Negative Effects of a Heavy Workload

Work overload in the workplace takes a heavy toll on employees. Negative effects can include debilitating stress, mood disorders and illness. Having little control over an overwhelming workload can lead to burnout. Employers can lose talented staff and they may find themselves continually hiring and training a revolving door of employees.

Stress and Burnout

The American Institute of Stress reports that 80 percent of managers and employees feel stressed out at work. An excessive workload with long hours tops the list of leading stressors. Stress in the workplace feeds into a host of other problems such as a tense working environment, competition between coworkers and a feeling of walking on eggshells.

Workload and job stress leads to burnout, which the World Health Organization describes as a form of chronic work stress that depletes energy and diminishes efficacy. Fifty percent of workers have quit a job because of burnout. Heavy workload leads to burnout because employees feel little control over their work. They mentally disengage from colleagues and grow increasingly negative about their circumstances. Cynicism coupled with long hours takes the joy out of working and increases exhaustion.

Damage to Career

Although it seems counterintuitive, work overload in the workplace can tank an otherwise successful career. Harvard Business Review explains that work performance can decline when employees have more work than they can reasonably handle. Working countless hours at a break-neck pace can win accolades at first, but then that becomes the expected standard of performance. Failing to consistently deliver high-quality work can negatively affect performance evaluations, merit pay eligibility and promotions.

Discussions with a boss over workload can backfire if the boss is unsympathetic and perceives the employee as lazy, inefficient or a complainer. Instead of obtaining relief from a sinking feeling of being underwater, the employee has new worries about being replaced by someone who doesn’t mind taking work home or coming in on weekends. Fear of being fired can exacerbate the problem by creating a palpable tension between the employee and the supervisor.

Poor Physical Health

The effect of work overload on employees is often seen in poor health and low resistance to whatever flu is going around the office. Getting stuck with too much work leaves little time for exercise, meditation, relaxation or cooking nutritious meals. Self-neglect can negatively affect the body. The correlation between health decline and heavy workload has been established in scientific studies.

For example, a study of workload effects published Nov. 14, 2018, in the Sociology International Journal found that overworked hospital cleaning workers in India experienced severe health problems directly related to long and irregular hours spent cleaning rooms and helping patients. As compared to the general population, the hospital workers were more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic pain in their knees, hips and lower back. They also reported frayed nerves and irritability when tired from a long day, which caused them to snap at coworkers and family members.

Depression and Anxiety

Work overload in the workplace can profoundly affect mood and emotional well-being, which also affect performance on the job. Moodiness can strain relationships with co-workers, supervisors, friends and family. Ruminating over workload heightens anxiety and increases overall dissatisfaction with work. Worries about keeping up can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, especially if the boss makes comments about stepping up the pace.

Depression goes hand in hand with anxiety and feelings of helplessness. Employees who feel they’re already working at full capacity can slip into depression, particularly if they don’t feel their boss is approachable. Depression hurts morale and decreases loyalty to the organization. Lacking solutions to a crushing workload, overburdened workers may look for a different job with a more reasonable organization even if it means a pay cut.