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American workers are overworked. A 2005 study conducted by the Families and Work Institute revealed that 54 percent of American employees felt overwhelmed at some point in the previous month by how much work they had to do. Furthermore, the FWI study found that one in three workers is "chronically overworked."

"Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multi-tasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked," said Ellen Galinsky, FWI president. "Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked."

Many organizations consider overworking a sign of loyalty or toughness. But employers should take the problem seriously. Overworked employees make more on-the-job mistakes, resent their employers for expecting them to do so much, and begrudge coworkers who they perceive as not overworked. What's more, one in five highly overworked employees will experience symptoms of clinical depression.

It would be easy for employers to blame workers' family responsibilities for their growing sense of being overwhelmed. But the study showed that workers with greater family responsibilities were no more likely to feel overworked than those without such responsibilities, unless they were caring for an elderly relative.

So what can leaders do to help employees who feel overworked? Encourage them to use their allotted vacation, for one thing. FWI found that 79 percent of employees were entitled to paid vacations, but more than a third had not, and were not, planning to use all the time they had available. And bosses should discourage employees from doing any work while on vacation. "Perhaps the most important finding from the study related to vacations is that the more one works during vacations, the more overworked one is," says Terry Bond, Vice President of FWI. "Sometimes being truly away from work helps employees return less overwhelmed and more able to engage energetically in work."

Are you overworked? Take FWI’s self-assessment quiz and find out.
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