Excessive Workload: Has Overwork Become the New Norm?

Americans are working more hours than ever, and many are paying the price for it. We’ve arguably never seen a higher level of collective stress, exhaustion, and burnout than we’re seeing today — all stemming from an excessive workload. Has overwork become the new norm?


America vs. Other Major Economies

A study from CNN Money examined how many hours people worked each week in several different countries with major economies. According to their findings, America was at the top of the list with the average American working 34.4 hours per week.

To put things into perspective, here are the average hours worked per week in other countries:

  • Australia – 32.4 hours
  • Sweden – 31.2 hours
  • Switzerland – 31.1 hours
  • Austria – 30.3 hours
  • Ireland – 29.4 hours
  • Luxembourg – 29 hours

Keep in mind that this study takes both full-time and part-time workers into account. A separate study from Gallup reported, ” Adults employed full-time report working an average of 47 hours per week, which equates to nearly six days a week.” That’s a lot of work.


The Consequences

Chronic overwork can have a host of unsavory side-effects. Obvious symptoms include an increase in stress levels and fatigue. There can also be a plethora of long-term health complications including sleep loss, depression, diabetes and heart disease. Researchers have even found a correlation between an excessive workload and heavy drinking, especially among low-income workers.

You might expect an increased workload to result in higher productivity and output. This isn’t the case. Although you may see a temporary increase in productivity if employees raise their workweek from 40 hours to 60, pushing your employees like this has virtually no long-term impact on productivity. A study by Boston University’s Questrom School of Business found, “Managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.”

In a sense, an excessive workload is simply creating discord without any tangible long-term benefits. You can also bet that it’s not going to do your business any favors in terms of recruiting and employee retention.


Addressing the Issue

If an excessive workload is pervasive at your company, it’s something you’ll definitely want to address. Left unchecked, it could hurt morale, drive valued employees away, hurt your company culture and diminish your overall brand equity.

Here are a few ways you can prevent overwork and give your employees a healthier work/life balance:

  • Offer flexible scheduling
  • Allow employees to telecommute whenever possible
  • Mandate that employees must use their vacation days
  • Allow employees to completely disconnect from work during vacation time (contact them only for absolute emergencies)
  • Offer unpaid time off for major life events


Pushing employees to work longer hours can be tempting because of the perceived upswing in productivity. However, experts seem to agree that this usually does more harm than good. There’s no denying that overwork has become the norm in America, but there are several things you can do to ensure that this isn’t an issue for your company.

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