Attention Workaholics: The Key to Resilience is Knowing When to Switch Off

You scan through your e-mails for the first time before you’ve even left the bed. Eat breakfast in the car, scanning the day’s schedule while you’re stopped at the traffic light. Enter the office before anyone else. Don’t take any breaks. Have lunch at your desk. Dinner as well, some nights. Once you’re home, you continue to send e-mails, go over tomorrow’s tasks, and generally think about work until you find yourself back in bed at midnight or so. After an hour spent staring up at the ceiling, mentally penning notes, you may finally fall asleep.

The next day is a repeat of the last. So is the one after that. So are most.

You push yourself so hard that it all becomes a blur. Accomplishments no longer hold value, but when something doesn’t go as planned, you stress, and strain harder to achieve.

Sound familiar? If so, it’s time to concede that you’re a workaholic.

Is Workaholism Really a Big Deal?

Absolutely.

For the sake of clarification, a workaholic is someone who is overly concerned by work and driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, so that they invest so much time and effort into their work that it impairs other important life areas.

But the issue reaches far beyond a tipping of the work/life balance.

Here are just some of the side effects:

Increased risk of health and safety violations.
A paper by the University of Amsterdam’s Judith K. Sluiter found a direct link between the amount of time subjects spent working, and how likely they were to be involved in some kind of accident. The demands of the job were found to be only a secondary influence when compared to the extra work subjects chose to take on by their own volition.

Increased tendency to react emotionally to stimuli.
In 2015, researchers from Tel Aviv University ran a study to discover how sleep influences emotional behaviour. Volunteers took two tests: one after a good night’s sleep, the other after being kept awake for a 24 hour period. Both tests involved the volunteers responding to images classed as ‘positively emotional’, ‘negatively emotional’, or ‘neutral’.

They performed as was expected in the first test, but in the second, subjects responded emotionally to the neutral images.

In short, failure to get proper rest triggered a neurotic dysfunction in the volunteers that left them reacting irrationally. Doing business in such a highly emotional state can be very costly.

Decreased productivity.
It sounds ironic, right?

Hard work doesn’t always equal good work, especially when we’re sacrificing sleep to achieve it.

By doing so, we lose the value of 11 days of productivity, or about $63.2 billion, across the entire workforce in a year. And that’s in the US alone.

So What’s the Solution?

From an early age, we’re taught to develop and respect the power of resilience. We felt our parents pride when they found us awake, studying at 1AM. We saw the way the media worshipped that boxer who went one more round when everyone thought they were beaten. We agreed when someone called doctors are heroes for working themselves to the bone in 36-hour shifts.

We work, and work, and work, because that’s how we learn success is forged.

But we’re wrong.

Success is forged in balance, and balance only comes when we switch off.

I don’t mean stop. You can leave the office when the clock strikes 5PM and still spend the rest of the night thinking about work.

I mean really switch off. From work, and from all states of extreme mental stimulation.

It’s easier said than done, but below are some simple steps to regaining balance:

  • Take work breaks away from the computer.
  • Use your annual leave.
  • Maintain a regular sleep pattern.
  • Turn off your tech.

And, simply, relax. There’s nothing wrong with spending a weekend on the lounge if you’ve had a particularly intensive week. We’re too quick to guilt ourselves for taking it easy, but if we truly want to be great at our work, it’s a necessity.

Resources:

Harvard Business Review (2016). “Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure.”
https://hbr.org/2016/06/resilience-is-about-how-you-recharge-not-how-you-endure

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