by Stephen Duncan
Hard work pays off. Everyone knows this to be true. There is, however, a difference between working hard and simply overworking. In the workplace, the ability to work long hours and being on-call 24/7 are generally traits that are applauded, but studies have shown that overwork is not always beneficial to the employees themselves or the company at large, and can in fact be harmful in the long run. Here’s why:
1. Overworking can lead to a number of health problems
Impaired sleep and memory, diabetes, headaches, stomach tenseness, and depression have all been linked to overworking. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health also discovered a link between overworking and alcoholism, noting that employees who work long hours are 12% more likely to partake in “risky alcohol use.” Related studies have shown that humans possess finite capacities for extended, uninterrupted concentration, and have concluded that short breaks are essential for long hour work sessions.
2. Overworking can make employees worse at their jobs
In addition to the health risks, overworking can also diminish one’s energy and senses, which can in turn lead to increased difficulty in essential job traits such as judgment and communication. These fatigue-induced problems could surface in a number of different forms: employees who are overworked could be more likely to lash out when they are upset, they could struggle more with making important decisions, they could have more trouble identifying and handling problems, or they could simply have a more negative outlook in the workplace altogether. It has also been statistically proven that a mere 1-3% of the population can get away with sleeping only five or six hours a night without suffering from any performance-related consequences.
3. Overworking can make employees lose sight of their goals
Along with possessing a dulled-down skill set, studies have shown that overworking can cause employees to become more distracted, and as a result, lose sight of what they are ultimately working toward in the first place. Interestingly, these studies have been linked to Facebook usage patterns. A study conducted by the social media management company Vitrue indicated that the highest Facebook usage occurs in the day during the middle of the afternoon (around 3:00 PM), in the peak hours of fatigue for most people.
4. Overworking doesn’t actually result in more output
New research done by John Pencavel of Stanford University has shown that employees who put in 70+ hours of work a week do not actually produce more output than those who work 50 hours a week. Additionally, Erin Reid of Boston University’s Questrom School of Business found that managers could not even differentiate employees who worked 80 hours a week from employees who simply said they did but actually worked less.
The evidence is clear—overworking is overrated, and is not helpful in the workplace. Sure, working overtime once in a while can be beneficial, but when it becomes a habit, it produces disadvantageous effects. So how does one combat overwork when there’s so much work to be done? Every bit of research has suggested the same treatment: small breaks throughout the day. A simple 15-minute break during work hours has been proven to reactivate one’s mind and energy, increasing one’s decision-making and communication skills, and putting their goals into perspective once again.