The Real Cost Of Overworking Your Employees

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Paying the Price: How Overworking Employees Can Be A Costly Mistake

While the average working hours for Australians has remained steady at around 38-40 hrs per week across each state, this statistic might not be an accurate representation of reality.  

With a population reaching 24-25 million, it is quite easy to appreciate that within this labour force, there might be cohorts of workers who are (or have been) doing more than they are physically able; pushed to their limits simply because the economic system is just built that way – maximise gain (i.e. profit) with as little cost as possible.

On a spreadsheet, this cardinal rule of capitalist economics plays out quite neatly: “Where, oh where, can we squeeze out another extra percent or two of profit?”, executives and company managers might ask.  Quite often, some obvious area needs improvement, such as quality assurance procedures; however, there are many instances where employees become the target of such tightening demands, so much so that the threshold of what is possible is crossed, resulting in a vicious cycle of loss across the company’s entire network simply due to a nearly unrecoverable decline in performance over time (i.e. productivity).

The common myth about ‘taking on’ more work

Many have come across friends, family, even themselves, who always seem to be “busy with work”.  Sure, there are times where it can get hectic; however, this is usually quite periodical and expected at various times of the year (e.g. end of financial year).  What we’re talking about here is an unrelenting, incessant amount of work, which seems like there is no end to; which makes someone unable to relax, enjoy their weekend, spend time with loved ones, and ultimately have a life outside of work.

Now, there’s a hugely common misconception which might argue that this is a magnificent example of dedicated commitment by someone towards their career, especially if you’re a graduate in your first job.  Unfortunately, as a result, someone may plunge towards seriously unhealthy levels of stress all whilst being patted on the back!  “Think of the dollars”; “Why don’t you book a holiday at the end of the year, you’ll have something to look forward to (unlike your weekends of extra work hours)!”; “I wish I could put as much effort in at work as you do!” – these are just some of the encouraging words that may be thrown at the overworked.

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What we’re talking about here is an unrelenting, incessant amount of work, which seems like there is no end to; which makes someone unable to relax, enjoy their weekend, spend time with loved ones, and ultimately have a life outside of work

As such, by reinforcing that this is what a ‘good’ employee looks like, we actually perpetuate burnout.  This involves poor sleep, fluctuating moods, heightened levels of worry and anxiety, poor dietary choices, and less opportunity for social contact and leisure; not to mention, how such a diminished sense of well-being may adversely impact one’s performance (e.g. making mistakes more often, cutting corners in procedure), productivity (e.g. poorer service quality, unmet product delivery requirements), and relationships at work (e.g. increased conflict, employee absenteeism).  

To further the insult, burnout can be seen as contagious – where there is consistent under performance, there is an increase in demand elsewhere in the hierarchy (in all directions), and so, a vicious cycle proceeds to wreak havoc within the workplace until there is what seems like meltdown.

So, what can be done?

While this might sound like a work union campaign slogan, saying “no” when faced with more work than you can handle is a step towards preventing burnout, and it’s resultant consequences on you and the rest of the company.  

By raising the issue, the company in fact benefits by signalling a need for change in the way in which it operates, rather than sweeping it under the rug with the guise of it being one’s duty to push themselves.

Understandably, this is an ideal response to overworking, and in reality, it is easier said than done.  Sometimes, the system which the business functions upon has been run in such a way for so long that an overhaul is nearly impossible (the ‘that’s-the-way-it-is’ response). At this point, there may be no choice but to begin looking for employment elsewhere.

If anything, remember: your performance at work is only as good as you are.