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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More articles on Workplace Politics:
- The High Cost of Low Trust: II
- Truly paying attention to Trust at work is rare, in part, because we don't fully appreciate what distrust
really costs. Here's Part II of a little catalog of how we cope with distrust, and how we pay for it.
- Management Debt: I
- Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths
— that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on
management debt? How can we pay it down?
- Pariah Professions: II
- In some organizations entire professions are regarded as pariahs — outsiders. They're expected
to perform functions that the organization does need, but their relationships with others in the organization
are strained at best. When pariahdom is tolerated, organizational performance suffers.
- The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence
are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at
a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen?
- Grace Under Fire: I
- If you're ever in a tight spot in a meeting, one in which you must defend your actions or past decisions,
the soundness of your arguments can matter less than your demeanor. What can you do when someone intends
to make you "lose it?"
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.