Work, as a cultural dynamic, has something of an interesting place in American society. Throughout the latter half of the previous century, ‘work’ was the subliminal metric by which we measured ourselves and others in terms of utility, worth, even social status. To this day, we often hear proud exclamations in the realm of: “I put in 60 hours this week alone!” While a strong work ethic is commendable, there is nothing glamorous about working yourself down to the bone, putting your mental and emotional well-being at risk, and burning out. And that is precisely what happens to those who cannot find a healthy balance between work and life: burnout.
So then, how do we isolate the line between healthy and unhealthy? Taylor and Francis, an online repository of scientific journals and academic materials, ran a study on the correlations between ‘workaholism’ and health. Their findings indicated “significant relations between workaholism subscales and SHC, job stress, burnout, and work engagement.”
Many psychologists today are of the firm opinion that workaholism is a disease, passed down from parent to child, which values perfectionism and running oneself ragged to achieve, far over and above any concerns of mental health and emotional balance. It is, overall, indicative of a mindset that believes any real value must be earned as a byproduct of economic success, which again, is a largely unexamined hand-me-down from Industrial American culture. It is a paradigm that is doing very few people any long-term favors—although your boss may certainly appreciate all the extra work you’re putting in, depending on their overtime stance.
As far as unexamined paradigms go—and they are often the most potentially insidious of modern influences on society and culture the world over—the notion that “wealth equals happiness” is among the most powerful and pervasive. While it’s understandable, given that so much of the world’s population lives in considerable poverty (in the US alone, over 60 percent of the population makes well under 50,000 a year), a great many studies have shown, again and again, that once a certain monetary threshold is reached (around 75,000 in the US), increased income has very little contribution to happiness.
It’s not money, then, that is important—it’s the lack of it.
Given all this, then, how can you determine where you stand? Say you’re a highly motivated professional who genuinely cares about both career and living a full life—where do you draw the line? Consider asking yourself some questions:
- Have you heard comments in the last month about how much you work?
- Can you actually take weekends off without checking your email?
- Do you turn to work when feelings of guilt, concern, or anger rise up?
- When was the last time you took a few days to pursue something you enjoy but won’t be paid for?
These questions may seem basic, but they should, and their answers matter. If you find yourself shying away from this kind of topic, that is also a good indication you need to sit back and give some careful reflection to the subject: How much better a job can you do if you’re healthy and balanced?
To be clear, the difference between a healthy work ethic and a tendency toward “workaholism” is typically quite vast. However, if you feel you fit the latter demographic, all hope is not lost. Chances are a shift in perception and a proverbial “letting yourself off the hook” may be one of the first steps toward a positive change.
Work smart (not hard). Perhaps you can put your penchant for hard work to use by maximizing your knack for efficiency. Remind yourself that being highly productive for a shorter time is an accomplishment in and of itself. Setting reasonable limits is vital to ensuring that your work doesn’t consume all other aspects of your life.
Look at the “big picture”. Viewing your life as a complete entity can help you realize what may be missing from it. Although somber in nature, imagine what those closest to you will remember most. Will they recall pleasant and fulfilling memories of time shared? Sometimes we must take a glimpse at ourselves from a different perspective in order to improve and make the most of the life we’ve got.
Stewart, Cooper & Coon, has helped thousands of decision makers and senior executives move up in their careers and achieve significantly improved financial packages within short time frames. Contact Fred Coon – 866-883-4200, Ext. 200