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Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It

By: George Waggott, founder, George Waggott Law

Presentation summary by George Waggott

In 2021, I attended an excellent webinar where professors Erin Kelly (MIT Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work) and Phyllis Moen (McKnight President Chair in Sociology) reviewed some key points from the book “Overload”. Here are some of key points which we might all benefit from considering:


  1. Overload refers to the feeling that there is too much work to do.

  2. There are many reasons why overload happens, including: a) members leaving teams, and b) technology increasing the pressures to respond.

  3. Often it is the work itself (and having to get more done quicker) which seems to contribute to us “feeling slammed”.

  4. Multitasking has caused an erosion in the quality of work product, as well as employees who are burned out.

  5. Work has increased both in intensity and extensity, driven by a goal of trimming labour costs.

  6. Those who remain in organizations are expected to do more with less.

  7. Current ways of working are not sustainable – they will break people, organizations, or both.

  8. Often the work-life balance conversation pushes the onus onto individuals and improperly takes the responsibility away from organizations.

  9. The root issue is the intensification of work.

  10. Work redesign is the key change which is required – a collective focus on how we work is what is needed.

  11. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, flexible work was unfortunately like a “mother, may I” policy.

  12. The type of flexibility to consider and implement includes: a) being more flexible and efficient at work; and b) having a greater appreciation for quality of life.

  13. Often the best outcome is for teams (as opposed to top-down management) to determine how to work things out.

  14. Both men and women, regardless of life stage, start to work at home more once the organization presents them with the option.

  15. The best approach: manage the work, not the worker.

  16. Getting rid of low value and “busy work” helps everyone.

  17. Organizations need to honour, respect, and take account of worker private lives.

  18. Treat employees like adults (as opposed to children), and it will be appreciated.

  19. One key idea: when will the organization allow people to have “heads down” time to do their work without interruption.

  20. Solving problems as a team will lead to better results.

These insights are reviewed in more detail in the Overload book, which I would consider to be required reading for anyone interested in emerging approaches to the World of Work.


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