Feeling a little overwhelmed at work today? So are two-thirds of the American work force. It is a way of life that can have serious consequences...
MIAMI — Feeling a little overwhelmed at work today? So are two-thirds of the American work force.
It is a way of life that can have serious consequences personally and professionally.
The odd thing is, it is not the hours we put in that cause us to feel overwhelmed, it is the way we work.
We are multitasking too much.
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We are frequently interrupted during the workday and find ourselves jumping from one assignment to another.
And, we are spending too much time on low-value tasks.
It is affecting the way we act both at work and at home.
“If you feel overworked, you are more resentful and angry and make more mistakes,” said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and the lead author of “Overworked in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much.”
“This is a wake-up-call study for us and for employers to look at how we are working.”
Galinsky said those who feel chronically overworked report higher levels of stress, more symptoms of depression and poorer health. For many, their work performance suffers, too.
“When you become so overwhelmed, you don’t really evaluate,” said Sherry Ulsh, a Miami consultant who worked at a local company for 20 years. “There are tons more chances of making mistakes when you are going at a speed that is outrageous.”
Some employees are coming up with their own creative solutions — refusing to attend meetings they consider a waste of time, putting up “do not interrupt” signs and insisting managers set more-realistic deadlines.
One manager at a high-tech company refused to attend meetings to plan future meetings and proposed no company e-mail be sent on weekends.
He also created an e-mail forum for staff to suggest ways to ease demands on chronically overworked employees.
But the job environment is still such that many employees accept the brutal workloads and expectations of an instant response.
“I don’t say no,” said Arlene Finkelstein, an attorney with Siemens in Boca Raton, Fla. “For most of us our jobs have expanded; they are not 9 to 5. I think that is why most of us take work home on the weekends.”
Changing your work habits can be challenging.
Miami business owner Lourdes San Martin said workers should be direct with their bosses.
“Most of my employees have been with me a long time, and we have good communications,” said San Martin, who owns a Miami engineering consulting firm. “I tell my employees that it is better to say no than take on work they can’t get done on time.”
In Galinsky’s report, employees at companies that had undergone layoffs were more likely to feel overworked. Those particularly resentful were employees spending a lot of time doing things that are not of value, things they consider a waste of resources.
Their bosses may be completely unaware.
“You might be working on two assignments already, and your boss comes and asks you to do a third,” said a marketing professional at Burger King in Miami. “When your department just has been downsized, and you could be next, it’s hard to say no.”
The Overwork in America study found bosses and rank-and-file workers believe they cannot get everything done.
The study found more than a third of the work force forfeit at least some of their paid vacation each year. “I hear lot of people say they don’t take vacations because they don’t want to deal with the first couple days back,” Ulsh said.
San Martin puts in at least 70 hours a week at her Miami firm. Over the last two years she was forced to reduce staff, but the workload remains.
That leaves everyone juggling more and makes it difficult for her to take a vacation. She admits to feeling overworked.
People who feel highly overworked are most in need of vacations.
Galinsky said employees who take a higher percentage of vacation days to relax, even though they may feel overworked on the job, are significantly less likely to return to work feeling overwhelmed.
“We need rest and recovery in between times of real focus on work,” Galinsky said.
She adds that in a culture where being overworked is seen as a red badge of courage, it should be taken seriously.
“People are less likely to make good decisions when they are overworked,” Galinsky says.
Here are some suggestions on how to deal with the feeling of having too much to do, from the study “Overworked in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much”.
• Focus: Set aside times during the day when employees can’t interrupt each other.
• Pressure: Set more realistic deadlines.
• Prioritize: Find ways to drop or change low-value work and spend more time on higher priorities.