Why Many Adults Feel Overworked and Underappreciated

Many workers in the United States feel overworked, underappreciated, and increasingly burned out. Nearly 40 percent of workers report that their job causes them stress, and 25 percent of workers say their job as the prime stressor in their lives. According to the American Institute of Stress, 75 percent of employees believe that their workforce generation has more job-related stress than previous ones. However, what is the root of this pervasive problem, and how can we combat it? 

Underlying causes

Americans are among the most overworked adults in the world. The rise of the gig economy, as well as sluggish growth in wages during the last nine years, has created an environment in which many fully-employed individuals work second jobs and take freelance gigs to make ends meet. 

There are legal and workplace policy factors that play a role too. The United States is the only country in the Western hemisphere that does not offer a national paid leave benefit. Additionally, while 134 countries have established laws that set a limit on the number of allowed work hours, the United States does not. Similarly, there is no federal law requiring paid sick days. These facts, coupled with an American value that being busy equates to high status, has created a workforce that feels overworked. 

Many working adults also report feeling unappreciated at work. A recent survey found that 40 percent of employees across many professional fields felt that employee appreciation and recognition was not a priority of their company’s management team. A lack of recognition for excellent job performance is linked to a lack of productivity and buy-in, meaning workers feel dissatisfied and are less likely to enjoy their work or even believe in the value of the work they are doing. 

A lack of recognition can severely impact an employee’s trust in their managers. A weak interpersonal relationship with a direct manager can make an individual feel that their job is insecure — another contributing factor to the stress that working adults feel. This combination of factors can severely diminish the satisfaction of workers and eventually lead to burnout, an extreme form of anxiety and emotional distress.

Overworked and stressed

Normal stress vs. burnout

Stress is a natural part of our day-to-day lives. Some amount of stress can be healthy. Low levels of stress can stimulate neurotrophins, brain chemicals that strengthen the connections between neurons. It can improve our bodies’ immune defense and can make us more resilient. However, too much stress can lead to burnout. 

Stress occurs when the demands placed on an individual are perceived to outweigh the individual’s ability to perform them. It is a direct outcome of having “too much” of something, whether it is too much work, too much pressure, too many appointments, or too much responsibility. Though the experience of stress can feel overwhelming, once it’s managed appropriately, the stress will abate. This stress is acute, as it is situational and transient. If, however, an individual constantly feels overworked, underappreciated, and insecure, they may begin to experience chronic stress. Also known as long-term stress, chronic stress can take both an emotional and physical toll. 

Burnout is the result of chronic, long-term stress. While normal stress involves “too much” of something, burnout creates “not enough” of everything, from motivation to emotional engagement to hope. Burnout can lead to detachment, symptoms of depression such as lasting sadness and apathy, physical exhaustion, and a general sense of dissatisfaction with life. 

Employees who feel that they have no agency in their work-life, who work in high-pressure environments, who don’t receive recognition at work, and who work too much are highly susceptible to burnout. When an individual is experiencing the cynicism, depression, and lethargy associated with burnout, recovery can be complicated and is not as simple as removing the root cause of the burnout.

Other than finding a new job or advocating for changes in your workplace, there are several ways to combat feelings of stress, burnout, and underappreciation, you may be feeling at work. The first step, though, is to recognize that you need to make an active change.

Ready to address your stress?

Identify the underlying cause of your burnout/stress

Once you have recognized that you are experiencing chronic stress or burnout in the workplace, it is vital to identify what the underlying cause may be. Is it because your workload is far too large to manage? Perhaps you feel that you don’t have the freedom to express yourself in the office, or maybe you feel that your manager doesn’t recognize the hard work and effort you put in. Whatever your unique situation may be, write down the reasons why you feel unhappy. When a problem is identified, it becomes much easier to address and deal with it. If you believe that you have the agency within your company to speak to your manager directly about your concerns, take this opportunity to let them know what you are struggling with. After all, burnout affects productivity, performance, and morale. If, however, you fear that expressing these needs would lead to negative repercussions, then it may help to find a sense of purpose outside of the office.

Find a sense of purpose

Whatever your life philosophy or spiritual beliefs are, research indicates that giving back is good for both the body and the mind. If you find yourself struggling to find meaning in your work, consider giving back in some way. Volunteer to read to children, serve at a soup kitchen, or get involved in your local animal shelter. Whatever cause interests you, find a way to get involved. A sense of higher purpose can help improve your general sense of well-being and may even help you sleep better. 

Take care of your body

If you’re dealing with feelings of chronic fatigue and stress, it is important to keep your body healthy. Try to get the full eight hours of recommended sleep every night. Additionally, find a way to integrate exercise into your busy schedule. Exercise, even just five minutes of aerobics, has been linked to several positive outcomes, including decreased levels of tension, improved sleep, and elevated mood. Physical activity produces endorphins that can have anti-anxiety effects. Create an exercise routine that works for you and your schedule. Whether that’s walking your dog or going to a yoga class, it’s bound to help.

Take care of your mind

Whether you’re in the early stages of chronic stress or you’re completely burned out, managing your mental health and wellness is vital. If you find that your work life is impeding your ability to live your personal life to its fullest, seek out help and support. Talk to your friends and family about what you’re experiencing. Sharing your concerns with friends can help you emotionally reconnect when you’re feeling disconnected and detached. Speak with a therapist and create a plan for managing your stress levels. You may also want to consider adding meditation to your daily routine, as it can help with reducing stressToday’s working adult is faced with unique stressors. From a lack of job security to high levels of student loan debt, there are many reasons why workers feel overworked and underappreciated. However, equipped with appropriate mental health and self-care tools and a healthy support system, you can effectively address chronic stress and burnout.

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