March 18, 2005--Thanks to cell phones, wireless Internet, and BlackBerries, Americans are among the most productive workers in the world. These same advancements, however, are the bane of many workers existence, since they've allowed work to invade their personal time, found a recent survey.
Roughly one-third of workers are chronically overworked, which increases stress and depression levels, as well as the number of mistakes made on the job, found the Families and Work Institute, a New York-based nonprofit.
Overworked employees can have tremendous repercussions on the employer, said Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. "Not only do mistakes cost money, but stress related illnesses--like depression--account for the highest behavioral healthcare costs," said Galinsky.
As many as one in three workers are in contact with their bosses, coworkers and customers outside of normal work hours. Of these persons, 44% considered themselves highly overworked, an 11% increase from the entire 1,000 person sample.
To alleviate this problem, Galinsky suggests that employers treat their workers more like athletes than automatons. "You can't keep lifting weights or playing tennis--the body needs a break. Well, it should be the same thing at work. But instead it's push, push, push," Galinsky said.
The study also found that 29% of workers feel like they waste time on meaningless tasks. Streamline the workload, said Galinsky, and the number of people claiming to be overworked will fall. "There is a constant pressure to multitask, and workers are constantly getting interrupted--all of which harms productivity," said Galinsky.
To rebuild the wall between personal and work hours that technology tore down, some companies have increased the size of their work teams, said Bill Starbuck, a professor of management at New York University. "With large teams, companies have been able to spread responsibility, so when something happens several people--as opposed to one--know what to do," Starbuck said.
This approach, however, can be costly. "Larger teams incur 'coordination costs' because more people have to know what each other are doing," Starbuck added.