Most of us assume that being overworked at our job is a routine part of employment in the 21st century. And while it's true that we are all expected to do more than in the past, it's important to recognize the signs of when being overworked is reaching a dangerous level. Here are five of those signals.

You Have Difficulty Relaxing - Even When You're Not Working

Difficulty relaxing is a sure sign of being overworked, and maybe even of total job burnout. It comes largely from always needing to be "on," as in being locked into a perpetually high state of readiness to be able to deal with whatever may come up. This can be especially acute when you hold a job that is exceptionally high stress, such as one in which you're dealing with a constant flow of emergency situations. But it can also happen when you're in a job that requires very long hours,and the dividing line between work and personal life is blurred. The situation can be aggravated if you are also required to be on call even during your off hours. You may have difficulty relaxing simply because there's never any time for it. That is often an underestimated problem. To function at peak efficiency in your work, you need regular periods of relaxation in order to recharge your battery. Those periods of rest and recreation help you to refresh both your body and your mind, and are necessary for you to do your job well.

You Feel as if There Aren't Enough Hours in the Day

Many jobs require that you do the work of two or three people, often as a result of downsizing. When co-workers are laid off, their work still needs be done, and so it’s off-loaded to the remaining employees. A sure sign that this problem has reached chronic proportions is when working overtime becomes a regular part of your job. You can't possibly complete all of your assignments within a regular eight-hour day, and you are forced to either work extra hours in the office or bring work home.

Your To-Do List Keeps Growing

Your attempts at better organization help, but they never come close to making your job completely manageable. You start the day with seven items on your to-do list, but during the course of the workday, the list expands to 12 items. By the end of the day, you might have completed five things that needed to get done, but your list just continues to grow. 

You Feel Like You'll Never Catch Up

No matter how fast or efficiently you work, you're never able to keep up with the constant flow of additional work. This is especially true with employees who function as the "go-to person" in the office, who troubleshoots more complicated problems and is routinely expected to back up less productive coworkers. You seldom experience the feeling of actually being done with any assignment or project, either at the end of the day, the week or the month. And you come to dread meetings, either because they are so frequent (a chronic problem in some organizations), or because they do little more than reduce the time available for more productive work.

Your Health Is Visibly Deteriorating

This can happen in a number of ways, including:

  • You're losing weight – you're so stressed that you don't feel like eating
  • You're gaining weight – from lack of time to exercise
  • You routinely function with a variety of aches and pains that have no identifiable cause
  • Your doctor is reporting dangerous increases in your blood pressure
  • You're taking multiple medications – both prescription and over-the-counter – just to get through the day
  • Your tired, even on days when you don't work
  • Your interest in everything – family, friends, recreation and hobbies – is close to nonexistent, because you simply don't feel "up to it"

The Bottom Line

Any or all of these can happen when your work becomes so all-encompassing that there's no time for anything else. When it reaches the point where being overworked is resulting in physical symptoms, it's time to call a halt. Everyone has periods of being overworked in just about any job, but no one can live happily in a state of being permanently overworked. At that point, it's time for a serious heart-to-heart with your superiors, or at the extreme, to look for a new job.

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