Americans Are Overworked and Burnt Out, But Surprisingly Happy at Work

More than half of employees report feeling overworked and burnt out (53%), but the overwhelming majority (86%) are still happy at work and motivated to rise in their organization, according to the inaugural Workplace Index conducted by Staples Advantage, the business-to-business division of Staples, Inc.

The Staples Advantage Workplace Index is a comprehensive look at trends in the rapidly evolving workplace in the U.S. and Canada. It was created in conjunction with Dan Schawbel, founder of, a research and advisory membership service for forward-thinking HR professionals, and the managing partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm.

“With the rise of the mobile workforce and the resulting ‘always on’ work culture, it’s not a surprise that employees are feeling overworked and burnt out,” said Schawbel. “While many are still happy at work, we have to ask whether it’s because they’re truly inspired and motivated, or simply conditioned to the new reality? Either way, employers need to retain talent and optimize productivity, engagement and loyalty with employees.”

Longer Days and Constant Connection Leading to Burn Out

Credit: Staples Advantage

Employees are working longer days, and about a quarter of them regularly work after the standard workday is done. Furthermore, about four out of 10 work on weekends at least once a month. Breaks are becoming rare as well – about half of employees feel like they cannot get up for a break at all, and just under half eat lunch at their desk.

According to the Staples Advantage Workplace Index, the driving force behind the “always on” work culture is the need for employees to complete work they don’t have time to do during the day, followed by a desire to get ahead for the following day. A drive to advance in the organization plays a role as well, with nearly two-thirds of respondents seeing themselves as managers in the next five years.

Additional research reveals almost four out of 10 employees acknowledge that burnout is a motivator for a new job search. Burnout is also eroding productivity, according to 66% of U.S. employees. The biggest culprits in burnout include workload (53%), personal pressures employees put on themselves to perform (41%), and time pressures (40%).

About half of employees surveyed acknowledge they receive too much email, with about one-third of those saying that email overload hurts productivity. Inefficient meetings also appear to be a major productivity drain, with some employees spending more than two hours a day in meetings. More than a quarter of employees say meetings are inefficient. The majority of employees also say a distraction-free environment would increase their productivity by at least 20%, citing loud coworkers as the top distraction.

Also, about half said decreasing workload or providing more time to complete tasks would minimize burnout. That may seem daunting to employers, but employees said some simple steps would help:

  • Provide a more flexible schedule
  • Encourage employees to take breaks
  • Improve technology

Employees Are Happy Despite Long Hours, But Still Pose a Flight Risk. Flexibility is Key.

Though employees are happy, about one in five employees still expects to change jobs in the next 12 months. This flight risk is slightly higher for millennials. With employees working longer days and on weekends, the biggest request for employers is to provide more flexibility. Other steps employers can take to improve happiness include:

  • Add more office perks
  • Improve office technology
  • Provide better office design

Of particular note is that all of these softer benefits are more important to millennial happiness than any other age group.

Credit: Staples Advantage

Flexibility is also critical for the recruitment and retention of top talent. In fact, work-life balance was one of the most important aspects to employees when looking for a new job (46%), second only to salary. Additionally, one in five employees cited work-life balance issues as a reason for considering a job change, while close to a third identified it as a leading contributor of loyalty.

Differences Between U.S. and Canada

In most cases, findings for the U.S. and Canada were similar; however there were a few notable differences. A higher percentage of Canadians cited work-life balance and workplace flexibility as the most important workplace motivators. Following a similar pattern, more Canadian employees identified work-life balance as one of the most important considerations when looking for a new job and a higher number of Canadians reported they would actually leave their job if their telecommuting benefits were taken away.

“We’re committed to understanding how the workplace is evolving so we can support our customers as they navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by generational shifts, new technology and the increasingly mobile and diverse workforce,” said Neil Ringel, Executive Vice President, Staples Advantage, North America. “The Staples Advantage Workplace Index gives us unique insight to help our customers meet their recruitment, retention, productivity and engagement goals. This research uncovered a number of new benefits – such as flexible schedules, telecommuting, office perks and being an eco-friendly business – that have emerged as critical factors for balancing intensifying work demands with employees’ personal lives.”