Are We Our Own Slave Drivers?

May 6, 2009 ( - A new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) poll finds that the pressure to work long hours and during vacation is generally self-imposed rather than forced by a supervisor.

More than one-third of employees responding to the poll (35%) said they work beyond their scheduled hours frequently on weekdays or weekends, and another 35% said they did so occasionally. But when asked to name the reasons they felt pressured to do so, just 21% blamed their immediate supervisor or manager, according to an SHRM news report.

Although 44% cited project or performance goals, a majority of employees (52%) said the impetus to work longer hours was self-imposed. The desire for career advancement spurred some respondents (12%) to work late, as did competition with co-workers, named by 5%.

Other sources of work hour pressure identified in the survey include pressure from organizational higher-ups, demands from investors or organizational supporters, and external reasons such as global and industry competition.

During the workday, employees most often sacrifice their lunch period to keep up with work duties. Four out of 10 employees said they had worked through lunch frequently over the past 12 months; another 32% said they did so occasionally. Thirty-six percent said they had checked e-mails frequently after hours and on weekends over the past 12 months. One-quarter of respondents said they frequently checked e-mail while on vacation; slightly more said they did so while taking sick leave.

According to SHRM, these practices were more common among executive-level and middle management respondents than among non-management employees.

The economic recession might also be causing some employees to boost their visibility at work. One in 10 employees said they feel “a great deal of pressure” to work longer hours compared to 12 months ago. A similar number (11%) feel they cannot take vacation or other time off, and even more (13%) feel a great deal of pressure to work beyond their scheduled hours. Another 26% said they feel “some pressure” to work extra hours.

However, just 9% of employees said they were concerned that telecommuting, using flextime or working a compressed schedule would cause them to be perceived as less committed to their job, while the majority of employees (58%) said they were “not at all concerned” about such a perception.

Similarly, 66% and 63% of respondents, respectively, said they were not at all concerned that flexible work would jeopardize career advancement opportunities or job security.

SHRM’s “Pressure to Work: Employee Perspective” research included responses from 605 full-time and part-time employed U.S. residents, fielded for a two-week period ending January 12, 2009.