Trying too hard at work is not going to pay off, study finds

How hard should we try at work? Not too hard, a new international study analyzing the effects of work effort on health and career outcomes suggests. Turns out, pouring your all into your work is not going to pay off in the end.

Using data collected across 2010 and 2015 from more than 50,000 people from 36 European countries, the researchers found that increased work effort is “associated with reduced well-being and inferior career-related outcomes.”

To be better at your job, don’t try too hard

The researchers defined work intensity as “the level of effort supplied per unit of working time.” The harder employees worked in their allotted work time, the more likely they were to report stress, fatigue, and lowered job satisfaction and have inferior work outcomes around job security, recognition, and career prospects. This finding held true even in upper-level occupations.

There is increasing attention around the effects of overtime work. We know that our bosses emailing us at midnight about work is not good for our mental well-being. This new research shows us that the intensity of your work matters just as much as how long you spend doing it.

For those of us who think that doing bonus projects is going to get us noticed at work, think again. Working too hard burns us out and makes us worse employees. “Oftentimes, workers both complain and boast about excessive work effort, perhaps because they accept inferior well-being while anticipating career-related progress. Our results could imply that the latter might not materialize,” the researchers concluded.

It may sound paradoxical, but doing less at work can help us achieve more. Ultimately, working harder or longer is not likely to lead to better work. In fact, the toll it takes on our bodies can lead to the opposite. One five-year study has found that if we work more than 65 hours a week, our performance and productivity sharply declines.