You are Working for the Job, but Is it Working for You
Your health and well-being depend on the answer
“Quick, Matt has collapsed at his desk!” I ran three floors down the stairs to Matt’s office. Despite my frequent warnings, he had continued to work long hours, and now my worst fear seemed a reality. A wailing ambulance raced with him to the emergency.
Matt’s incident got me thinking. In 2016, long work hours had killed 745,000 people worldwide, reported the World Health Organization (WHO) in May this year. For these people, sustained long hours triggered stroke and heart disease, both fatal. It’s not entirely new information, though. A French research paper presented similar findings in the July 2019 issue of the American Heart Association’s journal, Stroke. People working long hours had a 29% greater risk of stroke, and for those doing so for ten years or more, the risk is 45% higher. WHO only confirmed such findings.
Despite such warnings, we keep working long hours to meet our job requirements. And after the onset of the current pandemic, we have started working from home, blurring the fine line between home and work. Recent research at the University of South Australia has found several adverse impacts of working from home (WFH). WFH may offer many advantages, such as less commuting or exposure to air pollution. But it has some downsides too. The researchers pointed out how the absence of commute time can cause workplace stress to intrude into our homes. Working alone may make us feel lonely and disconnected. The pandemic has only aggravated the situation for those for whom long hours are the norm.
But it’s a lethal working culture. The French research further showed that white-collar workers are more likely to have a health problem from long working hours. For today’s knowledge workers, it’s an alarming situation.
When a knowledge worker moves up the corporate hierarchy, her salary and other benefits increase as well. But at the same time, her workload increases. That, in turn, often demands more time and focus for work, leaving less for the family and friends, with potential adverse impacts on health. If she works in her area of interest or for a small outfit with a family-friendly environment, it may not be an issue. But, in today’s society, the pressure to monetize everything is so intense that most of us have sacrificed our genuine interests and hobbies for a more lucrative or ‘safe’ profession. Unfortunately, only corporates can usually offer such jobs. Already in a routine of working long hours, when a corporate employee starts WFH, the ‘work mode’ never leaves her. She loses that crucial break between work and family times.
Meanwhile, while the job demand increases, our energy level reduces with time. So we try to fill up the widening gap by sacrificing our capital — health, family time, social network, and hobbies. To cope with it, we sometimes consider slowing down but can’t. Often, it’s so because our perceived needs have trapped us, and the current income level has become ‘essential.’ Society also pressures us to do things such as keep up with friends and neighbors (such as buying visible commodities). We find it very hard to come out of that as we are socialized to keep up in those ways.
If you want the same income level to continue and are happy to work for it, by all means, please do so. But if you feel that work is taking more time and effort from you than it should, there are ways to escape from such a situation.
What can you do to avoid long hours?
A few crucial actions may help you. First of all, set your boundaries. It may not be easy, though. Some companies are pretty strict about how the employees should respond to work demands, especially as we live in today’s always-on digital economy. But if you are serious about your well-being, schedule for work, rest, family hours, exercise, and sleep as you see reasonable and sustainable. Follow it. Can you set a time limit for checking emails and turn notifications off outside it? Similarly, can you keep evenings, weekends, and vacations for yourself, family, and friends? A personal routine with adequate time for enjoying meals, sleeping, and exercise can improve your well-being.
Second, do not multitask. It may be counterproductive, as the total time taken for both tasks will be longer. This blog post is a good guide on when to multitask and when not to.
Third, avoid back-to-back meetings because they can be exhausting. A recent Microsoft study has shown that some free time between two sessions may improve productivity.
Finally, focus on your overall happiness. You can draw it from doing the things you enjoy. A job that aligns with your interests can be a source of enjoyment. Then there are family, friends, hobbies, a business venture, learning a new skill, or whatever pleases you. Here is a word of wisdom from Warren Buffet: “The way to do it is to play out the game and do something you enjoy all your life.”
Luckily, Matt has recovered and returned to work. But he has changed his work habits because he doesn’t want to be another fatality of long hours. I am sure you don’t either.
#work #family #health #wellbeing #selfcare #heartDisease #stroke #happiness