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Why Are We Still Overworking?

There is significant data and increasing awareness about employee engagement and job satisfaction—we know that overworking and burnout are not good. Despite this, employees are reporting some of the highest levels of burnout on record.

Why Are We Still Overworking?

Looking at the Negative Impacts of Overwork and What to Do About it

How common is this scenario: you ask someone how they’re doing, and they respond, “busy.” And many of us are busy because we overwork and log more time at the office (wherever that is) than we should.

But in an era where we are finally recognising output (results, achievements) as more valuable than input (hours worked), why are we still overworking?

There is significant data and increasing awareness about employee engagement and job satisfaction—we know that overworking and burnout are not good. Despite this, employees are reporting some of the highest levels of burnout on record, with Australia and the US leading the charge.

Let’s look at why this all matters and what we can do about it.

Why it Matters: Overworking and its Impacts

The data is clear: employees feel more engaged in their work when they are encouraged, mentored, and offered flexibility. When workplaces encourage work-life balance, employees can dedicate their time to increase the output in the organisation and work to meet the goals, objectives, and vision of the company.

But this utopia of employee engagement cannot be reached if we continue to overwork.

It’s hard to put an exact number on the situation—ABS data shows that Australians may have worked less hours during the pandemic. But when looking globally, and particularly in certain industries like healthcare, there are record-high levels of stress and burnout.

Other data shows that people tended to work more because of the pandemic, with a 2.5-hour increase in the average workday in countries surveyed. And though the pandemic has exacerbated the problem, overwork has been a longstanding problem, as explored in this article regarding a WHO study.

All of this wouldn’t matter if overworking was benign. But it’s not. There are many negative impacts, perhaps most provocatively documented in this BBC article that claims “overwork is literally killing us.” The article documents symptoms of overwork that are detrimental to health, such as elevated blood pressure and cholesterol, and unhealthy behavioural changes (i.e., little exercise, drinking).

Pros of Rest

With such negative impacts of overwork, rest becomes particularly important. Rest is necessary for physical health and your professional wellbeing. Here are the reasons why rest needs to be prioritised:

  • Better concentration and productivity: Our bodies need sleep, it’s as simple as that. Adequate rest each night results in better productivity and concentration throughout the day.
  • Helps to reduce the symptoms of burnout: Sustained overworking can lead to burnout. Rest can help reduce burnout symptoms like low morale, poor productivity, inability to focus, or depression.
  • Clarifies priorities. Rest is more than sleep, and includes spending time with family, pursuing hobbies, or engaging in something you love. Focusing on what you love will help with work-life balance.

Cons of Overworking

To fully understand why we need to stop overworking, let’s look at the cons. Here are the worst consequences of overwork:

  • Negatively impacts physical health: Overworking can negatively impact you physically through elevated heart rate (stress), sitting for extended periods of time, or intense physical labour.
  • Detrimental to mental health: Intense strain at work could lead to fatigue, overeating, insomnia, drinking too much alcohol, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
  • Creates job dissatisfaction: There are diminishing returns to overwork and employee engagement suffers. Employees become more disengaged, lack motivation to work, and decrease in productivity.
  • Cuts into your personal time: Working overtime takes away from our personal and social life. More work means less time for hobbies, less sleep, and less socialising.

The Way Forward

Employees need to communicate their feelings and concerns about burnout, fatigue, and dissatisfaction to employers or managers, who should then work to provide solutions. Here are some ways they can reduce overwork:

  • Encouraging time off
  • Re-delegating tasks to team members
  • Extending deadlines
  • Breaking shifts into smaller time blocks
  • Compressed weeks or fortnights to allow longer periods of downtime

Employees need to assess why they are overworking:

  • Is it to project a perception to others?
  • Is the workload just too high?
  • Is it to satisfy a personal need, hang up or to avoid other life activities?
  • Is it a habit that has crept in over time?
  • Ego?

Whatever strategies are chosen or reason for overworking, managing it needs to be a priority—overwork is a serious issue. With all the knowledge we have, it’s more important than ever to stop overworking and prioritise health and wellbeing. It matters for employee engagement and it matters for our health; it’s too important to ignore any longer.

About the Author: Luke Jamieson is the Centrical ANZ Regional director and one of the top 25 global influencers and thought leaders on customer experience and employee engagement. His rebellious, unconventional approaches have been attributed to him earning such titles. But it is his combination of vision, high energy, audacious creativity, and mischievous execution that makes him an inspiring and refreshing speaker, podcaster, and blogger. 

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