Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat?
While the other guy is sleeping, I’m working.
Haven’t we all fallen victim to this mindset before? We assume that working hard and sacrificing all our free time guarantees success. This flawed ideology drives a prevalent epidemic in today’s society: workaholism.
This term has become ever-popular in our fast-paced world. With evolving demands from the labor market, it is not a surprise that many of us work long hours. However, workaholism is characterized by our work dictating our lives and interfering with our wellbeing and relationships, as opposed to merely working long hours. A staggering 10% of the U.S. adult population suffers from this epidemic, according to the National Library of Medicine.
This isn’t a surprising figure — nowadays, the value of what we produce often trumps our inherent value as people. This (unfortunate) notion drives us to obsess overfilling our day with work-related tasks, leaving little time for rest and rejuvenation. According to journalist Steve Inskeep from the National Public Radio, our culture has shifted from one which flaunts wealth with leisure time to one which glorifies a life that has been deprived of relaxation. As Inskeep would say, “Why is the lack of time our latest status symbol”?
To examine this correlation between busyness and wealth, a team of scientists led by Silvia Bellezza, an assistant professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, conducted an experiment. The goal was to determine what people think of busy people versus people with lots of time on their hands. In one experiment, researchers asked respondents to read a short description of a 35-year-old man named Jeff. One group of participants was told: “Jeff works long hours and his calendar is always full.”. In contrast, participants in the other group were told, “Jeff does not work and has a leisurely lifestyle.”. After learning these scenarios, participants rated the perceived social status of the person described, automatically assuming that the overworked Jeff was a relatively wealthy man, whereas his “lazier” counterpart was not.
Bellezza explained this phenomenon in the Harvard Business Review. “In general, we found that the busy person is perceived as high status, and interestingly, these status attributions are heavily influenced by our own beliefs about social mobility.” (Bellezza). In other words, the more we believe that one has the opportunity to succeed on the basis of hard work, the more we tend to believe that people who work all the time and skip leisure hold a higher standing.
Furthermore, Neeru Paharia, a marketing professor at Georgetown University, examined the Twitter feeds of celebrities. She found, again, that rather than boasting about their wealth, many celebrities boast about their lack of time. Is this lack of time really something to boast about?
It is important to establish that this concept of busyness is not necessarily synonymous with being productive. This misconception makes it easy to assume that workaholics contribute more to society and are ultimately more efficient. However, workaholism is quite counterproductive. When we make work the epicenter of our lives, we inevitably ignore wellbeing and relationships. The risk of not being able to socially keep up is too great for us, so we end up compromising other aspects of our lives to focus on work. It has been proven that excessively working can lead to many physical and psychological detriments in the long run.
As the National Institute of Health reports, workaholics have a higher risk of getting insufficient sleep, and thus daytime fatigue. It was also found that workaholism can lead to muscle pain, cardiovascular disease, digestion issues, and a compromised immune system.
There are many ways a workaholic lifestyle can impact our mental health, as well. Harvard researcher and professor Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D., studies the neuroscience of human connection and has found that a workaholic’s relationships are likely to suffer. Their “chronic busyness can make them appear unapproachable and detached”, which prevents them from engaging in meaningful relationships (Lieberman).
Furthermore, Jodi Clarke, a licensed professional counselor and mental health service provider, found that overworking can take a toll on our mental health. Many workaholics can feel anxious, sad, or frustrated.
How does being in a suboptimal state of well-being improve the quality of our work and lives overall?
The short answer: It doesn’t.
So what can be done to mitigate this growing issue?
According to IMSA, a global recruiting company, current labor market trends are moving towards the conclusion that less work often means more results.
Take the example of the New Zealand company, Perpetual Guardian, which has reduced the working week to four days as part of a trial while keeping the salaries and benefits of their employees the same. Academics who studied this trial reported lower stress levels, higher levels of job satisfaction, and an improved sense of work-life balance amongst the employees. Critically, they also say workers were 20% more productive.
Of course, it is not only about cutting the working days or hours but about introducing a culture that does not glorify time spent on work. Professional counselor Jodi Clarke theorizes that it is not uncommon for us to obtain our sense of self-worth through the recognition we receive from the workplace as a result of our busyness. However, while this recognition may provide instant gratification, it is not a healthy nor sustainable way to fulfill our sense of self-worth. It can make us feel isolated, exhausted, and inadequate.
Clarke recommends we reexamine where our sense of self-worth has been coming from and how well it has worked. We must “evaluate our core values and determine what brings us a meaningful sense of connection” (Clarke). An example of this could be recognizing that overworking yourself leaves you feeling exhausted rather than valued. Setting boundaries between work and your personal time would be the best way to combat this issue, Clarke says.
In an ever-changing workforce with seemingly endless demands, it is easy to fill our calendars up, endure sleepless nights, and burn ourselves out.
However, we can change this.
We can’t let our lives revolve around our jobs while compromising our health and relationships. It is time that we stop being enslaved to our work and held captive to its demands. The power is in your hands to change your narrative to become a healthier, happier you.