Long hours, overtime, weekend side-hustles – is it possible to be too career driven? We share common signs of overworking, and how to create a healthier work-life balance
It’s hard to deny: we live in a culture where hard work is highly valued. People love to be seen to be pushing hard, putting in more and more hours, climbing their way up the career ladder, or making the leap to become their own boss. Having a strong work ethic can, of course, be a positive thing. But when you forget to keep a healthy balance, you can risk all that time and effort going to waste. After all, what’s the point in pushing yourself to the top, if you aren’t able to enjoy it once you get there?
What is a workaholic?
While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, the phrase ‘workaholic’ is commonly used to describe a person who compulsively works excessively hard, long hours. Beyond loving or being committed to your job, those who experience work addiction feel unable to detach themselves from work, and may experience severe guilt or stress at the thought of switching off.
While high-pressure environments, constant deadlines, and high stakes can result in a culture of overworking, anyone can cross the line from being a hard worker into being a workaholic, no matter what their job is.
What’s the impact?
Studies have shown that work addiction is often linked with high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and trouble sleeping. Over a prolonged period of time, chronic stress can lead to physical health problems, including headaches and high blood pressure.
When considering the impact this can have on your home life, and career, accredited life and career coach Alana Leggett says, “Excess in any area of your life is a bad idea. In holistic coaching, we strive for balance in all areas. Work, particularly, can be a stressful environment, and that’s why it’s important to have downtime,” Alana says. “In fact, excessive stress and lack of rest can lead to increases in cortisol (the stress hormone), which can affect your health, your immune system, and sleep.”
Now we know the impact, what are the signs we should be looking for, to understand if our relationship with work has become unhealthy?
1. You find yourself working more than you had planned. This could be regularly working overtime, skipping lunch breaks, and starting early or finishing late.
2. Your health is impacted by work. You may experience stress, lack of sleep, or headaches.
3. You try to think of new ways you can free up more time for work, instead of ways to reduce your workload.
4. You use work as a way of coping with uncomfortable feelings, which could include guilt, anxiety, depression, or helplessness.
5. Hobbies, exercise, or spending time relaxing are no longer a priority. You spend free time thinking about work, instead of living in the moment and giving yourself a moment to relax.
6. You can’t remember the last time you took a break from work-related calls or messages.
7. Your schedule leaves you no time for friends, family, or romantic relationships.
8. You feel unable to ‘switch off’ during evenings and weekends, or feel like taking a holiday is impossible.
9. Getting or staying asleep is difficult, or you regularly experience poor quality sleep.
10. You forget about other issues in your life as work is your top priority.
11. You find yourself thinking about work all the time. You simply can’t switch off.
12. You feel uneasy, guilty, or sick when you aren’t able to work.
13. Friends, family, or colleagues have expressed they are worried about you, or think you should cut back on your work, hours, or responsibilities.
14. You struggle to know yourself outside of your job.
Is work-life balance the real key to getting ahead?
As with all great things in life, balance is key. But if you love what you do, does it matter if others call you a workaholic? If you’re neglecting other areas of your life, it could be time to redress the balance.
Alana explains, “If you love what you do (congrats if so!), then you probably want to give it your best effort, ideas, energy, and attention, because you are genuinely passionate about it.
“You cannot show up as the best version of yourself if you are not nourishing that version, and to do so, you need a proper work-life balance – rest, moving your body, good nutrition, social time, and downtime. These things tend to be the first to go when work takes over and, ironically, they all contribute to a version of you who will be able to show up with more energy, perform better, and have some of your best ideas.”
Having a positive work-life balance can help us to build more meaningful relationships, relax, and de-stress. When you forget to look after all of the parts of your life, you risk pushing yourself towards exhaustion, and even burnout, which, in the long-term, could negatively impact your life as a whole, including the work you love.
How to stop being a workaholic
Admit you might have an issue. The first step towards change is admitting you might have a problem.
Take time for reflection. Are there any reasons why you feel compelled to work so much? Writing down how work makes you feel – and how not working makes you feel – could help you to identify some of the underlying issues that need to be addressed.
Set goals. What is it you are missing from your life? What do you hope to achieve by finding a better work-life balance? Visualising where you want to be in one, three, or five years isn’t just a valuable tool for your career, it can help you with your personal life, too.
Define your boundaries. This can help you to begin taking back time for you. It could mean no work emails after 5pm, leaving your phone turned off each weekend, or committing to a class once a week to help you switch off and engage in something enjoyable, enriching, or meaningful to you. Boundaries can help remind you that there is life outside of work.
Speak out. This could involve opening up with friends, family, or colleagues to talk about how you’re feeling, pressures you are under, or changes you want to make. Working with a professional can provide a safe, judgement-free environment to help you open up, recognise and challenge unhealthy coping mechanisms, and move towards a healthier work-life balance.
How coaching can help
Working with a coach can help you find new ways of balancing work, life, and everything in between. Alana explains, “In any area of holistic coaching, we look to empower clients to become more aware of their patterns, so they can build practical routines and habits that promote balance and wellbeing. Having the right habits in place, and the accountability, supports real change and allows anyone to make progress toward their goal, in a balanced and far more enjoyable way!”
To find out more about managing work-related stress, visit lifecoach-directory.org.uk or speak to a qualified life coach.