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Over the next few weeks I will focus on the problem of overworking.  There is a lot to unpack for this problem that is impacting so many of us right now. I’ll share it a little at a time.

Today, lets define overworking;

Definition of overwork transitive verb

1: to cause to work too hard, too long, or to exhaustion
2a: to work too much on b: to make excessive use of


Simply put it is a demand for more than is available.

The question becomes, who is supposed to know what is too hard, too long, too much or excessive for us?

Many people think that “those in charge” are supposed to know.  I.e we think our bosses or our companies ask too much of us.. we say THEY overwork us. 

It’s true that our jobs give us work assignments with due dates.  They ask us to work early, or late, and sometimes on weekends in order to accomplish a goal.  They expect certain results and a certain schefule.  Yes, often those assignments are a “lot” of work.  

It’s also true that “too hard”, “too long”, “too much” “excessive” and “a lot” are all subjective and dependent on the individual.

It is impossible to classify work and have agreement about how much is “too much”.  

People are different.

Let’s think about this in terms of lifting weights.  My daughter lifts more often than I do.  She has no problem doing bicep curls with a 15 pound weight.  I, on the other hand would classify that as “too much”.  I know it is too much because my arm would struggle to lift it.  I would only be able to do five or six reps before my arm would experience muscle failure and be unable to lift the weight again.  If I kept going I would risk injury to the muscle because it is not terribly strong right now.

So for me 15 pounds is too much.  But if I started smaller and lifted every day then after a few weeks of consistent strength training then 15 pounds would not be too much anymore.    

Used as an analogy for work, if my manager asks me to do bicep curls with 5 pounds I know I can do it.  No problem.  If they ask me for 10 I might feel a little stress but I could do that too.  I might be more tired and sore than usual.  If they ask for 20 then I will feel very stressed because I believe I will either fail entirely or I will overdo it, burn out my muscles and need a ton of recovery time.

My daughter, on the other hand wouldn’t feel much stress at 20 pounds.  She wouldn’t feel it until the boss asked for maybe 30.

The truth is that while there is some information that employers can use to determine how much work a person is able to do (shift hours, guidelines and policies, skills on a resume, past experiences with the work, and reputation), only YOU are able to determine your true limits for yourself.

So, can your employer overwork you?  

Well, they can ask you to do work that is beyond your limits, but you cannot expect them to know your limits.  You have to communicate to them about what you are able to do (5 pounds) how much you are willing to push yourself (8 to 12) and what cannot be done right now (20).  It is also okay for an employer to ask that an employee stretch themselves to get stronger and able to do more in the long run.  (If asked to lift 20 pounds three months from now, can you be ready?)

It is best if this is clear in the job description and interview process, but that doesn’t always happen.  Therefore, communication and self respect are critical for you.  You must regularly have a discussion with your employer about goals, expectations and limits.

If the work being asking is beyond your limits then there are a few choices.

  1. You can do it anyway and burn yourself out. (LOTS of us do this)
  2. You can ask for help and accomplish the goal in partnership.
  3. You can see it as a stretch goal and work your way up to it by pushing slightly past your current maximum to get stronger and faster.

For all of these options, it needs to be your responsibility to know your limits, communicate them to the team you work for and decide how you will respond when someone asks for something beyond your limit.  

So, are you overworking?  

  • What limits are you exceeding?  Time?  Effort?  Knowledge?  Focus?  Strength?  Social?
  • Are you exceeding or strengthening?
  • How much recovery time do you think you need?
  • How can you ask for what you need to meet your own needs and those of your employer?

Be clear about this with yourself.  If you are, then I promise you can solve the problem of overworking

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