Overworked and Burned Out—But Still Happy at Work?

Technology, e-mail, meetings, time pressures, too many tasks put strain on employees, Staples survey finds

By Dana Wilkie Jul 1, 2015
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More than half of U.S. and Canadian workers say they are overworked and burned out, yet strangely, 8 in 10 of them also say they’re happy at their jobs, according to a survey from Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples Inc.

The survey, fielded online in May 2015 among 2,602 employees, is called the Staples Advantage Workplace Index. It was conducted in conjunction with WorkplaceTrends.com, a research and advisory membership service for HR professionals, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.9 percent.

“With the rise of the mobile workforce and the resulting ‘always on’ work culture, it’s not a surprise that employees are feeling overworked and burnt out,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com. “While many are still happy at work, we have to ask whether it’s because they’re truly inspired and motivated, or simply conditioned to the new reality? Either way, [HR professionals] need to adjust to win the war for talent and optimize productivity, engagement and loyalty with employees.”

Employees are working longer days, the survey found. About 1 in 4 said they regularly work after the standard workday is done. Four in 10 say they work on weekends at least once a month. About half said there’s so much to do that they feel they can’t even get up for a break during the day.

That could be because more than 1 in 3 said they don’t have enough time to do all their work during the day.

“Coming out of the Great Recession, companies are looking to do more with fewer resources, which puts a lot more pressure on workers,” Schawbel said in an interview with SHRM Online. “A Gallup poll last year found that the average workweek is 47 hours, which means there's no 9-to-5 workday anymore. Companies want to extract as much business value from their employees as possible, so they are in favor of an expansion of the workweek because it doesn't cost them more. Companies are also slow to hire now because they don't want to go through another period of major layoffs, a lesson they learned from the recession.”

Happy or Resigned?

The survey asked respondents: "Are you happy at work?" Eighty-seven percent said they were either “very happy” or “somewhat happy.” Only 4 percent said they were “very unhappy.”

Yet even though workers say they’re happy, the survey also found that almost 4 in 10 employees acknowledged that burnout motivates them to look for a new job. Two-thirds said that burnout is eroding their productivity. More than half said they feel burned out because of their workload, while 40 percent said it’s because of the pressure they put on themselves to perform and because they feel pressed for time.

About half of employees said they get too much e-mail, and about one-third of those said that e-mail overload hurts their productivity. One in 5 said inefficient meetings are a drain on their time and productivity, with the same number saying they spend more than two hours a day in meetings.

Solutions?

Nearly half said a distraction-free environment would increase their productivity by 20 to 30 percent. About half said they’d feel less burned out if managers decreased their workload or gave them more time to finish tasks.

Some of the relatively simple steps that respondents said would help include:

  • Providing a more flexible schedule (35 percent).
  • Having managers remind them to take breaks (33 percent).
  • Improving the technology they use to do their work (28 percent).
Technology, in particular, appears to be a drain on employees, Schawbel said.

“There are pros and cons to advancements in technologies that have created trade-offs for everyone in the world,” he said. “While technology allows us to quickly and effectively find talent, network and communicate, it has created the 24/7 workday. We are always accessible, whether we are on vacation, on a beach or on a plane. As a society we are willing to work more for the benefits of using technology to our advantage. Some people do get trapped by technology so learning how to use it, and when to use it, is important.”

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
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