Maxed out

Job stress often a result of increased hours and duties

Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2007

If you have been feeling overworked lately, you are not alone. A 2005 study by the Families and Work Institute found that one in three American employees is chronically overworked. Unfortunately, many people who feel overworked don't do anything about it or feel that they just can't.

"If they never take any time off, if they are always behind in everything they do, if they feel they are in over their head - these lead to high levels of stress," says Curtis Crawford, author of "Corporate Rise: The X Principles of Extreme Personal Leadership" ($29.99, Xceo Inc.) "Often these workers will suffer in silence because they don't ask for help - they see it as a sign of weakness."

Being overworked does not have to be a fact of life, however. Here are some tips from experts that will help smooth out your workload - and your life.

1. Take inventory.

Take a look at your workload. Why are you feeling overworked? Is it simply volume, or are you lacking the proper software, proper training or proper support that would help streamline your workday?

"If you need better tools, more training or better support from the management team, you can talk to your boss about that," Crawford says. "Those are all game to be tackled constructively at any time."

2. Establish clear communication.

Establishing a solid relationship with your boss can be the first step to clearing up some of the stress you might be feeling at work.

"Sometimes the manager really has no way of knowing that the employee may be overloaded," says Sandra Hammar, owner of Success Dimensions, a personal performance consulting firm in Deerfield Beach, Fla. "A lot of it really comes down to clear communication and to asking a lot of open-ended questions. An employee certainly has a right to ask something as simple as 'Which of these projects is most important for you to have completed first?'"

Being clear on your boss's expectations can even help you tackle your workload in a more organized, less stressful way.

"Handle things as they come up. Ask questions. Get clarifications. Get things in writing," Hammar says.

If you still feel your workload is unbalanced, schedule a time to discuss the matter with your boss.

"Tell them ahead of time what you want to discuss. You don't want it to be confrontational because your boss hasn't had enough time to reflect on it," Crawford says. "You can say something like, 'I am concerned about my performance and my workload, and I want to make sure you and I have shared expectations.'"

Crawford also suggests presenting your boss with facts and examples that support your case.

"I would have data, not emotions," Crawford says. "'Here are my results, here is my work activity. Anyone would see there is an imbalance.'"

3. Use your time off.

According to a survey by Harris Interactive, 30 percent of employed adults gave up vacation time they earned, resulting in 415 million unused vacation days in 2004. Experts agree that these vacation days shouldn't remain unused - taking vacations can help relieve the stresses of feeling overworked.

"Psychological stress, tension, anxiety - those are all unrelieved when you don't get a chance to step back and recover from a year of pressure," says Joe Robinson, author of "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life" (Perigee, $14.95). "What we find is the two most costly illnesses caused by overwork - stress and depression - can be remedied by taking more vacation time."

Use vacations as serious recharging time - no e-mail, phone calls or Blackberries allowed. Enforce this rule every day and leave work at the office, too.

"In this 24/7 world, we really have to set boundaries between our home and work life," Robinson says. "It can be done in a diplomatic way with supervisors or bosses, where you can set some stop times. Don't take work home. Turn the cell phone off. Learn how to say no."

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