What's the difference between OVERWORK and OVERTIME?

Two men asleep on the train
The long ride home: two men asleep on the train after doing some overtime late into the night.

I teach a lot of businesspeople. They often tell me that they have to “overwork”. What they mean is “do overtime”.

“Overwork” is best translated in Japanese as 「過労」. “Overtime” is 「残業」.

We all have to do overtime sometimes. We might need to stay at the office for an extra hour or two, or perhaps we have to work on our day off. “Overtime” just means working outside your normal work hours.

“Overwork” means that you work too much. It means that you regularly work until late at night, and that you hardly ever take the day off. Overwork can lead to stress and more serious health problems. The Japanese word 「過労死」 is pretty famous outside Japan, and it is often translated as “death from overwork“.

Here are some useful phrases using “overtime” and “overwork”:

  • “I’d like to come for a drink, but I have to do a bit of overtime tonight.”
  • “I’ve been doing a lot of overtime lately.”
  • “If you want to impress the boss, you will have to put in some overtime.”
  • “I heard he overworked himself and now he’s had a heart attack.”
  • “Don’t overwork the staff or they will quit.”

Bonus point: Many times we say people in important jobs (like police, doctors or firefighters) are overworked and underpaid.