A couple of years ago, working long hours was totally normal. Overwork had this status of “that’s the way to go if you want to get admiration and success”. Today, we still see a lot of people cultivating overwork. In the name of success, we seem too ready to sacrifice our health, our family and everything that makes us happy. The good news is that more and more people start to discover and understand the truth behind this sacrifice: the cult of overwork is killing us. Often without us even realizing it…
Elisa, a finance director, works long hours. She’s usually in the office from 8am to 6pm, and at home, when her children go to sleep, she’ll work some more. She sometimes works during weekends. But even though she works 50 to 60 hours per week, she has the feeling that she can “switch off” when she needs to, and that she still feels energetic every day and she loves her job. She feels she can make a difference and that makes it worth all the effort.
John, another finance director, works around 45 hours a week but he is never able to “switch off”. He’s obsessed with work and never seems to relax. Even when he’s spending time with his family, his mind is hooked on the job and also his nights are haunted by to do’s. He’s suffering from hypertension and needs to have his heart checked. The doctor asks him how important work is. Work means everything, but his results deteriorate and he’s having more conflicts with his coworkers and his boss. And John didn’t mention the difficulties he’s having with his wife and his children…
Where is the difference? A 2018 study published in Harvard Business Review makes the difference between the behavior of working long hours and the mentality of not being able to detach from work. And from this study we learn that:
- If you have enough resources to recharge your batteries, long working hours don’t have to be a problem for your mental or your physical health. How can you do this? By taking time to unwind before going to bed, by having good and supportive relationships and by creating time to relax (and not only during holidays!). A warning needs to be given: permanent overwork doesn’t result in increased output and a 2015 study reports that those working a 55-hour week face 33% increased risk of stroke.
- If you are obsessed with work and you don’t switch off, your stress level is constantly high and this puts your health at risk. Engaged workaholics can solve the problem of the obsession with work more easily than non-engaged workers. When you love your job and are driven by intrinsic motivation you can go the extra mile with more ease than your unengaged coworkers, but you are at risk of missing the warning signals that you are burning out. If you are more extrinsically motivated (for example by money or status) and you don’t have the feeling of doing a meaningful job, you will suffer more quickly from health issues linked with high workplace stress.
If you want to read more about the hyper-engagement burnout cycle we recommend following by Jochen Menges, PhD about his 2018 study and his TEDx talk here.
Alexander Kjerulf wrote several articles on overwork and how harmful it can be. It’s not only an issue for employees, but also for people who start their own business. We can’t agree more with the final thought Alexander added to one of his articles on this topic: “Imagine starting your own company and ending up creating a workplace where you hate to work. How stupid is that?”