In our “balls to the wall” culture, there’s a thin line between being dedicated to your career and being a workaholic. Organizations seek and retain employees who “go all in” during their work. We define them as our “superstars.” We award them and promote them. We use them as a model of the perfect employee for others to emulate. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. However, the human body and mind can only sustain that level of energy, stress, and motivation for so long. Over time, the body and mind slow as they become overworked. Soon after, fatigue sets in. And before you know it, serious problems arise.
How to tell if you’re being overworked so you can change it.
Although everybody is unique and reacts to prolonged stress in slightly different ways, the most common signs that you’re overworked include the following:
- Having trouble disconnecting. In our fast-paced and wired world, we have never-ending access to our work—it’s sitting in our pockets! Technology is completely interwoven throughout our lives, making it extremely difficult to disconnect from work. We’re always “on.” This constant stimulation makes it difficult to truly disconnect and rest.
- You feel like you’re always behind. The ironic thing about overworking is that it makes you less productive — both at work and at home. You spread yourself so thin that you can’t focus and dive deep into work that gives you the juice. And when you’re pouring the majority of your time and effort into work, you start to feel behind in other areas of your life: physically, relationally, and spiritually. Even those odd-and-end kinds of tasks that life throws at you, like paying the bills or changing the oil, can become hard to do. You can’t keep up.
- Your health declines. The impact of overworking will show up in your body, whether your brain acknowledges it or not. Are you experiencing these symptoms of overwork?
- Exhaustion, brain fog, and difficulty concentrating
- Stress—feeling tense and on edge
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain or loss and poor eating habits
Listen to your body’s warning signs.
If you’re feeling one or many of these symptoms, then it’s time to pay attention. At first, you might not think this is a big deal. But you could develop serious issues over time, like heart disease. And increased stress can lead to behaviors like alcoholism and partner-relationship problems.
- You feel distant from friends and family. There’s nothing complicated about it- the more time you spend working, the less time you spend with friends and family. As you drift further and further into your work, you drift farther and farther away from the people you care about. Those relationships weaken, and eventually, you find yourself alone and disconnected. Your friends and family are your armor. You need them by your side to help you manage life’s difficulties. It’s best to keep them close.
- You lose your passion. You simply cannot sustain the joy and excitement of pursuing your career when you’re grinding all day, every day. The spark that ignites your passion is snuffed out by demanding hours. If you’ve lost your drive and your passion for work, it’s a good sign that you’re spending too much time at the office.
So what can you do about it? Make a plan!
- Be clear with yourself on what needs to change. Get some accountability—loop your spouse, mentor, or friends into the conversation. Set specific boundaries and goals with statements like, “I’ll be home by 6 p.m. every day for family dinner.”; “I’m going to stop checking emails at 5 p.m. every evening.”; “I’m not answering work calls on the weekend.”
- Get some time on the calendar to talk to your supervisor. Be respectful and direct about your stress and concerns. Share your boundaries with your supervisor and ask, “Can we work together to make this a reality?” Ask for what you need, whether cutting back on your responsibilities or scaling back your hours.
- And if you are experiencing severe fatigue symptoms, consider seeking professional support. There are very talented behavioral health specialists out there that can help you achieve your goals.
Your work matters to you, so you should enjoy it! Being overworked is simply not worth it. Your life is so much more than what happens at work and by avoiding burnout and finding balance in life, you can bring the right energy to the table at work. Enjoy life to its fullest! Godspeed.