10 min czytania 15 February 2024

Overwork – what are the symptoms and effects?

Overwork is an increasingly common phenomenon that can afflict a person who works physically or mentally. It can lead to unpleasant health effects and personal problems. What is a state of overwork? What are the first symptoms of overwork? How do you cope with an overload of responsibilities? How to maintain a work-life balance?


Overwork – an increasingly common problem

According to the Labour Code, working time should not exceed 8 hours per day and 40 hours per week in an average 5-day working week (in an accepted settlement period not exceeding 4 months). Often, however, this working time is extended by pressure from the employer or the employee’s desire to earn extra pay. More and more people are taking overtime at work in order to be able to earn more. Polish law stipulates that a maximum of 13 hours including overtime can be worked in a 24-hour period with an employee being provided with 11 hours of uninterrupted rest in a 24-hour period. When working on a 5-day system, the total working time including overtime cannot exceed 48 hours per week in a pay period.

Overwork is affecting an increasing number of people and occurs very frequently, regardless of job position. We forget to rest and impose more and more responsibilities on ourselves. This can lead to negative health effects, reduced productivity at work and even family or personal problems. According to a Deloitte study on job burnout and job dissatisfaction:

  • As many as 64 % of respondents experience regular workplace stress at least once a week
  • As many as 77 % have experienced burnout in their careers

Causes of overwork

Employee overwork can occur at any time and in any job. If you’re experiencing overwork, it’s worth considering the causes. The first step to combating overwork is to understand where it comes from. What could be the causes of overwork?

  • Too many unimportant tasks – the problem that leads to overwork can be all sorts of technical hassles, activities that prevent us from focusing on more important and prioritised tasks. This could be searching for documents or things that someone has postponed, sending out requests for approval, etc. This is how employees start to do overtime because there is not enough time to do what is most important.
  • Silos at work – when there is a lack of clarity about responsibility for tasks, their purpose and their importance, it becomes impossible to complete them effectively. Poor communication leads to wasted time and effort from employees who have to search for information and repeat work.
  • Excessive hours at work – long working hours, frequent overtime or shift work can lead to exhaustion and fatigue.
  • Excessive work intensity – manual work often requires a lot of physical strength and effort. Manual workers who are exposed to continuous high work intensity can quickly become fatigued and experience both physical and mental stress. The same is true in mental work. If we impose too much on ourselves, our brain can get an overload.
  • Lack of organisation at work – insufficient organisation at work can lead to a messy and slower pace of tasks. Without clearly defined priorities and goals, work efficiency can decrease, forcing extra effort to achieve the desired results.
  • A constant focus on work – it is said: “Not by work alone does a man live” and we should also keep this in mind. Constantly checking your work phone or email, even during non-working hours, can lead us to workaholism.
  • A lack of work-life balance is another step to moving into a state of overwork. Not being able to distinguish between work and private life can be exhausting for us in the long run.
  • Poor working conditions – blue-collar workers often perform their duties in harsh conditions such as low temperatures, humidity, noise or awkward working positions. Prolonged exposure to adverse conditions can lead to exhaustion and health problems.
  • Lack of rest and insufficient rest breaks – breaks and rest time are important for recovery. Not taking enough rest time between work shifts can lead to exhaustion and reduced productivity and job satisfaction.

What are the symptoms of overwork?

The first symptoms of overwork may look innocent at first. Depending on the type of work and the individual characteristics of each worker, they can vary. Often we complain of sleeplessness, headaches or backaches. However, if such a condition is chronic and we are confronted with more and more symptoms – we should not underestimate it. What are the most common signs of overwork? How can you recognise them? Below are the most common symptoms:

  • loss of concentration
  • fatigue
  • recurring pains in the head, arms, legs and spine
  • reduced creativity
  • chronic stress
  • memory problems
  • high blood pressure
  • dizziness
  • sleep problems
  • irritability, nervousness
  • weakened immunity
  • anxiety
  • shortness of breath
  • digestive problems (stomach pains, lack of appetite, nausea)
  • loss of energy

Effects of physical overwork

Continuous overwork can lead to many disadvantages for the body. It can affect our health and entail many consequences that are difficult to repair. Overwork can also affect our relationships with family, loved ones and supervisors or colleagues. There are two types of effects of work. We can divide them into short-term and long-term. Some of them may only be visible after several years. This is why many people are unaware of the effects of chronic stress and a constant state of overwork on health. What can overwork lead to?

  • professional burn-out
  • diseases of the digestive system (gastric and duodenal ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome)
  • cardiovascular diseases (hypertension, atherosclerosis, heart attack, varicose veins, stroke)
  • diseases of the musculoskeletal system (postural defects, discopathy, osteoarticular dysfunctions)
  • mental illnesses (depression, nervous breakdown, eating disorders)

Read also: First day at work – how to behave?


Death from overwork – is it possible?

Karoshi – or death from overwork – is an extreme result of overwork fatigue. According to the WHO, working 55 or more hours a week can pose a serious risk to a person’s health. Karoshi is a term that originated in Japan, a country that differs in many ways from European countries. These differences include the employment relationship. The company in which an employee is employed is often almost as important as the family. The term was coined by Japanese workaholism and work addiction, which can lead to death. These are extreme cases, but as real as possible. Up to a few dozen people die every year in Japan from overwork. Karoshi may be incomprehensible to us Europeans, but to them it is a source of pride for the family of the deceased.

Difference between overwork and job burnout

Overwork is a condition in which an employee experiences prolonged work-related stress that can lead to physical and mental exhaustion. It usually occurs as a result of excessive work effort, lack of work-life balance and inappropriate working conditions.

Job burnout, on the other hand, refers to a state in which an employee loses interest, motivation and commitment to their work. It is a feeling of not wanting to work, caused by a lack of satisfaction and a loss of a sense of meaning and purpose in the duties performed. Unlike overwork, occupational burnout is often more related to emotional and psychological factors than to excessive physical effort.

Overwork – how to cope?

The most important thing in the fight against overwork is rest. You need to give yourself time to relax and recuperate. Sometimes just taking a holiday or a few days off may not be enough. It is therefore worth preventing overwork all the time, so that you do not end up with the mental and physical symptoms of overwork. How do you cope with overwork? How do you cope?

  • Listen to your body – if you feel overloaded with work, do a STOP. Your body will start to show you on its own when it has had enough.
  • Take holidays – it’s a good way to rest and recuperate your body for a while. You can go on holiday or spend this time at home with your family.
  • Put your health before work – remember that work is important, but not the most important thing. It is your health that should be your priority. If you already feel the first signs of overwork, try to slow down your lifestyle.
  • Take care of your sleep – the right amount and quality of sleep affects the functioning of the whole body. When a person sleeps, they regenerate. Don’t stretch your working hours to late at night. If you work shifts, try to organise your free time better so that you can find time for sleep.
  • Don’t take your work home with you – if possible, don’t focus on work duties outside of working hours. Try to separate the two. Your free time should be devoted to relaxation or hobbies.
  • Take overtime only when necessary – sometimes it happens that we have to stay longer at work and this is acceptable. However, we should not do this too often so that we do not end up overloading our bodies.

We are working more and more, without paying attention to recovery after or during working hours. Too many responsibilities affect our lack of rest and relaxation, which has an impact on our health and working life. In this case, effective prevention is important to ensure that the working environment remains healthy and productive.