How to recognize if you’re being overworked
Last updated on: April 11, 2022
Overworking can be described as working beyond your capacity and more than your regular working hours.
We tend to overwork for various reasons:
- We have a lot on our plate at the moment.
- We have a deadline that’s approaching soon.
- We want to demonstrate our enthusiasm.
No matter our reasons, we have to find a way to deal with overwork and make sure it doesn’t affect the quality of our life and work too much.
In this blog post, we will:
- Explain what overwork is and how it differs from burnout.
- List and explain the main symptoms of being overworked.
- Learn how overwork affects our everyday life, health, and work.
- Go through some practical tips for reducing stress caused by overwork.
What is overwork?
“It takes wisdom to gain wealth without losing health.”
— Mokokoma Mokhonoana
The Cambridge dictionary defines overwork as “the act of working too hard or too much.”. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about — you’ve probably experienced it at some point in your career or met someone who has.
If we’re striving for excellence at the workplace, be it a promotion, a better reputation, or any other reason, it’s only natural that we’ll have to work hard.
Unfortunately, this “all work and no play” concept can make us enter a vicious circle, leading to serious illnesses, or even death.
You might stay late from time to time to finish an important project but once you make it into a habit, you’ve already become hostage to overwork.
Let’s see how we can recognize overwork.
The most common symptoms of overwork
Additional working hours and spending too much time at the office can make you feel overwhelmed. Besides tiredness, there are many other side effects of working overtime, such as poor physical and mental health.
That’s why you should be able to recognize the most common symptoms of overwork and start dealing with them. They are:
- Lack of sleep
- Feeling distracted
- Weakened immune system
- Bad mood
- Weight fluctuations
- Poor work-life balance
Let’s explore each symptom thoroughly.
Fatigue refers to an overall feeling of tiredness or lack of energy.
When we say fatigue, we don’t refer to feeling drowsy or sleepy. Fatigue by default includes a lack of motivation and energy — it prevents you from doing quality work and being productive, among other things.
Working extra hours during the week will oftentimes leave you feeling fatigued and exhausted.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
If you’re also experiencing mental fatigue and don’t know how to handle it, read our text:
📍 Tips for dealing with fatigue
Here is what you can do to handle fatigue more effectively:
- Try to isolate your work from your personal life.
- Think about your priorities and organize your tasks accordingly — do the most important assignments first and leave the less important ones tomorrow.
- Try to analyze how much time you need for each task, by using the work hours tracker. When it comes to those more time-consuming tasks – do them in the morning, when you’re fresh.
- When you’re having a day off, let your work be off, too. Don’t check your emails, too.
- Eat smaller but more frequent meals during the day.
- Drink enough water and reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Take a walk or exercise.
Lack of sleep
It’s late at night and you’re trying to finish the final part of your assignment. Even though you’re tired, you choose not to sleep. And there you are, making another cup of coffee to keep you awake.
If yes, you might be having trouble with sleep deprivation. In fact, about 35% of all adults in the US report sleeping less than seven hours per night.
Overwork is a notorious disruptor of sleep but there are ways to contain it.
📍 Tips for dealing with lack of sleep
Some of the following tips can help you sleep better in the long run:
- Try meditating or doing some yoga.
- Have a cup of warm tea. You can choose between chamomile, lavender, rooibos red, passionflower, mint tea, or any similar.
- Avoid large meals two hours before going to bed.
- Rethink your decision to stay awake. Consider going to bed, but set your alarm for a bit earlier in the morning than usual.
When you feel overworked, you find it difficult to focus, and start forgetting even the smallest things like names and dates. This happens when you have a lot on your plate on a daily basis, so your brain has to process more data. As a result, you aren’t able to focus and you feel distracted.
📍 Tips for improving focus
You can improve your focus with these handy tips:
- This one is an oldie but goldie — you need to get a good night’s sleep (at least 7 hours of sleep).
- Set a SMART goal — break down one complex project into several smaller, manageable ones.
- Start writing down everything that’s important — a to-do list, a meeting schedule, a shopping list, etc.
- Set a timer whenever you need a reminder for an important meeting. For example, 30 minutes before the meeting, so that you can prepare.
- Find a suitable time management technique.
- Group similar tasks so you can finish them quicker and easier.
Weakened immune system
Anxiety, headaches, chest pains, stomach issues — all can be tied to having a stressful, overwhelmed lifestyle. Stress can also weaken your immune system, which means that your body won’t be able to defend itself from sickness.
📍 Tips for boosting your immune system
You can try to boost your immune system by:
- Taking a break whenever you can and getting as much sleep as you can.
- Recognizing and minimizing stressors in your life and at work.
- Trying to incorporate more vitamins into your daily diet — choose citrus fruits, almonds, and other immune system boosters.
- Steering clear from alcohol and coffee and hydrating regularly.
- Maintaining a diverse and balanced diet.
- Taking supplements if necessary.
If you often work late hours, you will also feel more under pressure and anxious. Overwork can truly influence your mood and not in a good way.
📍 Tip for improving your mood
Even when you’re passionate about your job, be sure to have some time to unwind. There are ways to help you better cope with stressful situations and boost your mood instantly:
- Have a cup of coffee with your friends/family or go to the movies.
- Have a quick clean-up! Tidying up your workspace can help you feel more in control and less stressed about little things.
- Listen to some soothing/energizing music.
- Eat something sweet!
- Have a sniff of your favorite perfume! Certain scents are known to affect our mood positively: Lemon can help you calm and clarify your thoughts, cinnamon fights off mental fatigue, and peppermint is an energy booster.
Did you skip your meal because you didn’t have time to eat? Or maybe you’ve ordered some junk food for the fifth time this week? Whichever the case, these bad eating habits can surely affect your weight and overall health.
📍 Tips for maintaining a healthy diet
A hectic lifestyle makes it hard to have a balanced diet. But, with a few tweaks here and there, you can ensure you’ll make healthier choices and keep your diet as healthy as possible:
- In the evening, find some time to prepare at least one healthy meal for tomorrow — either breakfast or lunch.
- Be sure to add some fruit to your diet.
- Try to avoid or at least limit your fast food intake.
- Always make sure to squeeze in a 15-20 minute lunch break into your schedule.
- Make sure to always have a candy bar, some fruit, or crackers in case of low blood sugar.
Poor work-life balance
You’re working late almost every day and your social life is starting to fade. Spending some time with your loved ones seems impossible because of your work.
📍 Tips for improving your work-life balance
Your social life is as important as your work. Limiting your work hours and spending more time socializing will make you less stressed and more productive. Consider the following:
- Whenever possible, try seeing your friends in person.
- If meeting your friends isn’t an option, remember to call and text them regularly.
- Don’t check your phone for emails when hanging out with friends — give them your undivided attention.
💡Clockify Pro Tip
If you want to dive deeper into the work-life balance issues, find all the facts and stats here:
🌇 The cities with the best work-life balance in 2021
In their 2021 report, Kisi, an industry-led technology company examines thoroughly what cities have the best work-life balance.
This study was divided into three categories:
- Work intensity,
- Society and institutions, and
- City livability.
Within these three categories, the study analyzed a total of 18 factors that contribute to work-life balance during and after the pandemic:
|Work intensity||Society and institutions||City livability|
|Remote jobs (%)||Covid support (score)||Affordability (score)|
|Overworked population (%)||Healthcare (score)||Happiness, culture, and leisure (score)|
|Minimum vacations offered (days)||Access to mental healthcare (score)||City safety (score)|
|Vacation taken (days)||Inclusivity and tolerance (score).||Outdoor spaces (score)|
|Unemployment (score)||Air quality (score)|
|Multiple jobholders (%)||Wellness and fitness (score)|
|Paid parental leave (days)||Covid impact (score)|
All data from the study was normalized to a 50–100 scale — with 100 being the best score.
In other words, the higher the score, the better the city ranked for the factor in question.
The results revealed that the top 5 cities with the best work-life balance are Helsinki, Oslo, Zurich, Stockholm, and Copenhagen.
The results also showed that the top 5 overworked cities are Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, and Seoul.
The difference between overwork and burnout
Although similar, overwork and burnout aren’t the same.
Overwork refers to the act of working too hard or too much. But burnout goes a step further.
Back in 1974, a German-American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger invented the term “burnout” — the physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.
In 2000, the World Health Organization listed burnout in its publication Mental health and work: Impact, issues, and good practices. They filed burnout as one of the causes of mental health problems in the workplace. And things can get even worse with burnout.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
Career burnout is a serious problem you shouldn’t ignore. Read what career burnout is and what it can do to your health in our extensive text:
“Karoshi” — death by overwork
The most severe case of burnout is death.
In Japan, there’s even the phrase “karoshi” — “death by overwork”.
The first case of this condition was reported in 1969. This phenomenon has soon become a social problem not just in Japan, but also in China, South Korea, and Bangladesh.
The number of unfortunate events in Japan has increased. Thus, the Japanese Ministry of Labor started publishing the first statistics about the karoshi issue in 1987.
The International Labor Organization noted the following as the most common causes of karoshi:
- Mr. A was working in the leading snack food processing company for 110 hours a week. The cause of death: a heart attack at the age of 34.
- Mr. B was a bus driver who worked more than 3,000 hours a year. The cause of death: a stroke and the age of 37. It’s important to point out that he didn’t have a day off in the 15 days before he had the stroke.
- Mr. C was an employee of a large printing company in Tokyo. He has worked for 4,320 hours a year (including night work). The cause of death: a stroke at the age of 58.
But, the work culture in Japan is changing.
In 2017, the Japanese government published a white paper (a government report) on overwork and karoshi. The purpose of this document: all industries should endorse more effective measures to reduce deaths.
Additionally, the Japanese health ministry has presented the “karoshi line” concept. There is a defined level of overwork and if a person passes that level, they will be at serious risk of a potentially fatal illness.
How to reduce stress and burnout caused by overworking?
If you find your way to cope with stress and burnout, you’re more likely to avoid developing previously mentioned medical conditions.
Here are a few ways to help you unwind.
✍️ Make a precise schedule
One of the best methods to avoid overwork and burnout is making a precise schedule — you can’t benefit from working long hours.
Each workday should start by writing down a to-do list. Think about your tasks for the day:
- Which ones are more or less important?
- How much time do you need for each task?
Then, make your list. Be sure to find some time for your breaks, too. If you organize your entire workday properly, you might be able to avoid staying late.
Here is an example of a to-do list that includes both your assignments and your breaks.
|TO-DO LIST TIME||TO-DO ITEM|
|9 a.m. to 10 a.m.||Finishing the last part of the project proposal|
|10 a.m. to 10.45 a.m.||Having a meeting with your team|
|10.45 a.m. to 11 a.m.||A quick coffee break|
|11 a.m. to 12 p.m.||Having a client meeting|
|12 p.m. to 1 p.m.||Delegating new tasks to your team|
|1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.||Lunch break|
|1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.||Reviewing the first design proposal|
|3 p.m. to 4 p.m.||Answering your emails|
|4 p.m. to 5 p.m.||Taking care of a few leftover tasks|
Many studies have demonstrated that if you exercise on a regular basis, you’ll be more resistant to stress.
According to the Exercise, Stress Resistance, and Central Serotonergic Systems research, physical activity enhances the way that our body handles stress. Also, exercise impacts neurotransmitters in the brain – dopamine, and serotonin — which are responsible for our happiness.
Going to the gym, running, or just taking a walk after work — choose any activity you like. Spending some time exercising will surely help you have a stress-free life.
🛏️ Take a nap
Didn’t sleep well last night? Or maybe you slept only 4-5 hours? It seems like your job has once again ruined your sleeping routine.
Whenever you’re feeling tired in the afternoon, take a nap. For example, sleeping from 10 to 20 minutes, known as a power nap, makes an excellent power booster. It will also raise your energy levels and help with your creativity.
🧑 Invest in your “me time”
Working extra hours leaves you with almost no time to think about your overall mental health. Taking care of your body, mind, and soul is crucial to prevent burnout.
Here’s what Joanna K Chodorowska, an intuitive nutrition therapy coach, advises us all to do when we’re overwhelmed:
“Self-care is the solution for the body, the mind, and soul. We have to eat better, move better and sleep better so we can feel better.
We have to think about ourselves as worthy of self-care as we do need to put our own oxygen masks on.
Self-care is not selfish, it is a necessity which is usually mandated by these health crises from stress, overwhelm and over-tired.”
The moments we spend with our family and friends are precious. This is crucial especially when we’re trying to manage working extra hours.
So, why do we sometimes let our job get in the way? This is how Amanda Jayne O’Hare, a personal trainer and nutrition advisor, feels about this:
“Often we get rid of time with family or friends feeling we are doing ‘what needs to be done’, when in reality we are making ourselves miserable and less productive as a result.
Therapy, having designated family and “me time” scheduled in as a priority, and looking after physical and mental wellbeing are all brilliant ways of helping this.”
How does overwork affect physical and mental health?
People who work more than 55 hours a week are at higher risk of heart attack and stroke — and these are only two of many consequences of overwork. Here’s what overwork did to Lynell Ross, Resource Director at Test Prep Insight:
“This stress from work caused a number of serious health issues for me, including high blood pressure, migraines, mild insomnia, and ulcers.
I was so focused on my work and getting ahead in my career that I made no effort to manage my stress or discuss the situation with my boss – I just powered through.
I would deal with these stress symptoms on an ad hoc basis as they arose and never addressed the underlying causes until it all became too much and I quit to pursue my new career and website.”
We all learn from our mistakes. Now and then, we need to remind ourselves that health comes first, then our career, not vice versa.
Let’s see what else overwork can do to our physical and mental health.
Common health issues usually associated with overwork
To make you rethink your work habits, we’ll share with you some of the typical health issues associated with overworking.
In their publication Overtime and Extended Work Shifts: Recent Findings on Illnesses, Injuries, and Health Behaviors, the US Department of Health and Human Services summed up scientific findings on the relationship between overtime and worker health and safety.
There were 22 studies in total. Among these 22, in exactly 16 studies, overtime was linked with “poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, or increased mortality.”
Various scientific studies list these physical and mental health issues as the most common consequences of overwork:
- Sleep deprivation
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Depression and anxiety
Let’s examine them a bit further.
🔹 Sleep deprivation
According to a study on the neurocognitive consequences of sleep deprivation, the lack of sleep influences many types of work performance. For instance, sleep deprivation decreases the ability to concentrate and delays reaction time.
The study on sleep and biological parameters in professional burnout made a comparison between 54 participants with burnout and 86 healthy control participants. One of the fields of their research was the quality of sleep.
The result: Overwhelmed people had much higher insomnia troubles, in total – 41 (75.9%) out of 54 people. On the other hand, only 11 people (12.8%) out of 86 healthy control participants experienced sleep deprivation.
🔹 Coronary heart diseases
The research about overtime work and incident coronary heart disease reported that “overtime work adversely affects coronary health.”
This study included 6014 middle-aged British civil servants (4262 men and 1752 women), who were free from coronary heart disease (CHD). The majority of the participants (54%) did not work overtime. These are the stats for those who did have overtime:
- 21% of them worked approximately one extra hour a day
- 15% of them worked two extra hours a day
- 10% of them worked three or four extra hours a day.
The result: This research demonstrated that people who worked 3-4 extra hours per day had a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems, compared to those participants who didn’t work overtime.
🔹 Type 2 diabetes
The research about the correlation between long working hours and type 2 diabetes analyzed 222,120 men and women from the USA, Europe, Japan, and Australia. A total number of 4,963 individuals developed diabetes.
The result: This analysis showed that there is a connection between longer working hours (55 hours or more per week) and type 2 diabetes, but only in people from low socioeconomic status groups.
🔹 Depression and anxiety
Finally, a few studies have found a link between depression and long working hours.
For example, one study by Ogawa et al. examined the effects of long working hours on depression symptoms for Japanese residents. When compared with the residents working less than 60h per week, those working 80 to 99.9h per week and more than 99.9h per week were 2.83 and 6.96, respectively, more likely to experience depression.
In contrast, other studies have discovered that working 41 to 55h per week and 41 to 52h per week was linked to a decreased risk of depression and anxiety compared with those working less than 41h per week.
Moreover, one study has revealed that female employees are at a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety than male workers when working the same number of hours.
How does overwork affect productivity and quality of work?
Have you ever asked yourself: will these extra working hours impact my productivity and the overall quality of work?
There are many studies on the correlation between overworking and productivity. Let’s take a look at some of them and see how overwork affects our productivity and quality of work.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
If you’re looking for ways to boost your productivity, we got you covered:
📁 Overwork decreases productivity
This Stanford study reported that overwork leads to decreased productivity.
As stated in this research, our productivity during the 60 hours workweek would be less than two-thirds compared to what our output was during the 40 hours workweek.
In other words, our productivity is higher when we’re working our regular 40 hours workweek. Besides, our output will only decline during these extra hours at work.
🔹 Here’s an interesting fact: India, the USA, and Japan are among those countries that have the longest annual shifts.
🗂️ Overwork leads to reduced output
Let’s take a look at the research by the Business Roundtable in the 1980s.
The focus of this study was the impact of scheduled overtime on construction projects.
According to the results of this research, working 60 or 70 hours per week for a short time (for a few weeks) can be beneficial for you and your team. For example, this could happen when you’re about to approach a project deadline.
However, if you continue the 60 to 70-hours work schedule for longer than two months, productivity will only continue to decrease.
Here’s why: when you work more than 8 hours per shift, your output will be reduced, due to your fatigue. During your first extra hour (hour 9), you’ll start feeling exhausted and during 10 of 12 hours of work, your tiredness will reach its peak.
To summarize, working overtime for only a few weeks might be valuable for your business. But, be sure not to extend this overwork for a month or two.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
If you want to manage your time better, you can try our time tracking software for construction companies:
🚀 Overwork increases the chances of human error
Another interesting case was the Challenger shuttle space mission. This mission was significant for two reasons:
- It represented the first spacewalk of the space shuttle program.
- It was the first mission to carry two US female astronauts.
Unfortunately, this space program ended as a disaster on January 28, 1986. Just 73 seconds after the liftoff, this shuttle exploded and its crew of seven astronauts lost their lives.
The cause of the accident was “a failure in the joint between the two lower segments of the right Solid Rocket Motor.”
One part of the investigation involved the “Human Factors Analysis’’. The goal was to examine the safety consequences of work schedules before and during the launch of the Challenger.
This study demonstrated that there is a frequent pattern at Kennedy Space Center for merging weeks of working 11–12 hours per day in sequence. Thus, this working model can cause workers’ fatigue and reduce their productivity, which can result in a risk to workers’ safety.
Still, the commission pointed out that “launch site activities, including assembly and preparation, were not a factor in the Challenger accident.”
So, the fatigue factor wasn’t the cause of this accident.
But, the fact that they dedicated a significant part of the investigation to “Human Factors Analysis’’ tells us a lot.
Our overall productivity, often disrupted by overworking, plays an important part in getting successful work done.
We hope that you now realize what effects overwork can have on your work. Working longer than 8 hours a day will lead to an output decline. Thus, the quality of your work will go down, too.
Don’t let overworking make you ill or get you fired. Instead, consider talking to your boss. If you’re struggling with the amount of work you have on a daily basis, let your boss know that, too. Here’s how you can do that.
How do you let your boss know you are overworked?
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Is your manager giving you more work than you’re capable of? If so, you should tell your boss that you’re exhausted.
Before making this move, think about your strategy. Communication is crucial here. Be sure that you have every right to do this, just find the proper way to reach out to your manager.
Consider the following tips to plan your actions.
✅ Think about your role at the company
Your position at the company requires certain skills and a determined amount of work. Ask yourself the following:
- Is the current workload acceptable for your role?
- Is this a rare case when you’re supposed to work a bit harder because your role dictates you to?
If your answers are positive, you’ll need to stay strong and find your way to cope with overwork. In this case, you shouldn’t let your manager know you’re overwhelmed.
Here’s why: by letting your boss know that this is too much for you, it would seem that you’re not qualified for this job.
✅ Try to be empathetic
Your managers have a lot on their plate, just like you. It’s essential you understand that. So, how do they deal with it? By making priorities. That’s why you have to point out that you share their priorities.
Be sure to state the following:
- You know that a certain task is important and that you can prioritize it, but
- You feel overwhelmed.
Once your manager realizes that you have mutual goals and that you’re dedicated to your work, they would be willing to help you.
✅ Share your list of priorities with your boss
The best way to show your boss that you’re exhausted is by making a list of all your current tasks, and telling them about them.
Let your managers know that you’re already dealing with a number of assignments. Maybe they simply forgot that you’re managing many tasks at the moment. That way, your boss will be more rational when delegating work.
💡 Clockify Pro Tip
If you have to deal with a lot of tasks during the day, you should consider using a time tracking app such as Clockify. It can provide you with features like a time tracker, calendar, scheduling, and invoicing. Take a look at all of Clockify’s features and pricing here:
✅ Propose a pragmatic solution
Now that your manager knows how much work you have at the moment, it’s time to start negotiating.
Here’s what you can do:
- Figure out which tasks are the least critical on your list of priorities
- Ask your boss to postpone the deadline for these tasks
Your boss might have a different approach and might modify your list of preferences. But, that’s fine, as long as your managers agree on delaying some of your assignments.
Expert advice for reducing overwork
To help you cope with overwork and take steps to reduce it, we reached out to several experts on the matter. Here’s what they advise:
📍 Expert advice from Danni Zhang, a registered psychologist at New Vision Psychology
She believes that when people do not allow enough time for their mind and body to rest, psychological symptoms of overworking begin to present themselves.
“These may include: poor sleep, tension headaches, reduced concentration, fatigue, becoming frustrated easier, and feeling stuck.
People who are overworked are also more prone to develop anxiety and depressive disorder as they are not looking after their psychological and physical needs.
These everyday behaviors include: neglecting social and family relationships, lack of exercise, adopting a poor diet, not getting appropriate sleep, and general self-care.”
Here’s what she advises people to do when they’re overwhelmed, both in the workplace and outside of it:
🔹 In the workplace:
“Evaluate the workplace and your work environment to see if there is room to reduce workload or extend deadlines. Work with management to adjust the responsibilities of your job.”
🔹 Outside the workplace:
“Create a list of areas that are important to you aside from work and make a schedule/time for what’s important (e.g., “make time for a 15-minute walk when I wake up every single day”).
Set yourself an alarm or reminder each day at a specific time to put work aside and remember to not engage in work until the following day.
Make time to look after your basic needs such as sleep, diet, exercise, and relationships (i.e., spending time face-to-face to talk to each other, and listening!).”
📍 Expert advice from Michael Hilgers, a private practice therapist
Another expert on the matter is Michael Hilgers, a therapist in private practice in Austin, Texas. He’s working almost exclusively with attorneys and entrepreneurs.
As Michael points out, overworking is probably the biggest contributor to burnout.
A lot of his clients are dealing with this issue, and this is what he usually advises them:
“To avoid burnout, it is important to set clear boundaries:
- By saying “no” to some demands
- Delegate work that is less enjoyable
- Take time off
- Pursue other interests outside of work, preferably things that force the brain to work in a different way
It may seem counterintuitive but in the long run, you will likely be more productive by taking care of yourself and working less.”
Conclusion: You can work hard without being overworked
You should never ignore the signs of overwork. The lack of energy, insomnia, and a weak immune system are only some of the most common symptoms that come with overworking.
Not only is overworking bad for your overall health, but it also has a negative impact on your business and your everyday life.
Your productivity will fail you soon enough.
The people you never get to see because you work too much might start seeing you as a workaholic.
Once your productivity fails you and your people forget about you, your health is the next one on the list.
Don’t wait for that to happen.
If you can’t deal with your workload, don’t hesitate to let your boss know and readjust your priorities. Just be sure to find the right way to express your concerns and look for effective ways to improve your condition.
✉️ Do you have any particular tricks and practices that help you avoid overworking? We love finding new ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance, so feel free to share your ideas with us at firstname.lastname@example.org — we may include your tips in this or a future blog post!