How to Cope When You're Overworked

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If you've been a little unproductive at work lately, don't be so quick to blame the summer doldrums or those late nights. It could be your boss's fault instead, according to a new survey that finds that overwork can affect job performance in a negative way.

Not only that, but the study released in May by non-profit research group the Families and Work Institute and consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers finds that the feeling of being overworked is one of the biggest reasons people decide to change jobs.

According to the study, which looked at a sample of 1,003 working adults, 28% said they felt overworked "often" or "very often" in the last three months. More than half of those surveyed, or 54%, said they felt overworked at least "sometimes" in the last three months.

But perhaps the most telling finding of the study was that 49 percent of those who felt overworked said it was "somewhat" or "very likely" that they would look for another job within a year.

What factors make a person feel overworked? One of the biggest, according to the study, is the belief that one must work more unpaid hours or days than they would want to, meaning anyone who's ever worked long hours for reasons other than personal motivation is fair game for feeling overworked. Another factor likely to make an employee feel overworked is the belief that one must be accessible to their employers via technologies such as cell phones, pagers and e-mail even during non-working hours.

And that practice is common, according to a study released in July by Stamford, Conn.-based research group Gartner. The report found that 42 percent of workers check their business e-mail during vacations and 23 percent check it on weekends when they're officially off-duty.

So what is an overworked employee to do?

Career counselors whose goals center around helping employees find personal fulfillment through their jobs say employees should explore all options that would make their lives easier.
  • Sometimes employees can talk with an employer about the workload, says Stacy Kim, co-author of the Families and Work Institute report. Managers don't want to lose good employees and will often work with their staffs to find ways to ease the workload if it becomes unbearable.
  • Employees should re-evaluate their priorities. High-priority tasks should be finished first while low-priority duties should be placed at the bottom of the to-do list. In the course of re-evaluating priorities, employees may find that some tasks are outdated and can be dropped entirely.
  • Overworked employees should stop taking on extra assignments. Sometimes workers are afraid to say 'no,' Kim says, but one of the most important lessons in productivity is learning when the load becomes too heavy.
But if there is no chance the workload is going to let up, employees might be forced to look for more fulfilling work elsewhere.

However, you might not have to look beyond your company.

Pamela Kirkland of Bowie, Md., was working in the cellular sales division for telecommunications giant Verizon when staffing shortages led her to feel overworked.

"I knew I was overworked when I felt like I was bringing the job home," she says. Kirkland also was suffering pains in her neck from the stress.

But it wasn't until she had a chance to unwind while home recuperating from foot surgery that Kirkland realized she was "getting burned out from being overworked."

She didn't want to leave Verizon, so when Kirkland heard about a job opportunity in a different division, she jumped at the chance and left the stress behind.
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