Find Out Why Many People Are Feeling Overworked

You Are Not Alone

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Almost one-third of employees in the United States feels overworked, or overwhelmed by the amount of work they have to do. So says a study conducted by the Families and Work Institute, a non-profit organization that conducts research about 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."

1They surveyed a representative sample of 1,003 adults (18 and over) from across the country. Those in the sample met two criteria. They had to both work for pay and be employed by someone other than themselves in their main (or only job) for any number of hours per week. Participants were asked the following:

  • How often, in the past three months, they felt overworked: very often, often, sometimes, rarely or never
  • how often, in the past three months, they felt overwhelmed by the work they had to do: very often, often, sometimes, rarely or never

Here were their responses:

  • 28% 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 don't surprise me — and if I can venture a guess, they don't surprise you either. You too may be feeling overworked, if not often, then sometimes. Knowing you aren't alone may offer some comfort. However, it may be more productive to discover the reasons behind the feelings. Knowing why you are feeling overworked may help you figure out how to become less so. In other words, the cause may offer clues to the cure. 

Causes and Solutions

The Families and Work Institute, in their study, Feeling Overworked: When Work Becomes Too Much, identified the aspects of their jobs that cause people to feel overworked or overwhelmed. They are:1

  • 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 work
  • working more days per week at their main/only jobs
  • working more days than they would prefer, however many days they actually work
  • 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

There are solutions that may help resolve those issues. Of course an obvious solution would be to reduce the number of hours at work. Even if you think it isn't possible, you may want to give it a try. There are alternate work options that are more flexible than typical forty hours per week schedules.

I'm sure many of you are working more than forty hours per week. Recent layoffs have thrust huge amounts of work on employees who got to keep their jobs. In addition, survivers of layoffs are "afraid of losing their jobs and are therefore working harder and longer hours to prove their worth" (Job Burnout). If this is the case, it's unlikely you'll be able to, or want to, talk to your boss about a reduction in hours.

Rather than changing your work situation, you need to change the way you react to it. You should look into using relaxation techniques to lessen the stress caused by feeling overworked. Relaxation techniques may also help with another thing that contributes to employees feeling overworked or overwhelmed. Those who experience greater pressure on the job feel more overworked.

Those who use technology, for example cell phones, beepers, pagers, computers, email, and fax, more frequently feel overworked. So do those who are more accessible to their employers during non-working hours and days. If possible, try to set aside a day, or several hours of each day, when you are off limits.

Turn off your beeper and your cell phone, and don't check your email during that time. If your boss is willing to work with you on this, you can set aside times when you are always available, and other times when you are never available. Make yourself available when your boss needs you most and hopefully he or she will reciprocate by allowing you to have some time to yourself.

Demographic Differences

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:1

  • Women feel more overworked than men.
  • Baby Boomers (36-54) feel more overworked than Gen Xers/Millennials (18-35) and Mature Workers (55 and older).
  • Managers and professionals feel more overworked than others.
  • The mere presence of more family responsibilities is not associated with feeling more overworked.

Women respondents reported being interrupted more frequently while working than men. They also said they have more tasks to do at the same time. When the authors compared men and women who experience these problems with the same frequency, 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?"1

As for age differences, the authors report that baby boomers work significantly more hours, and prefer fewer hours, than do the other groups. While you can't change the group into which you fall, you can try to change the number of hours you work.

While the study shows that the presence of family responsibilties isn't associated with feeling overworked, the level of responsibility may be associated with it. The authors "suspect that differences between men and women with respect to primary responsibilites for family work might also help to explain why women feel more overworked than men."1 In other words, working mothers have more family responsibilites than do their male counterparts. Now this is an easy one to fix. Working parents need to look into implementing a more equitable division of labor.

Now you know why you may feel overworked and overwhelmed. I've even given you some solutions that may make you feel better. You may be thinking, "Why bother? It'll take too much effort to fix this problem." Well, when you find out the ramifications of feeling like this, you may think more seriously about implementing these solutions.

Problems for Workers and Employers

When employees feel overworked, it's detrimental for everyone -- the worker and the employer. According to the study, overworked employees are more likely to:1

  • 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's clearly 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, take a look at the following, which should give anyone who feels overworked a reason to take action.

Those who feel overworked:1

  • experience more work-life conflict;
  • feel less successful in relationships with their spouse or partner, children, and friends;
  • are more likely to be neglecting themselves;
  • 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

If nothing else does, these reasons should convince you to make some changes, either to your work life or your reactions to it.

1. Galinsky, E., Kim, S., and Bond, J. Feeling Overworked: When Work Becomes Too MuchFamilies and Work Institute, 2001.