Having too much work is a common condition in the modern workplace. Having way, way, way too much work — so much that 70-hour weeks still are not enough to keep from falling behind — is less common, but still too common. Combine way-way-way-too-much-work with ongoing supervisor expectations that the work will get done, and done well, and you have the ingredients for stress, sleep disturbance, declining work quality, toxic conflict, and disruption of home life. It's a toxic stew that can cause permanent harm.
We must be honest with ourselves. This degree of overwork is abuse. It threatens our health, and it must end.
What follows, this week and the two following, is a sketch of a program for ending this kind of abuse.
Let's begin by examining where the work comes from.
- The work is included in or implied by my job description
- Work of this kind truly is yours. The question is: "Does the organization need another one of you?" Or maybe, "Should my job be divided?"
- Affirmative answers to these questions usually occur only when the situation is obvious to all concerned, whether or not anyone acknowledges it openly.
- My boss explicitly directed me to do the work
- Typically, you were already overloaded when your boss gave you yet one more responsibility. And you accepted it because you felt you had little choice.
- Some supervisors are unaware of the true scale of the excessive workloads of their subordinates. Some are fully aware, but choose to do nothing about it. Some are willfully unaware. Understanding your own supervisor's state of awareness is a first step to devising a strategy for ending the overwork.
- I picked up this work because "it has to get done"
- Sometimes, important responsibilities or tasks remain unassigned or even unrecognized. When they remain open, they sometimes block progress on work that has been assigned. The people who are blocked can then find it difficult to resist the temptation to take on responsibility for this "fallow work."
- If you've succumbed to this temptation, then you have, in effect, assigned yourself some work voluntarily. Complaining about it later then becomes problematic.
- I picked up this work to prevent someone else from getting it
- Political Some supervisors are unaware
of the true scale of the
excessive workloads of their
subordinates. Others are
willfully unaware.rivals sometimes contend with each other for responsibilities not because they seek those responsibilities, but because they seek to deny their rivals control of those responsibilities.
- Outcomes in these situations are rarely beneficial to anyone involved, or to the organization. Yet supervisors often let this happen, because they feel they're getting productivity for free. Or they're more comfortable permitting people to overload themselves voluntarily than they are comfortable with overloading people directly.
Is 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
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.