By Anja van den Berg
Work outputs are seldom set in stone, and most of us find ourselves in a fluid ebb and flow when it comes to professional pressure. Naturally, the higher the pressure, the more we are prone to stress.
Stress isn’t always bad, says ULifeline, an online resource for students’ mental health. Most of us need a healthy level of pressure to perform well. In small doses, stress has many advantages. For instance, stress can help you meet daily challenges and motivates you to reach your goals. Stress can help you accomplish tasks more efficiently. It can even boost memory.
All of us must put muscle into our productivity levels from time to time, and most of us benefit from the stress level that accompanies the high pace. However, it’s easier to keep the pace when you know the situation is temporary.
Yet, on average, South African employees work 43.3 hours per week, the fifth hardest working country globally, says the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Nearly 12% of the South African workforce spend more than 60 hours per week on the job. This is even though South Africa’s labour laws prohibit more than 45 hours per week and no more than 10 hours in overtime.
Whether you are amid a temporary work crunch, or if working all the time is your version of ‘normal’, there are some critical signs that you are pushing yourself too hard, says Rebecca Zucker. Zucker is an executive coach and a founding Partner at Next Step Partners, a boutique leadership development firm.
These are the warning signs Zucker says you should look out for:
You (almost) never take time off
The first red light that you are pushing yourself too hard is that you never, or very seldom, take time off. “Consistently putting off vacations (including working over major holidays), regularly working all weekend, or dismissing the idea of an occasional day off is a sign that you are burning the candle from both ends,” Zucker warns.
You deprioritise personal relationships
Focusing exclusively on work for drawn-out periods often comes at the expense of personal relationships. Marriages suffer, with workaholics being twice as likely to get divorced. Not taking time to connect with friends and family can also be damaging to your well-being. When you do connect with loved ones but aren’t able to mentally turn work off and be present with them, it’s time to be concerned.
You are neglecting personal care
Zucker says that neglecting personal care is not the occasional skipping a shower when working from home in your sweatpants. Sacrificing sleep for work, missing meals and abandoning exercise indicate an unhealthy pattern of behaviour. These patterns become a slippery slope and will drive you into proverbial quicksand. Here’s why: sleep deprivation impairs higher-level cognitive functions, including judgment, critical thinking, and decision-making. Skipping exercise means that your body will battle to lower stress, improve mood and increase energy levels. Mix those lists, and you have a toxic concoction that will leave you chronically feeling bad.
Failure to see a broader perspective, both in terms of how you see your value as a person and how you see the importance of work relative to the rest of your life, can be a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard. If you value yourself only in terms of your work, it’s time to speak to a therapist, a life coach or your HR practitioner and ask for help.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/01/are-you-pushing-yourself-too-hard-at-work
Quartz Africa: https://qz.com/africa/1282780/south-africans-are-among-the-hardest-workers-in-the-world/