Has 'overwork' taken on epidemic proportions in the country?

Who are the overworked and underemployed?

The issues of overwork (working excessive hours) and underemployment (wanting to work more hours) are distinct problems. But they both highlight the crucial importance of ensuring job quality in our labor markets. What can we do about them?

First, we can start by identifying the occupations that are most affected by overwork and underemployment. By doing so, we can introduce regulations and policies in these occupations to improve their working conditions.

Table 1 shows the top occupations where we can find the overworked and underemployed. On the left, one can see that most of the overworked are: general managers and proprietors; blue collar workers (such as domestic helpers, launderers, and messengers); and models, salespersons, and demonstrators. Meanwhile, on the right, as many as 34% or over a third of underemployed workers can be found in agriculture- and fisheries-related trades.

Second, more research needs to dwell on the reasons behind overwork and underemployment. For instance, overwork may sometimes be a consequence of the nature of certain jobs, so policies might do little in reducing work hours.

Also, underemployment may be expected in jobs characterized by seasonality (as in agriculture). In any case, to be effective, interventions need to be informed by more studies about the determinants of overwork and underemployment.

Third, some experts believe that overwork and especially underemployment are symptomatic of a high “education-skills mismatch.” For instance, overwork may be the result of professionals being forced to do tasks beyond their expertise, so they work longer hours than usual. Also, underemployment may be the result of highly-educated workers finding work in menial jobs. By reducing the gap between our graduates’ skills and the firms’ demands, we could reduce long work hours and the underutilization of our people’s skills.

Job quality matters

In sum, we need not worry too much about the increase in the number of overworked Filipinos cited by Senator Poe. Some labor-related statistics are just better reported in terms of percentages or shares, to account for changes in the labor force and the number of employed Filipinos over time.

Perhaps a better target for research and policy is how we can generate higher-quality jobs (and not simply more jobs) to address the distinct but equally important problems of overwork and underemployment.

A better understanding of excessive and inadequate work hours will bring not just more workplace satisfaction, but also higher growth and greater equity for the country. – Rappler.com


The author is a PhD student and teaching fellow at the UP School of Economics. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of his affiliations. Thanks to Kevin Mandrilla for helpful comments and suggestions.


JC Punongbayan

JC Punongbayan is a PhD candidate and teaching fellow at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations.