shouldn’t worry about work so they can feel fully rejuvenated when they return. 

Promote Physical Activity

Sitting in office cubicles for extended periods can drive anyone crazy. If your employees feel like they are chained to their desk chairs, it may benefit your company to implement some kinds of physical activities or outlets. For example, you could have an office ping pong table, a soccer ball, group stretching, a golf green, or softball team.

Educate on the Importance of Sleep

Losing sleep is one of the biggest contributors to workplace losses in productivity. One study12 concluded that lack of sleep could be costing the U.S. workforce more than $411 billion per year. You can even implement flexible scheduling options to make sure employees are getting adequate rest.

How to Address Overworked Employees

If you suspect your employees are overworked, it’s important to address and stop the problem before it grows.

Address Individually

A good place to begin is sitting down with each employee individually and talking about their workload. You should go through their daily and monthly responsibilities, and discuss if they are feasible. You should also determine if they are receiving assignments from other managers and address this manager directly to ensure employees don’t get caught in between.

Help Them Prioritize

Help employees work out which tasks are the most important in their jurisdiction. Encourage them to be open and honest about whether or not your expectations and timelines are reasonable. Make sure that they are equipped with the tools and resources to complete what’s expected of them.

Provide Recognition and Rewards

Many managers mistakenly equate monetary compensation with adequate reward for a job well done. Money is certainly the primary factor, but employees appreciate being recognized in other ways as well. Psychologists will tell you that money is not a top employee motivator, so find other ways to reward your employees for a job well done.

Review Workload 

If your staff is overworked, it’s time to consider changing the way projects are managed and distributed. Period. Whether this means hiring another employee, or redistributing work, you should consider addressing this sooner than later. The longer employees are overworked, the more time they have to commit errors and wear down their personal health.

In Conclusion

The first step to solving an overwork problem in your workplace is knowing you have one. Though open communication and regular check-ins with managers and employees are a good first step, they aren’t always telling. While surveys can help, we all know they are timely, costly, and extremely tedious and subjective. To proactively address overwork in your office, to demonstrate to your employees you are serious about promoting a healthy work-life balance, and to check if the measures you have taken are indeed making a difference, you need objective data. With StatusToday’s Overworking Insights, you gain unparalleled insights in real-time indicating the prevalence of overwork in your office. Insights can be broken down by role, department, geography and other customized tags to ensure information is relevant to your team. 

 

 

Sources


1 Overworked Britons waster 163 million annual leave days in 2016 – Consultancy.uk

2 Beware The Burnout: The Danger Of Overworking – Huffpost

3 Work until you drop: how the long-hours culture is killing us – The Guardian

4 The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies – Harvard Business Review

5Don’t Overwork Your Brain – Harvard Business Review

6The Science of Sleep: What Happens During the 5 Stages of Your Sleep Cycle – Hubspot

7Sleep research reveals keys to health – University of Chicago

8Overtime ‘bad for your heart’ – UCL

9Long working hours and coronary heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis – Oxford Academic

10Only the overworked die young – Harvard Health Publishing

11New study shows we work harder when we are happier – Warwick

12Lack of Sleep Costs U.S. About $411 Billion in Lost Productivity, Study Finds – Fortune


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An Introduction to Overwork | StatusToday

We're all familiar with the mantra of work hard, play hard. But is there a limit to how much we can accomplish with the amount of hours we're given in a day? Learn the basics of overworking, a leading challenge to employee wellness. Prevent burnout with StatusToday by proactively addressing overworking in your company.

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