There have been a few stories about death by overwork in the past few months — the copywriter in Indonesia, the office worker in China. Less dramatically, experts have connected binge working to a host of ailments, from depression to dementia. So why do companies still push workers to work such long hours?
In short, it’s because they’re as worried about staying in business as you are about keeping your job.
“Wages are stagnant, jobs are less secure, work is more intense — it’s a much tougher world,” says Paul Osterman, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, in an interview with The LA Times. “Employers have become much more aggressive about restructuring work in ways that push for higher levels of productivity.”
Ironically, by pushing workers to work longer hours, with no additional pay or comp time, employers might be doing just the opposite of what they intend. To put it in simple terms, working longer hours does not mean producing more product — in fact, after a certain point, overwork diminishes worker productivity, meaning that there’s no real gain for employers to push workers to their breaking point.
Stanford University actually examined this problem from a mathematical perspective, attempting to quantify why working more doesn’t equal more work, so to speak. (If math is your jam, you can see the full explanation, here.)
Suffice to say, Stanford found two potential explanations for overwork doesn’t lead to more productivity:
1. Overworked employees might be less efficient, because of stress, fatigue, etc., making them able to do less at all hours of the day and week, once they’re exhausted.
2. Overworked employees might be fine for the first few hours of each day, or period of working, only to have their output decrease when they become too tired to carry on.
What just about every productivity expert seems to agree on, however, is that overworking does affect productivity, and not in a good way. Combine that information with the medical issues around working people too hard, and you’ll see that there’s no good reason for companies to continue to push for workers to give up their work-life balance.
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