Do you work late most weekdays and over weekends? Take phone calls from work regularly during your family time? Keep checking office mails on your phone every few minutes, and get restless if you aren’t able to respond immediately?
What could be more alarming: while doing this you probably think of yourself as an efficient, hard-working, committed worker. Most organizations today expect their employees to be responsive every second of the day, simply because technology allows one to. The modern office culture also encourages the belief that the more time employees spend at the workplace, the more valuable, ambitious and successful they are, with being overly busy considered a badge of honor.
If you proudly (or sheepishly) answered yes to the questions above, there is a good chance you are working harder than what your mind and your body can sustain, and are teetering on the edge of a burnout. There is also a very good chance its effects show up at other places in your life – you could be prone to one or more of the following conditions:
- Lack of motivation
- Poor family and/or social life
- Constant tiredness
- Erratic work performance
There is a thin line between working hard and overworking. Unfortunately, it has become increasingly common for many of us to cross it, and fall into a repetitive pattern of working ever harder and finding even more work left to do.
Working beyond what you can or should, in turn, leads to graver problems. Overworked employees are at a much higher risk for issues like depression, anxiety and immune system problems. And, perversely, it has a negative effect on your work performance too – judgment, creativity, efficiency, overall productivity, all have been scientifically proven to come down in constantly overburdened workers, defeating the very purpose of working very long hours.
Like a lot else, this problem is also largely of your own making, so playing the victim might not do. Instead, you are the best person to take the first steps towards a saner work environment for yourself, and here are a few practical ways to help you do it:
- Realize there is such a thing as working too hard. Everyone’s capacity for working without a break is different. If you hardly spend time with your family, have no time for interests beyond work, or feel tired much too often, you have gone beyond yours. The first step towards finding a cure is always the realization that you need one.
- Set some boundaries. Stick to basic rules like ‘no checking of phone during meals’ and designate certain periods during the day as off-limits for office issues.
- Prioritize work. Some things at your office need your undivided attention. Others, not so much. Not all meetings need to last as long as they do. Not every client needs to be engaged on a call for an hour. Most ‘nice to do’ work can actually be eliminated.
- Take breaks. Firstly, short, but meaningful ones at your work. A long cigarette break spent discussing office politics is probably not the most ideal break from the grind. You might prefer a quick walk round the block, or reading a couple of chapters by your favorite author. Secondly, go off the grid, either alone or with your family or close friends, once in a while. Both kinds of breaks help your mind replenish its resources, and also give you time to focus better and stop being an automaton.
- Be an example. How you handle your work life can be an inspiration to others, especially if you have people working under you. Don’t encourage the culture of weekend meetings and staying late every night at the office. Don’t try to shame people leaving before you, and don’t get cowed into staying back if someone does it to you. Long working hours do not necessarily mean greater productivity.
It is not easy changing a pattern set over years. Workaholics – and this is an actual thing – go through withdrawal when weaned off their unhealthy working system. To make matters worse, workaholism, unlike other addictions, is not even frowned upon.
Finally, working hard is a great thing. It helps you achieve greatness. But, are you working hard on the right things? What could be greater than working on yourself, and your relationships, to maintain your health and happiness?