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Overwork and Conflict

Conflict Remedy Blog by Lorraine Segal

Overwork can add fuel to conflicts.

Are you feeling angry and put upon at work? Are you having negative interactions and conflict over relatively small matters? Overwork may be the culprit.

I have had a number of coaching clients whose conflicts were intertwined with overworking. While overworking may not be the cause of their conflict, it can definitely amplify it.

Here are three examples of clients I’ve worked with who were overworking and dealing with unresolved conflict: (Note: all names, professions, locations, and other details changed to protect client confidentiality).

Damian—extra-long hours

Damian is a highly competent lead IT technician at a large county government agency in the North Bay (SF) area. No one was criticizing his work product, but people complained that he was cold and impatient when interacting with them. He began by explaining to me a bit to me about his work life. His description prompted me to ask him, “How many hours a day are you working?”

His answer, “10-12 hours each day.”

He wanted to avoid the worst of the commute traffic, so he went in around 11am and stayed until 8pm. but in the morning, as soon as he woke up, he started checking his email and responding to issues at his job. In effect, he started working at 8am and didn’t finish until 8pm. I intuitively knew this was part of the problem. I suggested that, if he was willing, he stop working more than 8 hours per day.

I told him, “No wonder you’re grumpy and impatient with people when you’re working so many hours.” He agreed to stop checking email in the morning, and, instead, to wait until he got to work. His life improved immediately (and his wife was delighted). Then, he had more capacity to work on his communication problems.

Bettina—nights and weekends (and days)

Bettina is a Foundation Director for a large nonprofit in San Francisco. She had more work piled on her than anyone could finish in a 40-hour week. Her perfectionism and drive to achieve meant that she took work home every night, and every weekend. Then, she was tired and stressed, and if her supervisor had any criticism of her, or asked for additional help, she was resentful and negative. She was very willing to look at her part in their difficult interactions, but it was clear she needed to stop overworking. Instead of heroically trying to finish everything, at the expense of work-life balance, I suggested she talk to her supervisor about this, and enlist her help to set priorities.

Tiffany—endless interruptions

Tiffany is COO for a large mortgage brokerage in Denver, Colorado. She is constantly being interrupted throughout the day to solve problems and put out fires. She comes in on weekends or stays late to write reports and complete projects because she simply can’t find uninterrupted time to focus. I suggested she set up blocks of time when she is not instantly available, or find another creative way she could say a (temporary) “no.” It was a big relief to her to explore boundaries she could set with requests while still doing a good job of problem solving and being available.

My clients taught me about the overwork/conflict connection

This connection between overwork and intensified conflict is something my clients taught me through their stories. It makes so much sense that when people are overworked, without proper support or boundaries, they often feel angry and put upon. This lessens their ability to be patient, to listen, to say what they need to say in a calm manner, or to problem solve—all important for successful conflict management.  Although there are many other aspects of conflict and communication my clients may need to address, I’ve learned to check in about overwork with all my clients.

Is overwork impacting your conflicts? Here are some simple questions you can ask yourself or someone you are trying to help to assess if overwork is part of the conflict or problem:

  • How many hours a day/week are you working? How many are you required to work? Is there a difference?
  • Do you have time to complete your job responsibilities?
  • Are you constantly being given more projects or work so you never feel done?
  • Do you frequently feel overwhelmed, grumpy, stressed or exhausted at work?
  • Are you able to manage your time effectively?

Lorraine Segal

After surviving the 50's and 60's, as well as twenty years in toxic academia as a tenured professor, Lorraine Segal was inspired to started her own business, Conflict Remedy (, happily teaching, coaching, blogging and consulting around workplace conflict transformation. She is addicted to reading novels and enjoys walking and… MORE >

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