Are You Feeling Overworked?

You Are Not Alone

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Almost one-third of employees in the United States are overworked, or overwhelmed, by their jobs, according to the results of a survey from the Families and Work Institute, a non-profit organization that looks at the changing nature of work and family life.

The authors of the study, Feeling Overworked: When Work Becomes Too Much, are Ellen Galinsky, Stacy S. Kim, and James T. Bond. It was supported by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The authors define feeling overworked as "a psychological state that has the potential to affect attitudes, behavior, social relationships, and health both on and off the job."

The study looked at a representative sample of 1,003 adults (18 and over) from across the country who met two criteria. Each subject had to work for money and could not be self-employed in their primary (or only job). The survey asked the following questions:

  • How often, in the past three months, did you feel overworked: very often, often, sometimes, rarely or never?
  • How often, in the past three months, did you feel overwhelmed by the work you had to do: very often, often, sometimes, rarely or never?

Here were the responses:

  • 28% of all subjects felt overworked often or very often
  • 28% felt overwhelmed by how much work they had to do often or very often
  • 54% felt overworked at least sometimes
  • 55% felt overwhelmed at least sometimes

The results of this study aren't surprising. You too may be feeling overworked, if not often, then at least occasionally. Knowing you aren't alone may offer a small amount of comfort. However, it may be more productive to discover the reasons behind your feelings. It may help you find a way to reduce them.

Causes and Solutions

The study identified the aspects of people's jobs that made them feel overworked or overwhelmed. They are:

  • working more paid and unpaid hours per week at their main or only jobs
  • working more hours than they would prefer, however many hours they actually worked
  • working more days per week at their main/only jobs
  • working more days than they would prefer, however many days they actually worked
  • working longer hours or more days than they prefer for external reasons (Reasons other than financial or personal)
  • believing they cannot change their work schedule so that they can work the hours or days they prefer

Recent layoffs have thrust tremendous amounts of work on remaining employees, causing them to work many hours above the standard 40. Because survivors of layoffs fear losing their jobs, they try to prove their worth by working harder, and they stay at work for more hours per day.

Rather than altering your workload, try to change the way you react to it. Use relaxation techniques, for example, that can reduce the job stress caused by feeling overworked.

Your cell phone and other technology that makes you more accessible to your employer during non-working hours can cause you to feel more overworked. If possible, try to set aside a day, or several hours of each day, when you are off limits.

Don't answer your phone and don't check email during that time. Consult with your boss to come up with times to be inaccessible that would work best for both of you. Offer to be available when your boss needs you most, and hopefully, he or she will reciprocate by allowing you to have some time to yourself.

Who Feels Most Overworked?

The authors of the study also sought to answer the question: "Do Different Demographic Groups Feel More Or Less Overworked?" They came to the following conclusions:

  • Women feel more overworked than men.
  • Those who are between ages 36 and 54 (mid-career) feel more overworked than individuals 18-35 (early career) and mature workers (55 and older).
  • Managers and professionals report feeling more overworked than other workers.
  • The mere presence of more family responsibilities is not associated with feeling more overworked.

Women respondents reported having more frequent interruptions while working than men did. They also said they have more tasks to do at the same time. When the authors compared men and women who were regularly interrupted while working or had concurrent tasks, there was no gender difference in feeling overworked.

"These findings raise important questions," say the authors: "Do women experience more frequent interruptions and too much multi-tasking because of the specific types of jobs they have? Do the socialization experiences of women make them more vulnerable to interruptions and more likely to take on additional tasks?"

While the study shows that the presence of family responsibilities isn't associated with feeling overworked, the level of those responsibilities may be. The authors "suspect that differences between men and women with respect to primary responsibilities for family work might also help to explain why women feel more overworked than men." In other words, working mothers have more family responsibilities than do their male counterparts. Working parents can solve this problem by finding a way to divide the labor at home more equitably.

Effects of Overwork

When employees feel overworked, it's detrimental for everyone—the worker and the employer. According to the study, overworked employees are "more likely to report making mistakes at work; feel angry toward their employers for expecting them to do so much; resent coworkers who do not work as hard as they do; look for a new job with another employer."

It is in an employer's best interests to help resolve any issues that are causing their employees to feel overworked, but even if they won't, anyone experiencing this problem should take action. The effects of overwork on an individual are quite severe. The study found they "experience more work-life conflict; feel less successful in relationships with their spouse or partner, children, and friends; are more likely to neglect themselves; are more likely to lose sleep because of work; are less likely to report that their health is very good or excellent; have higher levels of stress and poorer abilities to cope with everyday life events."

Source: Galinsky, E., Kim, S., and Bond, J. Feeling Overworked: When Work Becomes Too Much. Families and Work Institute, 2001.