Working overtime? Those extra hours might not be hurting your wellbeing after all – just don't tell Jeff Bezos or Jack Ma

If you love your job, going the extra mile might not be stressful or cause depression


Working too hard? Is that overtime making you feel like you're caught in the vice-like jaws of burnout? Well, keep on carrying on because far from negatively impacting your well-being, it might actually be good for you if you love your job.

Or so says research from the ESCP Business School by Argyro Avgoustaki, an associate professor of Management and Almudena Cañibano, an associate professor in Human Resources Management.

The crucial distinction comes from the motivation behind why individuals put in those extra hours: whether it is due to an inner desire or external pressures from the higher ups.

To discover why people work long hours, the researchers said they surveyed more than 500 professional working in the Spanish subsidiary of a major global consultancy, chosen because these types of employees have bargaining power and autonomy, yet for them working long days is not unusual.

Forgive El Reg's cynicism, but the popular perception of consultants is of long lunch takers – and lest we forget the tradition of the siesta still lingers in Spain, so perhaps that is why those days were longer for the folk polled. Perhaps not.

Unsurprisingly, Avgoustaki and Cañibano found that when people were pressed into working longer hours by their bosses it affected their well-being.

"In other words, when individuals put in long hours because of external factors, such as in order to obtain rewards, they are more likely to experience well-being issues, such as stress and depression. It is not the lack of choice that seems to matter but the reasons why they chose to work overtime."

Intrinsic motivators were "gratifying", they added, and so "associated with more positive emotions, attitudes and well-being."

"Well-being may thus be preserved when long hours are a conscious decision based on an inclination to learn for its own sake, a desire to develop relevant knowledge and skills, or to enjoy a feeling of achievement," the research found.

Yet the two different motivations reinforced each other: working overtime signals to bosses that an employee has a "desire for promotion" and that is compatible with "striving for growth" as a person.

"In addition, they found that the association between intrinsically-driven work effort and well-being was more positive at higher levels of overtime, whereas extrinsically-driven work effort reduces well-being no matter the amount of overtime," the research added.

So the upshot is that if you love what you do and want to burn the hours working then it might not be bad for your physical and mental health. But if that work is loaded upon you by a manager or business owner, people can get pissed off, stressed and maybe depressed.

Software engineers and security pros who often complain of feeling stretched and worry about burnout may find some points of interest in the paper, Motivational Drivers of Extensive Work Effort: Are Long Hours Always Detrimental to Well-being?. ®

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