Overwork Has To STOP - Your Life Depends On It

I'm tired. Tired of seeing people around me stressed out, frustrated and overloaded with work. 

One friend in particular has let work become all consuming. I have known him for a number of years and he enjoyed life until his promotion last year. He now feels the world is on his shoulders and his superiors are all too happy to take advantage of it. All he can think about is the huge amount of work that he cannot possibly get through--in part due to a few colleagues off on stress leave, poor employee morale and the time-consuming meetings he now has to attend, along with all the new responsibilities. He feels like the hamster that can't get off the wheel.

I fear for him because it is affecting his health in a number of ways: increased difficulty focusing, irritability, a strained marriage, high blood pressure and excess weight. He has even started to take a prescription to help him focus, yet he alone is not the problem.

 The Overworked American by Juliet B. Schor

The Overworked American by Juliet B. Schor

Unfortunately, I have seen this happen too many times and I get sick to my stomach every time I see a new incarnation of first world corporate expectations. It makes people ill, even costing them their lives in some cases. And it's getting worse.

Don't believe me? Check out The Overworked American by Juliet B. Schor. Here's an excerpt from page 11:

"…Americans are literally working themselves to death—as jobs contribute to heart disease, hypertension, gastric problems, depression, exhaustion, and a variety of other ailments."

This is NOT the way life has to be!

Managers, listen up!

If you are a manager in an organization, it is your responsibility to watch out for your people. Your job is not to dish out more than they can handle and see who survives. The latter is what the spineless do. You need to wade through all that is expected or desired by the leaders of the organization and eliminate, prioritize and push back when needed.

It is reasonable to expect those at the helm to make the tough choices as opposed to push the sh*tload of work downhill to individuals who don't feel in a position to say "NO." It is especially repugnant when that work is useless garbage that you know deep down won't really matter in the end.

If you work for someone, you are not off the hook either.

You have to know what are acceptable demands and you should speak up when you think the work requested is excessive, unnecessary or not a priority. Ensuring you make the best use of your time is good for you and for your boss.  

I can hear the complaints already:

  • What if I stand up for myself and it turns out badly?
  • How will my co-workers perceive me? I don't want to look like a slacker.
  • But I can't work anywhere else. This is all I know.
  • I don't want to get fired. What about my pension, my benefits, my [fill in the blank]...

...and the rationalization:

  • What about my responsibilities? I have a family you know.
  • I can't leave this job, it's who I am and what I do.
  • The pay is too good for me to find something else.
  • It will get better when... 
  • It's not that bad. This is a good company.
  • Do you know how many people would kill for this job?

Complaining is a useless activity. Rationalizing is not much better. They are passive behaviours,  misdirected energy.

What can you DO then? 

Whether you are a manager or an employee in an organization, you can change your work situation by changing what you can control:

  1. Live below your means. There is no excuse to live paycheque to paycheque.
    1. Downsize your belongings.
    2. Save at least 10% of what you make. Yes, 20% or more is better. Put money aside:
      1. For your long term needs--don't trust a corporate pension to take care of you.
      2. To allow you to walk away from a bad situation. 
    3. Stop spending on frivolous stuff that keeps you in the work/spend cycle.
  2. Learn new and different skills that allow for more job or career flexibility.
  3. Develop an identity outside work to reduce the potential for work to define who you are and how you feel.
    1. Start a side business you are passionate about. If it's the right fit, it's energizing and offers a bit of security and fosters a belief you can pursue different lines of work.
    2. Make sure you make time to discover non-work activities that help provide perspective on what is really important in life, and to you.
  4. Nurture a strong network of friends and acquaintances.

By focusing on what puts you in a stronger position to act, you empower yourself to change the status quo and, better yet, ensure you never accept a situation that makes you feel as though you have no choice but to accept the unacceptable.

What about you? What's your situation? Are you stressed out or burning out? Are you part of a shrinking minority in the cubicle jungle who enjoys rewarding and reasonably demanding work?