Today’s ways of working are not working—even for professionals in “good” jobs. Responding to global competition and pressure from financial markets, companies are asking employees to do more with less, even as new technologies normalize 24/7 job expectations. In Overload, Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen document how this new intensification of work creates chronic stress, leading to burnout, attrition, and underperformance. “Flexible” work policies and corporate lip service about “work-life balance” don’t come close to fixing the problem. But this unhealthy and unsustainable situation can be changed—and Overload shows how.
Drawing on five years of research, including hundreds of interviews with employees and managers, Kelly and Moen tell the story of a major experiment that they helped design and implement at a Fortune 500 firm. The company adopted creative and practical work redesigns that gave workers more control over how and where they worked and encouraged managers to evaluate performance in new ways. The result? Employees’ health, well-being, and ability to manage their personal and work lives improved, while the company benefited from higher job satisfaction and lower turnover. And, as Kelly and Moen show, such changes can—and should—be made on a wide scale.
Complete with advice about ways that employees, managers, and corporate leaders can begin to question and fix one of today’s most serious workplace problems, Overload is an inspiring account about how rethinking and redesigning work could transform our lives and companies.
Awards and Recognition
- Co-Winner of the Max Weber Book Award, Organizations, Occupations, and Work Section of the American Sociological Association
- Winner of the Silver Medal in Business Theory, Axiom Business Book Awards
- One of Business Insider's 10 Books to Read to Learn about the Future of Work
Erin L. Kelly is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management and an affiliate of the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research and the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative. Twitter @_elkelly Phyllis Moen is a McKnight Presidential Chair, professor of sociology, and director of the Life Course Center at the University of Minnesota. Her books include, most recently, Encore Adulthood: Boomers on the Edge of Risk, Renewal, and Purpose. Kelly and Moen’s research on work overload has been featured in the New York Times Magazine.
"There’s much we can learn from Overload to help make work work for everyone—both now and in the future…. Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen have shown us through their dual work-redesign experiment that it’s possible not only to reimagine how we work to make it work for everyone, but also to execute on this ideal together, so that everyone benefits — including the organization. It’s giving people a choice about how, when, and where they work and a greater sense of control. In the pandemic, we all have an opportunity to step back and examine what’s going well and what’s not and envision how work can change for the better."—Rebecca Zucker, Forbes
"Someday soon, when the economic engines of the world are running again, leaders will reflect on what the COVID-19 pandemic revealed about the ways and means of work in their companies. As they do, they should read Overload."—Theodore Kinni, Strategy+Business
"In their recounting of a five-year field experiment conducted within a Fortune 500 company, two professors show how dual-agenda work redesign can reduce the high levels of chronic stress and ill health, feelings of powerlessness, work–family conflict, and burnout that attend employee overload—without negatively affecting corporate productivity or performance."—Strategy+Business
"With vivid storytelling, two preeminent researchers explain their rigorous experiments on workplace flexibility, and conclude that what we need now is not 'work-life integration' but relief from overwork—and that offering it is a win-win for employers and employees."—Joan Williams, coauthor of What Works for Women at Work
"Overload goes beyond most books that focus on how workers can juggle the many different parts of their lives or magically find more time to fit it all in. Kelly and Moen strike at the root of the problem: the outdated and unsustainable design of work itself. Their solutions are practical and proven; they should appeal to anyone who understands that true innovation must move beyond products to the workday and workplace."—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
"Pressures to do more in too little time have made many good jobs bad. This inspiring study of a large IT company shows how work can be changed to create sane and sustainable jobs that benefit organizations, employees, and their families."—Arne L. Kalleberg, author of Precarious Lives: Job Insecurity and Well-Being in Rich Democracies
"Kelly and Moen document conclusively and comprehensively that overload rather than work-family conflict is the core problem facing professional and managerial workers today. This is an important finding and major reevaluation coming from scholars who have helped define the study of work and family. Offering an insightful account of an effective workplace innovation to combat overload, Kelly and Moen bring to life the people they study, creating a moving portrait of overload and the efforts of workers to forge lives around it."—Pamela Stone, author of Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home