When Work Becomes Bad for Your Health

In start-ups to high-growth companies to legacy organizations, leaders blindly advocate the value of chronically working long hours. “I’m so busy” is the mantra of hustlers, gladiators, and grinders. Yet, the habits of this trio of hard workers do not make them role models. The consequences can negatively influence employees’ health: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal issues, depression, anxiety, just to name a few.

Working hard is not a bad thing. However, if you continuously sacrifice time with family, friends, and yourself for “getting one more thing done,” you undermine your long-term effectiveness. Researchers from Sweden found that workers who continuously put in 60 – 80 hours a week are at a higher risk of neurological dysfunction.

Compounding the problem of poor health is the lack of work recovery. Work recovery is the downtime we use to do something that’s not work-related. The unrealistic, and often unspoken expectation, that employees put in time after the workday ends puts into motion a vicious cycle. It’s a cycle that fuels fatigue and burnout.

Solutions for Long Work Hours and Promote Employee Health

Companies that prioritize practices that promote well-being and productivity create a positive work culture. Here are four foundational solutions that can make a difference.

  1. Leverage technology. Give employees the flexibility to work from home during the week. Use technology, like Bluescape, to keep teams connected no matter their location on a given day.
  2. Teach collaborative skills. A Harvard study shows that collaborative work has increased 50 percent over the past twenty years. Collaboration requires strong soft skills: conflict management, understanding differences, communicating with clarity, for example. Professional skills are maximized when soft skills facilitate positive interactions and outcomes.
  3. Sleep education. Educate your company’s leaders on signs of fatigue and distress during the busy seasons or in employees prone to burnout: irrational behavior, impaired judgment, increased forgetfulness, increase in workplace accidents, decrease in performance at work, and increase in health problems.
  4. Know your sources of energy. At The Energy Project, the consulting company educates its clients on the four sources of energy that humans need for high performance: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The company’s founder, Tony Schwartz, wrote, “Energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance.” When we use the four sources of energy to help us spend and recover energy, according to Schwartz, we can be more fully engaged in our work and life.

Indeed, there are other solutions to counter the deleterious effects of working too much. For example, daily exercise, a healthy diet, and even a practice of mindfulness and meditation. What’s most important is to design a solution that works for your company’s culture.

In America, we believe hard work is important to success. Success, however, is best sustained by able bodies and minds. Wise executives, owners, and managers understand that results cannot be at the cost of its employees. It is because of them. The four solutions listed above are rich in ideas that signal what your company believes in focusing on wellness to achieve extraordinary performances.

A full version of this article was published on Inc.com.

About the Author

Shawn Murphy

Shawn is our Director of Organizational Behavior and Workplace Trends. His second book, Work Tribes comes out in August 2019. Shawn’s first book, The Optimistic Workplace is out now. Inc. has listed him twice as one of the top leadership speakers in America.

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