Most of us will experience occasional intensive episodes when we need to work harder and longer, but alarm bells should ring if that becomes your norm, writes Rebecca Zucker for Harvard Business Review.
It’s unavoidable to be a temporary slave to work when tough deadlines collide or if there’s a time of year that is always more hectic and demanding in your industry. But pushing yourself to the limit at work becomes counterproductive – and damaging both professionally and personally – when it’s a permanent habit.
Once a workaholic culture takes hold it can be difficult to recognise your behaviour as out of the ordinary. But executive coach Zucker says there are some clear tell-tale signs that you’re overdoing it. Ask yourself:
1) Are you regularly working through the weekends or failing to take your annual leave? Figures show that 77% of Americans do not take all of the vacation time owed to them. Yet studies of top athletes have established that achieving your best performance is only possible if you balance hard graft with periods of relaxation. Resting, even for short periods, is vital for restoring your energy.
2) Are you sidelining your personal relationships? Always putting work first and failing to connect with partners, family and friends has a negative effect on health – and workaholics are twice as likely to get divorced.
Zucker says: “Research shows that strong social relationships are positively correlated to lifespan and that a lack of social relationships has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” If your social life is non-existent, it’s time to find a better balance.
3) Do you take your work brain home with you? Do you find it impossible to switch off to engage with family and friends, even when you take time out to be with them? Two-thirds of Americans in a recent study said they took work with them on holiday, and one of Zucker’s law firm clients admitted to checking his work email compulsively on weekends he had committed to spending quality time with his daughter.
4) Are you eating unhealthily, sacrificing sleep or failing to get enough exercise? When personal care falls by the wayside it’s a sign that your behaviour needs attention.
Sleep is often the first to suffer when you devote increasing amounts of your time to work – even though “sleep deprivation is shown to impair higher-level cognitive functions including judgement, critical thinking, decision making and organisation”.
Neglecting exercise has a similarly negative effect, while keeping it up boosts our energy and offers an effective antidote for stress.
5) Have you lost sight of your value as a person? Do you measure your success in life only through your professional performance at work? Try asking your family and friends what they value about you outside the workplace to gain a more comprehensive picture.
Limited bursts of high intensity working are inevitable from time to time, but creating a successful life relies on balancing the professional with the personal by taking care of your health and your personal relationships.