Overworked and Happy? A Paradox

Do you feel happy at your job? Do you enjoy the work that you are doing?  According to a recent study, most people do!  

Being overworked, feeling burnt out, and experiencing workplace happiness at the same time seem like concepts that don’t go together, but according to this recent study, they go hand in hand. But how?

The Staples Advantage survey of 2602 people found that 53% of employees report feeling overloaded—yet 86% say they are satisfied with their jobs. Baffling right?

How can two seemingly contradictory concepts co-exist? On the surface, a statistic reporting that 86% of workers are happy is a success. However, there is some concern when employers are reporting they are burnt-out as this can be signaling trouble ahead. Let’s break it down:

Many workers feel they are expected to be “on” all the time – at work and at home. According to the survey, 39% of people work on weekends, 35% grind away after hours to complete assignments that they feel they didn’t have time to complete during the day either at home or in the office, and nearly half eat their lunch at their desks.

Why do we enjoy working?

Could our enjoyment of a job where we are working long-hours and spread too thin be a simple trick our brain plays on us? Here are a few possible explanations:

  • There is a psychological phenomenon called cognitive dissonance that explains how when we are confronted by two conflicting beliefs, we attempt to rationalize how both can be true at the same time. For example, we think, “I am in this job. I don’t have to be in this job, so therefore I must like my job”.
  • There is also the reason that each individual worker plays a greater role in the organization and contributes more to the team than just a select few (see our previous post about Super Chickens). The fact that each person is making an impact gives everyone a sense of satisfaction.
  • When you love what you are doing and care about your career, it’s natural for you to put in a great deal of effort. Charles D. Kerns, professor of Applied Behavioural Science at Pepperdine University and founder of Corperformance, Inc., says, “Sure, you might be exhausted at the end of the day, but if your work is meaningful, you might want it to be all-encompassing [of your time].”

What can employers do to ensure their employees stay happy and productive?

Even if you are happy, eventually working long hours and having too many projects on the go can take a toll. 38% of employees on the Staples Survey felt that burnout was the motivator to find a new job. 66% felt it negatively affected their productivity.  There are small adjustments that can help minimize burnout, for example making work less exhausting by encouraging employees to take their breaks, controlling excessive demands, and providing more flexibility and autonomy.

Instead of scarfing your sandwich at your desk, eat lunch with a co-worker or take a midday walk.  Try giving yourself a break each time you complete a challenging assignment – as a personal reward. Check out other individual and workplace strategies from past posts!

How many hours a week do you spend at work each day?  Tell us what you do to help prevent burnout by posting below or tweeting us at @corporateMH #workplaceinde