The price of overwork

Knowing that working long hours can turn even the most good natured person into a grouch has not stopped Malaysians from subjecting their friends and families to the pain of having to put up with a sulk.

Most know that “excessive working” can backfire with both productivity and personal relationships being sacrificed, yet they keep going back for more.

“My emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) is almost zero and I take my frustrations on everybody,” para-legal Ham Yeh Sreh confesses.

Wilma Soo admits to being a “serial sulker” at home, snapping at every opportunity while sales manager Henry Li just doesn't feel like chatting due to fatigue and deadline stress. Occupational hazard: Long working hours can affect the mental and physical health of employees.

Executive secretary L. Emma admits to working long hours for recognition.

“Of course, it's to meet deadlines too but I stay back because I want to be recognised as someone who is willing to do more than what she's paid to do,” the 33-year-old from Kuala Lumpur shares.

Li works an average of four extra hours daily and either Saturday or Sunday because “the work is unending”. As a result, he is constantly exhausted.

“By the time I shower after work every day, it's already late into the night. I've forgotten what it's like to have personal time but I guess it's a choice one has to make,” he sighs.

The Penangite, however, doesn't think being overworked compromises the quality of his performance because the more he gets done, the better prepared he feels at closing a deal.

Johan Zakaria, a legal officer with a developer's firm in the Klang Valley, works on weekends when there is a property fair or project launches.

“It isn't part of my job scope but I am expected to do sales at these events. I cannot claim overtime and only get meal allowances,” he says.

Johan, who is in his 30s and has been with the company for eight years, admits he is “not forced” to be there but does it because he wants to be a team player.

Executive assistant Bernice Abdullah says 9pm is the latest she will stay back “because the brain shuts down after that”.

Bernice is in favour of flexible working hours as a solution to employees having to work late or bring work home.

She says employees must know when to ask for a deadline extension or tell the boss up-front if they cannot deliver within the given time frame.

“Otherwise, you end up being overworked and over-stressed and your performance will eventually suffer,” she says.

Ham does not find the Regus survey results surprising.

“It really feels like I'm slaving away because the salary is low but the expectations are higher than Mount Everest. On average, I clock an additional 40 hours monthly.

“Work keeps piling up because the boss is too cheap to hire an additional staff and I end up shouldering the load of two,” she says.

Ham, from Johor, admits she just can't take her mind off work and resents her inability to let go after work hours.

“My boss expects me to be superwoman and I don't want to let him or myself down. Sometimes I am angry at myself because I let work encroach into my personal time,” she says, adding that she plans to look for another job.

Kuala Lumpur-based finance analyst Soo, 30, left her previous job at a multinational company because she was expected to work late everyday.

“I was miserable there's only so much I could take. By the time I got home, I was so drained and had no energy left,” she recalls.

Soo denies she had to stay back because of inefficiency, saying there were countless ad hoc requests and meetings that delayed her work.

“Reading and responding to e-mail from my subordinates, superiors and counterparts from overseas is already a task in itself. You'd be surprised how long that can take. Because I liaise with colleagues from different time zones and sometimes work past midnight, my sleep patterns became abnormal. My brain just wouldn't shut down.”

These days, she prioritises.

One of the top performers in her current company, Soo now leaves the office at 5.30pm or 6pm and refrains from working weekends to recharge.

“When you're too tired, you make mistakes errors you would not normally make. And when your superior points it out, it can be very demoralising because despite the many hours sacrificed, you find that all the good work is overshadowed by that one careless mistake,” she says.

“That's why now I make sure that I am not overworked.”