Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 9, Issue 31;   August 5, 2009: Hyper-Super-Overwork

Hyper-Super-Overwork

by

The prevalence of overwork has increased with the depth of the global recession, in part because employers are demanding more, and in part because many must now work longer hours to make ends a little closer to meeting. Overwork is dangerous. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.
The wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River

The wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio River. The bridge collapsed in 1967, with the loss of 46 lives. The view is of the Ohio side, where the collapse began with the failure of an eyebar in the chain link suspension structure. The eyebar failed due to a phenomenon known as stress corrosion cracking, which occurs when a metal or plastic member under stress is also exposed to chemically corrosive materials. When the bridge was designed, a typical automobile weighed about 1,500 lb (about 680 kg), and the maximum permitted truck gross weight was about 20,000 lb (about 9,000 kg). Traffic jams were rare. By 1967, a typical automobile weighed about 4,000 lb (about 1,800 kg), and the maximum truck limit was 60,000 lb (about 27,000 kg). Traffic jams were occurring several times a day on weekdays. In short, the bridge was exposed to much higher stress in 1967 than existed at design time, which eroded its safety margin. The corrosive material was water from precipitation and atmospheric condensation, no doubt mixed with unexpectedly high levels atmospheric pollutants and possibly bird droppings.

This tragedy occurred for two sets of reasons. First, the bridge element that failed was exposed to environmental factors and chronic loads that pared safety margins and elevated the probability of failure. Second, the design of the bridge was such that a single element failure could lead to total catastrophic collapse. Organizations today are slowly (or not so slowly) migrating toward analogous configurations. The load on people throughout the enterprise is rising, and the combination of overwork, fear of joblessness, and fear of financial ruin is providing the corrosive stew that can lead to unexpected organizational and personal collapse.

View a short documentary explaining the Silver Bridge collapse. Read a short summary of the factors contributing to the collapse. Photo courtesy Federal Highway Administration, United States Department of Transportation.

Some vocations are known for chronically pushing people beyond overwork: entrepreneurs, doctors, attorneys, and air traffic controllers come to mind, among many more. But hyper-super-overwork is now much more widespread, as companies increase workloads to compensate for dramatic staff reductions.

Overload is dangerous. To address it, you must first recognize it, and then act to control it. Here are some indicators that you might be severely overworked.

Health effects
Sleeplessness can result from chronic overwork. You need time to wind down before sleep. Inadequate exercise, increased use of stimulants (coffee or tea), and more frequent take-out meals can lead to sudden weight gain. Canceling or repeatedly delaying medical and dental care is risky and expensive.
Relationships
Neglecting or denying your own need for support and emotional connection is serious, but neglecting or denying the needs of others can permanently damage relationships with your spouse, children, relatives, friends, and colleagues.
Infrastructure
Neglecting home or vehicle care can create financial and safety risks. Neglecting hygiene and wardrobe can seem safe enough at first, but they can be demoralizing.

And here are some tips for the hyper-super-overworked.

Recognize your own coping
If your best friends at work have left or have been laid off, you might feel loss and loneliness. Are you coping by taking on work? Deal with difficult emotions directly. Find someone to talk to: spouse, friend, cleric, counselor, or psychotherapist.
Get help and understanding at home
There are two popular strategies. You can focus on work, dealing with problems at home only when they become really severe, or you can ask for help and understanding at home as soon as possible, and find ways to be together lovingly and with respect. The former is tempting because it's easier at first, but the latter is definitely the way to go.
Beware creeping perfectionism
Perhaps the definition of "doing things right" needs review in light of current conditions. Is it really necessary to do all you're doing? More on perfectionism.
Deny requests for help at work
Some of your If your best friends at work
have left or have been
laid off, you might feel
loss and loneliness
co-workers cope with overwork by asking for favors or help. Refusing management requests can be risky, especially if you need the job, but help requests from peers or subordinates are different. Delay responding. When you do respond, make a counter offer — selective assistance or looser deadlines.
Learn and automate
If you work with computers, almost certainly you aren't using some of their most powerful features. Be selective. Learn to use capabilities that save time by automating tasks you now do yourself.

Whether the source of your overwork is management, teammates, peers, or subordinates, you probably aren't alone. Try talking about overwork directly, if you can. Explain how you feel and ask for consideration. Work together to find clever ways to reduce everyone's load. Go to top Top  Next issue: Long-Loop Conversations: Anticipation  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenvITorcaHrXlYumkDner@ChacrzncSqLhnOypAekPoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Don't rely solely on your spell checkerEmail Antics: III
Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
The George Foster Peabody AwardIllusory Incentives
Although the theory of incentives at work is changing rapidly, its goal generally remains helping employers obtain more output at lower cost. Here are some neglected effects that tend to limit the chances of achieving that goal.
A man using a chainsawDiscussion Distractions: II
Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
The Japanese battleship Yamato during machinery trials 20 October 1941The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.
A glass of red wineI've Been Right All Along
As people, we're very good at forming and holding beliefs and opinions despite nagging doubts. These doubts lead us to search for confirmation of our beliefs, and to reject information that might conflict with our beliefs. Often, this process causes us to persist in believing nonsense. How can we tell when this is happening?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrensgqSxWSuXYQeXPySner@ChacJYrBtuPTzqHVjFLroCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.