Feeling overwhelmed by your job on an ongoing basis could mean that you need to re-evaluate your workload or that a career change should be considered, writes Barry Whelan
May 11 2012
Are you feeling overworked?
Breaking points are subjective. Some people are just hard-wired to handle certain stress better than others. Take long distance runners or marathon runners for example. They run a 26 mile race while many runners are delighted to finish a 10km.
We can find similar situations when it comes to work. Some workers put in an extra 20 hours a week, and it is not a big deal while others will bolt out the door after 37.5 hours are under their belt.
This is because everyone's tolerance for stress is different and breaking points are subjective. It can be hard to draw a clear line between rising to a challenge at work, going the extra mile, rowing with the team and being overworked. For example, while some employees may have time to put in an extra 20 hours a week, others may have family commitments at home that require time and attention and may not be able to handle the commitment of long hours without feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Though breaking points are different for everyone, certain markers can help you establish a boundary between stepping up to the plate at work and falling into the dangerous treadmill of being overworked.
Define being overworked
Being overworked is simply the gap between the tasks you are currently doing and what you are now expected to do. This gap opens up (more readily in the modern economy) when you are asked to do more than you think you should do or in particular tasks that are beyond your capabilities or training. These tasks take longer for you to complete, depleting your time allowance for your regular duties leading to an increase of working hours and stress that can increase your productivity in the short term but will ultimately lead to burn out in the long term.
How do you know when you’re being overworked?
If you feel like you are drowning in your workload, you can’t keep up with the pace and you are suffering from stress and anxiety at a level that is affecting your emotional health, then you are overworked.
If you find yourself unable to sleep because of work stress or if you are feeling so strained that you take it out on the people close to you, and this is not caused by a particular project in work or a very busy period, it's time to re-evaluate your workload.
Stress should not be the norm
Not everyone experiences burnout from working long hours. Those who enjoy the type of work they do and believe that they are making a worthwhile contribution to society have fewer times when they feel overworked, and may be able to work longer hours without a negative emotional impact, than those who don't find satisfaction in their job.
Time to consider a new career?
If you're starting to feel like you are overworked, evaluate whether it's due to longer hours and increased workload, or whether it's time to consider other career options. All jobs have ebbs and flows, periods of heavy workloads and periods of not-so-heavy workloads and all jobs have ups and downs. If your job is cyclical, or you are assigned to a high-stress project that is temporary, you may have no other option than to rise to the challenge. Sometimes you need to just get on with it and put in the extra effort.
However, feeling like your workload is constantly insurmountable and like you can't seem to get ahead means that you're at risk of becoming overworked and suffering eventual burn out.