Burnout comes at a price – are you running the risk?

by Astrid Wilson04 Jul 2012

A new study has determined that the average white collar employee works three weeks of overtime per year, simply by reading and responding to emails at home and answering calls.

The study was carried out in the UK by OnePoll and Good Technology, where the habits of more than 1,000 workers were canvassed. Some 93% of workers continue to work once they have left the office, for a total of three hours and 31 minutes each week. That's a total of 15 hours a month or 183 hours a year – or 23 extra working days a year.

More than 15% still respond to work email after 10pm and 65% don't go to sleep until they've had a final check of work emails. A third said they “can't get through Saturday morning” without checking their work email and 29% routinely check work emails whilst at the dinner table.

Smartphones and tablets have made it much easier to work on the move, and being constantly connected is enabling people to be more productive than ever before – but it comes at a great cost.

A recent Australian report revealed that overworked and stressed employees cost business more than $30bn every year, and the long-term costs in lost productivity is indeed much higher.

Research from Safe Work Australia found that while the cost of workplace injuries is predictably high in the labouring and trade sectors ($7.9bn and $10.6bn respectively), the figures are also notably high among managers and administrators, where $9.6bn is spent each year on job-related mental illness and injuries.

Key findings from the report included:

  • While mental stress cases comprise 4% of workplace injury claims they comprise 9% of the total cost.
  • More than one third of employees said having too much responsibility or “burnout” was the main reason they took sick leave when they are not ill, and topped the list of reasons to take a sick day.

Some HR professionals are beginning to realise that new policies need to be developed to lead workers towards a better work-life balance.  In a move that bucks the trend of smartphone-induced 24-hour employee connectivity, German carmaker Volkswagen decided to deactivate emails on staff smartphone devices out of office hours, to give workers a genuine break from work.

A spokesperson for VW confirmed that under an agreement with labour representatives, staff will be able to receive emails via their Blackberry from 30 minutes before they start work until 30 minutes after they finish. Email connectivity for staff at Europe's biggest auto manufacturer will be in “blackout-mode” the rest of the time.

The new email regime applies to staff covered by collective bargaining, meaning board-level executives may still be slaves to their smartphone, but the drastic measure indicates that a change in global big business’ attitude towards work-life balance is on the way.


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