By Richard Morris, UK CEO, at global workspace provider Regus
We’ve all had ‘one of those weeks’. By a nasty stroke of luck, you’ve got projects overlapping, deadlines looming, a dozen client meetings and a handful of new employees to get up to speed. Before you know it, you’re 70 hours deep and you can’t remember what a good sleep feels like.
But for some people, that’s not a bad week – it’s every week!
For some long hours are – at least to certain extent – self-inflicted. It’s not entirely clear whether an addiction to work can be considered a disease in the same way we see alcoholism or other addictions – but there do seem to be some similarities. The adrenaline high from a long binge of work, the exhausting crash from doing too much, followed by periods of unease and ‘withdrawal’ during times of inactivity. We all know that person who wears their hours-per-week like a badge of honour, but there comes a point where excessive workloads can start to affect your health, your social life and your family.
Where an addiction to work differs from traditional vices – and where it can certainly be reinforced – is in the way society condones it. What’s important is that you know where to draw the line – where your commitments to work are in a healthy equilibrium with the other important parts of your life.
The effect on business
If you’re the kind of person who could happily work yourself into a stupor, sacrificing your health and your social life for the sake of your business, then think again. Research suggests that, beyond a 50-hour week, there’s a sharp drop in output – and after 55 hours, things get even worse. So much worse, in fact, that someone racking up 70 hours produces nothing more than someone doing 55.
And that’s before you start to factor in the sheer drain of working incessantly. Ken Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute think tank, believes that overworking is actually a hindrance to productivity: “The simple reality is that work, both mental and physical, results in fatigue that limits the cognitive and bodily resources people have to put towards their work. When they are not thinking clearly or moving as quickly or precisely they must work more slowly.”
Recognising the warning signs
It’s not always easy to understand your own habits. But there are some fairly universal traits. Psychotherapist Brian Robinson defines workaholism as “someone on the ski slopes who is dreaming about being back in the office” – and there’s certainly some truth there.
If you find it hard to take proper breaks, find that your general happiness is defined by how well your work’s going, and find that your work is having an effect on your physical health, you probably need to take it down a notch. But that’s not to say that any short burst of heavy, hard work is a sign of an unhealthy habit. We all need to pull the occasional all-nighter to get what we want – the trick is knowing when to stop.
There will always be periods where you find yourself working long hours, juggling a multitude of tasks. But for the sake of good health and productivity it’s important not to let this situation become the norm. Flexible working can help to improve the work/life balance at the same time as boosting your productivity hopefully meaning that those hectic times are kept to a minimum.