More Than Two-Thirds of US Employees Suffer From Work Overload

New Study Reveals Productivity Findings

More Than Two-Thirds of US Employees Suffer From Work Overload
May 28, 2015

The employer consulting group Cornerstone (NASDAQ:CSOD) released its second "The State of Workplace Productivity Report" with survey results regarding the workload, working environment, and tools used by today's workers and how they relate to productivity. In general, the survey found an abundance of overworked and distracted employees, with fewer generational splits than you might think.

Let's look at some of the categories in greater detail.

  • Overworked and Overloaded – Just over two-thirds of employees (68%) report being overloaded at work, with a relatively even split across the generations. This problem appears to be getting worse — last year's survey reported 54% with a work overload, and 84% in this year's survey say that work overload has increased or stayed the same.

    Compared to other forms of overload (information or technology overload, where workers are overwhelmed by the amount of information or the tools necessary to deliver them), it appears that pure workload is the greatest burden. 61% were most affected by work overload, compared to 23% for information overload and 23% for technology overload.

    One interesting sidelight is that younger workers were more likely to report information overload as a primary issue — 27% of millennials compared to 23% for Generation X and 21% for Baby Boomers. Younger generations may take more time to adapt to the needs of the workplace, while older workers have learned how to manage information flows and ignore unnecessary information.

  • Communication and Distractions – The section on work distractions reinforces the above insight. 80% of workers experience some form of distraction, with equal numbers (43%) reporting unscheduled phone calls and impromptu visits from chatty co-workers as distractions. E-mails were cited as distracting by 33% of respondents, and the newer forms of communication averaged 28% — social media alerts were cited by 30% and instant messages by 26% as distracting.

    By far, the largest generational split was in social media alerts — 38% of millennials found them distracting, compared to 30% of Generation X and 22% of Baby Boomers. Again, it appears that older workers ignore these items while millennials are more distracted by media.

    In a strange contradiction, 63% of respondents preferred in-person contact compared to online or phone conferences, yet 65% either strongly agree or somewhat agree that the right technology can completely replace in-person meetings. Baby Boomers were significantly less likely to agree (58%), suggesting they either value in-person meetings or don’t necessarily trust replacement technology.

  • Work Environment – The majority of respondents (37%) believe an enclosed office is the most productive work environment compared to cubicles (23%), open office layouts (19%), or working remotely (19%). Yet 65% of respondents believe that a flexible and remote work schedule increases productivity in general. This seems contradictory, but it could suggest that a mixture works best — a traditional enclosed office environment with the flexibility to work odd hours and from home when necessary.

Other topics include wearable technology to enhance the work environment, work devices and their monitoring by employers, and enhancement/drawback from workplace technologies. The complete survey results, along with the percentage breakdown by generation, may be found at

One common thread seems to be that older workers incorporate only the technology they need and prefer more traditional work paradigms, while millennials more easily embrace and use technology yet are distracted by it. The other area of agreement: the vast majority of workers suffer some form of overload that adversely affects their productivity. It's up to employers to use these results and find ways to unlock the greater productivity potential of their workers.

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