Survey: Balanced Workload is Best, Underworked Employees Are Least Happy

When employees return to work from the holiday break, their natural tendency is to put in a full day's work - or even work a little extra.

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Contrary to what some believe, people who have too little work are actually less satisfied with their jobs than those who are burdened with too much work, according to a study by Sirota Consulting, specialists in attitude research.

The most satisfied employees of all in the survey were those who say they have just the right amount of work. They rated their overall satisfaction with their jobs at a 73 on a 100-point scale. Those with the second highest satisfaction were those who have "too much work."

The least satisfied employees were those who say they have "much too little work." They rated their job satisfaction only a 32 on a 100-point scale.

"Ninety-five percent of employees do not want to just 'get by' in their jobs," said Jeffrey Saltzman, Chief Executive Officer of Sirota. "Most people want to make a real contribution at work. So, while most want their work and private lives to be balanced, if employers get this out of sync, it's probably best that they err on the side of giving more work rather than less."

The study included over 800,000 employees at 61 organizations worldwide who were surveyed between 1998 and 2003. 75% of these have operations in North America, 11% have operations in Europe, and 14% have operations in Asia.

In descending order, employees' overall satisfaction with their jobs as it relates to their workload, on a 100-point scale, are:

  • Workload is "about right" - overall job satisfaction rating of 73
  • "Too much work" - overall job satisfaction rating of 57
  • "Too little work" - overall job satisfaction rating of 49
  • "Much too much work" - overall job satisfaction rating of 42
  • "Much too little work" - overall job satisfaction rating of 32

"When people are overworked, they feel more effective and are often too busy to think about elements of their jobs that are less than ideal.

Conversely, when people feel underworked, they also tend to feel undervalued, and their job insecurity increases," Saltzman added. "We have found that most people like what they do. So, having a little more of what you like is preferable to having a little less.

"Although there is a cost to employers when their employees are overworked, there may be an even bigger cost due to boredom from being underworked," said Saltzman. "Companies need to consider employees' expectations for having the proper amount of work in order to achieve the best productivity, morale, and employee retention."

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