Workload Woes Weigh on Workers

January 28, 2003 ( - A new study finds that a full third of workers described their work as "intensely negative," while more than half (55%) described it in negative terms. The biggest complaint? Heavy workloads.

The report,  Working Today: Exploring Employees’ Emotional Connection to Their Jobs , suggests that negative emotion about work not only relates to higher turnover rates, but contributes to the kind of workplace malaise that can materially diminish productivity and performance.

Future Shock?

The study, conducted by Towers Perrin and Gang & Gang, also revealed some real disconnects between employee motivations and employer perspectives.   For example, the roughly 300 human resource executives that participated in the survey appeared to believe that concerns about the future were a dominant factor.   In fact, the employer respondents gave it almost three times as much weight as employees did, according to the survey.  

HR executives also overestimated the impact of management in influencing worker emotions about the workplace.   In fact, according to the survey’s findings, employee respondents gave management much less weight in the overall mix, especially on the positive side.   Said another way, bad management does have an impact, but not as much as employers thought it did.   What’s worse, even when managers are doing a good job, employees tend to take this for granted, according to the researchers.

Management Motions

Still, in evaluating their current job experience, management was more likely to have a negative influence on employee emotion than any other factor than workload.   The study’s authors cautioned that “employees don’t see support coming from managers, either in dealing with workload issues or in developing and executing a clear vision and plan for the organization.”   In fact, the authors said that this finding was less about mistrust from an ethical standpoint, and more about a “lack of confidence in management’s judgment, decisions and actions.”

Employers also underestimated how important it is for employees to feel self-confidence in and from their work, as well as the importance of professional development opportunities, challenging work, rewards and recognition in shaping positive worker emotion.   The survey notes that where pay was an issue for workers, it was generally about a perceived unfairness in pay, “specifically insufficient pay for the level of effort or results provided, rather than absolute pay levels.”

Risky Business?

Roughly 43% of the workforce in the randomly selected group of survey worker respondents is “at risk” at present, discontented workers who are in danger of leaving for another job once the economy recovers.   Of those, 28% are actively looking now – but more troubling for employers is the finding that a full quarter are planning to remain with their current employer despite their current level of discontent.

The study’s authors suggest that preliminary data shows a strong relationship between employees’ positive emotions about their work experience and the longer-term financial performance of the companies they work for, as measured by five-year total return to shareholders. The data show a statistically valid relationship between positive emotion about work and company performance, according to Towers Perrin.

The Internet-based survey polled a random sample of 1,100 employees at mid-sized and large North American companies with at least 500 employees, as well as some 300 human resource executives.