A recent report found that increasing workloads for employees puts their health at risk in a variety of ways. While the report examined workers in Germany, the results are relevant to workers in both Europe and North America, because we are seeing the same trends in so many of the world’s developed countries. Too much work is making us all sick.
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The survey was a joint effort by researchers at the GMK Institute for Health Psychology in Magdeburg and Cologne’s German Sports University. Chief complaints of survey respondents include:
- Having no control over how much work they were expected to complete;
- Not enough communication with management about work goals;
- Constant pressure to be more and more productive; and
- Not knowing how to fulfill all of their responsibilities at work.
Technology is a major culprit increasing demands upon workers. Email makes us available 24 hours a day, seven days per week. Instead of freeing workers to manage their own schedules, in practice, technology has put increased demands upon workers’ time. With the perception of increased availability, workers now have increased responsibilities.
Information technology also increases the mental workload of employees. Workers are under increased pressure to keep up and constantly refresh their own skills. This relatively new mental workload causes emotional stress that damages worker health and productivity.
Companies often attempt to increase profits by cutting costs. Two employees performing the job duties that used to require three employees save the owner one salary. It may increase costs in the long run due to burnout, stress-related illness, and job turnover. It is, however, the trend over the past few years.
Health and Safety
The European study found that too many demands on workers caused workers to turn to dangerous personal habits, such as smoking tobacco. We know that smoking is a serious health-hazard that can be fatal. Other workers turn to other forms of medication that they did not need before their workload become intolerable.
Another dangerous development is the relaxing of safety standards or quality standards at work. This could be anywhere from the guy at the top of the telephone pole not being strapped in correctly, to a restaurant worker not cleaning something well enough.
Long-term solutions will likely be a reversal of expecting too much from any one employee, but the study mentions the need for communication between workers and management. Workers should have the opportunity to discuss with their bosses how much work they can truly handle, or brainstorm together how to reasonably get everything done.
If you are overworked and feeling stress, some short-term solutions that may help include:
- Prioritize in the morning and in the afternoon. Making a list of what needs to get done first may help you feel less daunted.
- Focus on one thing at a time. You will get more done if you focus on finishing a high priority task, then moving on to the next one.
- Remember you are not Superman or Superwoman. It something is impossible, communicate with your boss.
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