A few years ago I attended a conference presentation by Dr Adam Fraser, a psychologist. He talked about working with elite athletes who trained hard, and rested well so that they could perform again the next day. He used that analogy for people working in high performance workplaces, suggesting we all need rest to be able to keep on performing our jobs. Do you get enough rest?
In difficult financial times, people in work places often work harder and longer hours, to prove their worth. This may be a mistake. Not getting enough rest or having sufficient breaks, can impact your performance. In fact, researchers suggest that resilience is built after working hard AND resting well.
Being “on” all the time
It is suggested that there is a direct relationship between a lack of recovery and health and safety problems. Lack of recovery may come from continuous “cognitive arousal” from being “on” all the time – checking emails, mobile phones and thinking about work so much that it disrupts sleep, and ultimately, well-being.
Addicted to work
The sense that work requires access to their employees 24/7 is a major factor for some employees. Whether required or implied, this can lead to people “overworking” or even “workaholism”.
… workaholism is being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas
(Achor & Gielan, 2016)
What does workaholism look like? Overloaded workload. Employees arriving early, staying late, pulling all-nighters, working weekends and being tied to electronic devices 24/7. In some intense workplaces, the pressure to be available day and night goes with the territory of being an ideal employee. As such, it tends to be woven in to the fabric of the organisation – its culture.
If workaholism takes hold, there is a real risk of burnout. Burnout is a term used to describe people who are exhausted, cynical, and overwhelmed as a result of over-work. Emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and reduced personal accomplishment are three dimensions of burnout (Valcour, 2016).
- Emotional exhaustion gives a sense of being used up emotionally, physically and cognitively. As a results you can’t concentrate, are easily upset or angered, get sick more often, and have difficulty sleeping.
- Depersonalisation is evident in feelings of alienation from and cynicism towards people you interact with like work colleagues.
- Reduced personal accomplishment often occurs because with burnout your performance is compromised as is your self-belief. This can be misconstrued as low performance instead of recognising you are in a crisis situation.
A question of balance
Valcour (2016) suggests “research shows that burnout occurs when the demands people face on the job outstrip the resources they have to meet them”. Your body can be out of alignment from overworking. It’s response is to try to restore the balance using mental and physical resources. The more imbalanced we become due to overworking, the more value there is in engaging in activities to return to a state of balance. Thus the value of a recovery period increases.
How do we recover?
Achor and Gielan (2016) suggest two kinds of recovery: internal (short periods of relaxation within the workday) and external (actions that happen outside work). Internal recovery can include short breaks, by shifting attention or changing to other work. External recovery includes free time between the workdays and weekends or holidays.
Recovery is only therapeutic if it is authentic. If while “recovering” your level of cognitive arousal remains high because you are thinking about work matters, the benefits will be limited. You need to learn to “switch off”. It is suggested that scheduling breaks in your day will help develop better recovery habits.
Internal recovery suggestions:
- scheduling a “cognitive break” every 90 minutes – leave your desk, get a drink, look out the window or walk around the office for a few minutes
- leave your desk for lunch, preferably spending the time outside or with friends (not talking about work)
- take a walk around the block at lunch time, or walk to a park/green space to eat
- try a ten-minute “power nap” in the middle of the day
External recovery suggestions
- ensure you take your annual leave
- use work travel time for non-work activities – listen to music, entertaining podcasts
- meditate or practice mindfulness
- engage in regular physical activity – sport/gym/exercise, gardening
- engage in leisure activities on weekends – hobbies, entertainment, games, social engagements
Workaholism is a habit that is learnt over time. Likewise, it can be “unlearned”. By teaching yourself to have a greater sense of awareness of needing and taking the time to recover, will enhance your resilience by allowing your body the opportunity to replenish depleted resources. So, get enough rest and will do a better job!
- Achor, Shawn and Gielan, Michelle. 2016. Resilience is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure. Harvard Business Review, 24 June 2016.
- Reid, Erin and Ramarajan, Lakshmi. 2016. Managing the High Intensity Workplace. Harvard Business Review. June 2016, pp 84-90.
- Valcour, Monique. 2016. Steps to Take When You’re Starting to Feel Burned Out. Harvard Business Review. 20 June 2016.