Your company should be able to function without you. Whether you are just starting out in your career, or if you are the CEO, you should be able to take breaks, and take them often. The good news – is that if you are consistently overworking – this offers a great awareness opportunity. If you find yourself in a cycle of overwork/overwhelm and simply cannot stop your overtime, reduce your hours, take a sick day or unplug on vacations – it usually identifies one of two primary issues (or a combo of these):
Lack of Organizational Resilience or a Tangible Problem within the Department/Project Team:
If your company or department cannot function well enough for you to unplug during vacation or support you living a balanced healthy lifestyle — it is running an unsustainable model. A company should be able to function and survive despite any member of the company leaving… ANY member. The fact it is unable to do so, means it has become overly reliant upon you and/or other people within the company.
Simply put, if overtime is regular and the workload is unmanageable — the company has inured itself into relying on the overtime it receives from you. It is, quite literally, undervaluing its workforce (by not hiring an appropriate staff to workload ration) and setting itself up for failure — consistently running teams at capacity is counterproductive to organizational resiliency, leads to burnout, and harms employees’s health. This leads to boom and bust cycles for an organization, employee retention issues, low morale, as well as a long term, systemic, toxic corporate culture for the company. It is not healthy for the company, nor you.
In certain instances, the issue can be tied to a specific department or project team. If this is the case, the issue usually has to do directly with leadership and is the result of either a lack of awareness, lack of empathy, or lack of commitment to supporting the health and well-being of the team members. Sadly, it is usually ignorance from leadership that contributes to these scenarios. Often, leaders themselves are workaholics with little to no self-awareness in this space. As a result, the leader will inadvertently cause pain and hardship within the team, due to their own lack of self-awareness.
What to do About it
- Start becoming aware. Notice how often you or your colleagues are in situations where the workload is unmanageable. Start to recognize and identify the root cause of the situation – is it an unmanageable workload, expectations, personal habits?
- Ask the questions:
- When was the last time you or a colleague unplugged during a vacation?
- How often can you and your colleagues take lunch?
- Do you joke about not having time to go to the bathroom between meetings?
- Do you support others in taking breaks and unplugging?
- Do you email your colleagues/employees at night and expect them to answer consistently after hours?
Personal and/or Cultural Tendency Towards Workaholism
Workaholism is rampant in our work culture. Many of us are workaholics in large part due to the cultural norms that we find ourselves working in. My experience has shown there are two key reasons we tend towards workaholism:
Reason #1 – It has served us well and led to professional success; as a result, we fear approaching work differently.
This fear is rightfully placed by the way… Certain cultures and environments simply won’t support a different approach to our work, especially once there has been a long-standing expectation in place to consistently perform at the expense of ourselves/our families. Be aware that changing our approach to work in this type of scenario can be very hard. In some instances, it is not possible without an environmental or personal job change. It’s important to recognize that changing our approach to work can take time, and it requires significant introspection combined with a real awareness of our work environment in order to transition successfully and safely to a different lifestyle – but it CAN be done. Be patient and gentle with yourself as you explore your personal work situation, habits, attitudes and tendencies.
Reason #2 – We don’t have any mentors or models showing us another way to work while still maintaining our professional reputation/status.
Overtime is often assumed to be part of our roles and work environments have come to rely upon a variety of personal sacrifices from employees to “get the job done”. Furthermore, we don’t have many strong models of well balanced and professionally successful colleagues. Work environments are sorely lacking mentors to guide and show us healthy ways of being and engaging with our work. In contrast, we often band together to banter or discuss the challenges and stresses of work, but unfortunately leave these discussions without ever arriving at a healthy solution to our collective problem. Workaholism can arise from a variety of reasons, but often it is simply a reflection of the corporate culture we all work in. Some valuable questions to consider when reflecting on workaholism include the following:
- Do I need to feel needed?
- Do I trust others within my organization to do their job and cover for me?
- Have I built an empowered team that can function and thrive without me?
All of these are personal inquiry questions and can lead to some really great discoveries about ourselves and our relationship with work. It’s worthwhile to take the time to explore these if you find yourself trending towards workaholism.
What to do About it
- Start actively seeking out people that you respect who seem to have some work-life balance.
- Ask them how they achieved it.
- Get outside your comfort zone and purposely commit to incorporating “slow activities” in your life. The reason for this is that sometimes (especially initially) slowing down is uncomfortable – why is that?
- Hobbies – woodworking, fishing, hiking, or anything else that requires you to move and engage yourself at a very slow pace.
- Reflect on your workaholism tendencies:
- What age did they arise?
- When and what triggers them?
- Does your current work culture contribute to this tendency, or are you the only one working this way?
- Is it driven from personal expectations, or external expectations, or both?
- Is it present at the office and outside of the office through other organizations/boards/obligatory activities?