the hidden overwork that creeps into so many jobs
Global – Although the working hours of millions of knowledge workers are getting longer, and in many cases longer working hours have become the norm, there is still much work to be done outside the normal working day, no matter how long. Think about those not-quite-work tasks that seep into personal time: reading job articles that pop up on your social media on the weekends, or listening to industry podcasts on the run.
Workers have been doing this extra-shift work for a long time. But since the pandemic has changed the way people work, the lines between professional and personal have become increasingly blurred, making this behavior even easier. These hidden, even quiet moments of exhaustion may not feel like work, but they still are. And as that extra effort turns into silent waiting, it becomes increasingly difficult for workers to get rid of them, making it nearly impossible to shut down.
Hidden burnout is different from working long hours at the office or working from home around the clock – instead, it is the time when an employee performs tasks outside of their assignment. There are many reasons why people take on this extra work: to keep abreast of meetings; appear “between questions” when asked about the development of the industry; or seem harsh in an environment in which the worker is still trying to establish himself.
There are many ways in which a person’s day job can spill over into their off hours: imagine an employee chatting with someone from their industry at their child’s birthday party and suddenly jump into chat mode. Or maybe an employee hears his boss mention the book in a meeting, so he downloads and listens to it during his evening walks during the week, stopping every now and then to take some notes.
Anyone can be prone to covert overwork, from IT professionals, a significant proportion of whom spend their free time honing their skills, to women, who often rely on overtraining to combat impostor syndrome at work.
Line drawing difficulty
Of course, to succeed in some industries, employees must keep their heads in the game behind the scenes. But for many workers, this is not necessarily the case, even though these tasks have just entered into daily work. Is it possible to push them out as normalized now that they are almost built into the way so many people work? It’s unclear, at least for now.
In some cases, this can be especially difficult, especially for those who work for employers who expect this extra effort. Cambon says that employers may already define strong performers as those who are “engaged at all times.” If this trend continues to spread, then some workers – or at least those who want progress – may have no choice but to let work infiltrate their home lives.