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Work Intensity

Coping with different aspects of work intensity: information overload, time and performance pressure

The contemporary world of work confronts employees with various demands that are intensifying "traditional" forms of mental load or giving rise to new forms as well. Information overload and time and performance pressure are significant issues that are relevant to employees’ health, which have to be addressed by both organisations and individuals.

Information overload - one aspect of high work intensity

In the age of digitalisation the opportunities offered by high-speed communication contrast with a hardly manageable flood of information.

What does the research say?

The so-called "information overload" occurs when the demands of the information to be processed exceed employees' coping capabilities.
The factors in the workplace that primarily determine whether employees find themselves overloaded by information are

  1. the quantity of relevant information,
  2. the number of orders resulting from the information
  3. the quality of the information (e.g. comprehensibility and structure of information and
  4. work interruptions, caused by digital media for example.

As studies have shown, information overload has impacts on employees’ well-being, their performance at work and their behaviour. Above all, if information overload persists, health complaints such as exhaustion, complaints of the musculoskeletal system etc. can occur.

What can be done?

Well-designed work tasks and work organisation help employees to manage the flood of information they face in everyday business. For example, the number of parallel and diverse tasks should be reduced, the information should be transmitted in an appropriate quality and there should be clear rules for processes and information flows. Furthermore, personal work planning is important, making it possible to schedule periods of undisrupted working and prioritize particular tasks and processes. Attention must also be paid to the design of the digital media landscape within the organization to meet these demands, which includes qualification of employees (e.g., when new software and storage media are introduced).

Dealing with high work intensity

What does the research say?

Employees have different ways of dealing with psychosocial risk factors, such as information overload or time and performance pressure. These behaviours have a mediating role in the stressor-strain relationship and are therefore relevant in their own right as determinants of the possible (health-related) consequences.

The extension of work, for example by doing overtime, and the intensification of work, for example by working at a high pace, are widespread behaviours to deal with work intensity. However, both are dangerous to employees' health - at least over the long term. Therefore, alternative behaviours are important. Employees should firstly limit the extension of their work (e.g. by seeking social support). Secondly they should counteract any tendency for their work to become more intense by taking a focussed approach to their tasks (e.g. by prioritising and avoiding interruptions).

What can be done?

Various factors can encourage employees to limit the extension of their work and to focus during their working day. On the organisational side, for example, cooperative relationships between different units within a company and realistic performance expectations are important. Such realistic expectations play a role at the team level just as much as the reasonable, fair sharing of duties. When it comes to the task-level, a certain self-determination in task performance as well as job role clarity should be ensured. Finally, employees' experiences and attitudes are also relevant, for example, an awareness of personal performance limits.

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