Taking on Extra Work: How it Can Harm You

Taking on extra work is traditionally the sign of the over-achiever, the hard worker and the committed person. It can also be a serious problem for your health and peace of mind. Even if it’s necessary, adding to your workload isn’t always a good idea.

Extra work issues

You may be altruistic, trying to help, want the overtime or want to show what you can do in the workplace by taking on extra work. You may also know from experience that getting the extra work out of the way and moving down the line is the right thing to do. All good reasons, but they’re also potential hazards. The problems with taking on extra work contain some practical issues:

  • Over commitment: You may score an own goal against yourself, if you can’t handle the added work. The idea of showing what you can do can turn into showing what you couldn’t do. That’s not a great result.
  • Too many tasks: Extra work, by definition, means more tasks. You may have no space to deal with the inevitable added handling issues which all jobs create. A few routine problems can put you way behind in both your own and the extra work.
  • Time management: Time is a constant threat, with potentially serious added demands on your existing workload if you do get behind. Even one day off may throw all your work into catch-up mode. Backlogs are tough bosses, and you may find you’re working much longer hours just to stay even with the schedule.
  • The “volunteer” scenario: Extra work, by definition, is a sign of a workplace which isn’t coping with its workloads very well. Even if it’s a new business scenario, with expanding clientele, the fact remains that the new demands on workplace capacity have to be addressed. The need to take on more work isn’t a sign of efficiency. You may find that you’ve unwittingly volunteered to take up the slack on a permanent basis, with or without extra pay, and the debatable values of “goodwill” from your boss.

The risks of extra work

It is quite easy for a person doing extra work to be in all of the situations described above, simultaneously. The extra work becomes a form of running people into the ground. These are the real dangers:

  • Stress: Any negative workplace issue becomes a basis for stress. Extra work aggravates and amplifies the effect.
  • Constant demands on mind and body: Extra work, particularly in a negative environment where stress is already a factor, wears down the individual rapidly. The lack of opportunity for normal rest increases that effect. (The demand for rest often forces hard workers to take time off. This then often rebounds when the worker returns to even more work.)
  • Work quality: Tired, busy, people make mistakes. It’s inevitable. Even good workers, whose attention may be diverted or blurred by overwork, create problems for themselves with simple errors.  
  • The fatigue, stress, and the work itself combine to produce real health problems. Stress alone can put people off work, or out of work. The serious physical rundown may cause people to be more vulnerable to infections like flu.