Implications of Work Effort and Discretion for Employee Well-Being and Career-Related Outcomes

Researchers and Authors Argyro Avgoustaki of ESCP Europe Business School and Hans T. W. Frankort of the University of London recently published in article in the ILR Review entitled, “Implications of Work Effort and Discretion for Employee Well-Being and Career-Related Outcomes: An Integrative Assessment,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below they discuss the motivations and findings of this research.

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What motivated you to pursue this research?

In an earlier study (Avgoustaki 2016), one of us examined factors predicting employee overtime. A natural follow-on question is how overtime relates to employee-level outcomes. Several reflections on this question motivated our current study. First, a broad and multidisciplinary literature shows that overtime predicts reduced well-being. The popular press often portrays this finding as signifying merely the kind of inconvenience that employees must endure to make headway in their careers. Yet, we were surprised to find no studies directly examining such folk wisdom, through systematic comparisons of the well-being and career-related implications of overtime. Second, while overtime is the type of work effort receiving most attention among practitioners and policy makers, employees often work at high speed or to tight deadlines and so they can also experience high levels of work intensity. We realized that little was known about the relative power of overtime versus work intensity in predicting employee outcomes. Thus, we set out to examine overtime and work intensity as predictors of both well-being and career-related outcomes in a representative sample of close to 52,000 European employees.

Were there any surprising findings?

First, we find that work effort broadly predicts unfavorable outcomes, both in terms of employee well-being and career-related implications. In other words, overtime and work intensity seem not to predict a balance of favorable and unfavorable outcomes, where career-related progress somehow makes up for decreased well-being.

Second, although both overtime and work intensity predict unfavorable outcomes, we find that work intensity is the stronger predictor in virtually all our analyses. Thus, one might ask whether the common concern of employers and policy makers with overtime and hours of work in some way misses the mark. Perhaps it is not the duration of work but its intensity that requires greater attention.

Third, we asked whether work effort predicts better outcomes in employees that have the discretion to decide how and when to perform their work. We find some such evidence, although we were surprised to observe that increased work effort remains associated with inferior outcomes even in employees with more discretion. Perhaps more surprisingly, work intensity in employees with discretion often remains a stronger predictor of unfavorable outcomes than overtime in employees without discretion.

How will this research have an impact?

We hope that our research will contribute towards a broader awareness of the possible adverse implications of excessive work effort, in general, and work intensity, in particular. Such awareness is important for employees, who must consider that the costs of excessive effort might outweigh its benefits. Greater awareness is important also for employers and policy makers interested in stimulating productive and sustainable effort. Beyond established initiatives to limit the duration of work, we believe strategies that limit the adverse implications of intensive work merit greater consideration.

Cited reference

Avgoustaki, Argyro. 2016. Work uncertainty and extensive work effort: The mediating role of human resource practices. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 69(3): 656-682.

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