Our society is obsessed with the concept of being the best at what we do, and overworking or becoming a ‘workaholic’ sometimes seem the means to that goal. Now, now, now; more, more, more; faster, faster, faster. Hollywood often portrays this with humor – think the shenanigans of Robin Williams in RV and the intensity of Bradley Cooper in Limitless.
Researchers and psychologists have been arguing for decades about what constitutes “workaholism,” and whether it is a disorder at all. Regardless, since the term started being thrown around in the 1970s, a mountain of evidence has piled up showing workaholics display many of the same characteristics as those addicted to drugs or alcohol, such as engaging in compulsive behaviors that are ultimately destructive.
Today, there are more ways to overwork yourself than ever, and few leaders will discourage it. And while refusing vacation time, eating lunch at your desk or never shutting off your work email might seem like smart ways to impress the boss, they also could have dire consequences for your health down the road.
Surveys consistently show at least one-third of Americans are chronically overworked. According to the current OECD Better Life Index, the United States ranks 29 out of 40 advanced nations in the category of “work-life balance”. This overworked mentality and reality is bad for your health.
The research is pretty cut and dry when it comes to the effects of workaholism on mental health. 32.7 percent of workaholics met ADHD criteria, compared to 12.7 percent of non-workaholics. 25.6 percent of workaholics met OCD criteria, compared to 8.7 percent of non-workaholics. 33.8 percent of workaholics met anxiety criteria, compared to 11.9 percent of non-workaholics. And 8.9 percent of workaholics met depression criteria, compared to 2.6 percent of non-workaholics.
Consider two more facts:
- People who work eleven hours per day rather than eight have a 67% increased risk of developing heart disease.
- Those who work more than 50 hours per week are three times more likely to develop an alcohol-abuse problem.
Those are some pretty damning numbers. The problem is, workaholism is the rare mental health issue that can often have positive rewards in the short term — things like the praise of a happy boss or increased income. For these reasons, psychologist Bryan Robinson once called workaholism “the best-dressed mental health problem.”
So, if you’re trying to wean yourself off your work addiction but are just having a little difficulty, following are some things to keep in mind.
Not taking vacations hurts your career, your company and the economy.
Almost three-quarters of American workers don’t use all their vacation time and less than half take the time to plan out their vacations each year, according to Project: Time Off – sponsored by the U.S. Travel Association. As a result, they end up burning valuable time.
The Project Time Off study reports that in 2017, Americans forfeited 212 million paid time off days, equivalent to $62.2 billion in lost benefits. It cost the economy $255 billion in missed opportunity and could have generated 1.9 million jobs.
“The economic benefits are certainly not why people go on vacation, but there is a massive economic boom we could get (from people taking time off), says Katie Denis, lead researcher and author of the study.
On top of that, employees could gain back wages lost from sticking around the office. On an individual level, each employee donated an average of $561 in work time to their employer in 2017.
“We are essentially volunteering for our employers,” Denis says. “When we don’t take the vacation we’ve earned, we’re just giving money right back to them.”
An overworked employee is bad news for companies, too. Fatigued workers cost employers billionsannually in lost productivity time. After workers hit a certain point of exhaustion, they’re more likely to make costly mistakes and cause more accidents.
Workers that don’t take vacation were also found to be less productive and score lower on performance reviews.
According to a new study published in the Journal of Management, there is a significant difference between being engaged at work and being addicted to it. While the former is characterized by hard work because the employee is passionate about the job, the latter is often motivated by negative feelings like guilt, fear and compulsion.
Your brain needs breaks.
So, you are totally engaged, but do you leave time to take a much needed break or two during the day? Giving your brain some down time is essential to increasing productivity. A recent study found that the ideal work-to-break ratio should be 52 minutes of work followed by a 17-minute break.
Eating lunch at your desk is bad for you.
For one, a lunch break is a perfect time to recharge your gray matter. Also, the physical activity of getting up and away from your desk can help improve productivity and stave off obesity. A U.K. study found that people who ate more meals at work were more likely to be overweight.
What’s more, experts agree that grabbing lunch with co-workers and clients can be a great way to network and further your career. It is also important to note skipping lunch altogether is maybe the worst thing you can do.
Constantly checking email wastes your life.
No matter what you tell yourself, constantly being on your work email isn’t helping your state of mind or your productivity. A 2012 study found when workers were forced to take a five-day break from work email they experienced less stress and became more efficient at completing work tasks. The hiatus even led to workers having “more natural, variable heart rates.”
Workers who answer emails late in to the evening were also more likely to be exhausted the next day and hence less engaged, two 2014 studies found.
You’re probably hurting your relationship.
Being addicted to work can cause serious rifts between partners in romantic relationships. Since workaholism can be thought of as being similar to substance addiction, workaholics often prioritize their job over their friends and family. For example, those addicted to work can leave a disproportionate amount of domestic duties to spouses who have a more balanced approach to their careers.
Marriages involving a workaholic are twice as likely to end in divorce, a 1999 study found. For those that stay together, the psychological damage can be considerable. Kids of workaholics have been found to experience greater levels of depression and anxiety than the children of alcoholics.
You can’t keep it up forever.
In short, workaholics burn out. What may begin as simply spending a few extra hours at the office every week can quickly spiral into much more destructive behavior because workaholics don’t take the time to give themselves a break, CNNMoney reports. All that nonstop activity can result in bad personal habits and ultimately lead to what one expert called “incapacitating ‘burnout.’” What’s more, studies have shown that limiting workers to a 40-hour week is the best way to maintain long-term productivity.
It’s bad for your co-workers and employers.
Having workers who take on too much stress, as workaholics often do, isn’t just bad for the employee — it’s bad for companies and co-workers, too. Businesses lose an estimated $300 billion in productivity due to stress each year, according to the World Health Organization.
But that stress can also have collateral damage on co-workers. Since workaholics tend to be perfectionists, they can often put added , often unnecessary stress on their colleagues, according to experts.
And even worse for you.
In short, workaholism has been linked with a laundry list of disorders, including alcoholism, sleep problems, heart disease, depression and anxiety, weight gain, high blood pressure and even premature death.
Begin Intentional Recovery
Here are a few tips you can implement to begin a much healthier relationship with your work:
Make Relaxation Part of Your Day
Learning to work smarter, not longer, will increase productivity and help to eliminate the potential disastrous results from being overworked. Take a break for a few minutes at a time each day and relax periodically. You should relax by physically slowing down. Take deeper breaths, drink more water, take a walk outside. All of these things will help you to relax your body and your mind and will make you more productive.
Condense Your Workload
Give yourself a set amount of time to work each day and each week; then stick to it. You’ll find yourself becoming more productive during the time you actually work, because you have to get your stuff done faster. To help you stick with your new schedule, set appointments for 30 minutes after you’re supposed to be done. So, if you tell yourself you’re absolutely going to stop working at 5 p.m., set an appointment for 5:30 p.m. and stick to it. Make it a barber or beauty shop, or an appointment with your spouse or kids or workout partner. Whatever you do, stick to it.
Have Set Email and Social Media Times
Don’t allow yourself to be available to the world every minute of the day. Set times when you will check and respond to email. You really don’t need to be connected all the time. Now, take the time that you save from responding to email, and claim it by reducing your work hours. Also, now that you’re not being interrupted all the time, you can focus more.
Don’t Skip the Vacation
Taking the occasional vacation for a few days at a time can help you physically and emotionally recharge. If you can’t afford your dream vacation, more affordable mini vacations or stay-cations can be the answer. Take a day off to go hiking or sightseeing. Visit a relative within driving distance for the weekend. Pretend you’re a tourist in your own city and visit some attractions. Take the family camping.
Whatever your vacation idea, schedule it on your calendar and plan for it in advance. The payoff is greater balance between your personal and professional lives as well as delivering the emotional lift of something to look forward to. Your business will survive without you, so leave the laptop at home.
To avoid becoming one of the statistics from above, there are resources available for those who feel they may be losing the ability to balance their personal and work lives. For example, Workaholics Anonymous is a 12-step program based on the one designed for recovering alcoholics. It’s just one of many ways people can learn to set clear boundaries between the office and the home, according to CNNMoney.
Why Being A Workaholic Is Awful For You AND Everyone Around You, Harry Bradford, Huffington Post
Being a Workaholic is Bad For Your Health, Scott And Heidi Shimberg, 28 May 2015
The financial costs of not using your vacation days, KELLY ANNE SMITH, Bankrate.com
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