Overworking is not the badge of honour you think it is, and it's killing you slowly.First, definitions and quotations. Then we'll talk about how overwork harms you and what you can do about it, and we’ll finish off with a Disgruntled Nugget – a little piece of wisdom you can take with you, or not, I don’t care. Also thx to Audionautix and Partners In Rhyme for the music and sound effects.Support the show
Today we're going to talk about working too hard and the price we all pay for it. Before I really dig in, I want to first recognize that the topic, and the fixes I'm proposing, are in a strictly privileged category. There are those high skilled worked in places like manufacturing, hospitality and some trades that will just not have the luxury of taking advice from someone who is extremely lucky to have been afforded an education, and also able to work from home during a pandemic. This is not everyone's reality, and I think whatever changes we make for ourselves, all of us, especially in the same privilege category, should work hard to make changes for everyone, everywhere. We're all in this together, so let's try to help everyone with this.
So for a definition, we're going with overwork, which is "to work or cause (someone) to work beyond their capacity or strength." Even more to that, Wikipedia says of over work that, "...it is the expression used to define the cause of working too hard, too much, or too long." This is what I wanted to get to. It's not too much work, or too many hours, or work that is too hard, it's all of it, and the shrinking net pay that most working-class people are realizing with every passing year as a an added insult. It's hurting us, it's hurting the economy, and it's hurting the environment, so we need to find some ways to chip away at this problem a bit. Let's look at some quotations for context.
Our first quotation is from Aldus Manutius, a 15th century Italian humanist, scholar, educator, and the founder of the Aldine Press. Although his printing press came a few decades later than the famous Johannes Gutenberg press, Manutius is generally recognized as bringing the printing process to a much higher standard and introduced many advances never seen in Gutenberg's era. He said, "It is not work that kills; but no work and overwork." This is important as we discuss how much work we should be doing. We'll circle around to this a few times.
Our second quotation comes from the predictably capitalist position of thieving asshole Thomas A. Edison who spent the majority of his weak working life riding on the backs of others that he had work very hard for his benefit. He said, "The perils of overwork are slight compared with the dangers of inactivity." This, of course, is utter bullshit and speaks directly to the problem we're talking about today. Don't be like Thomas. Remember pillar number five - Don't Be A Dick. Too late for him, but not for you.
Our final quote comes from Rudyard Kipling, an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist, with such titles as “The Jungle Book” and “Rikki Tikki Tavi” among many others, many short stories including “The Man Who Would Be King” and memorable poems including "Mandalay" and "Gunga Din". He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, and went on to create a lasting legacy in writing, art, and youth motivation. He said, "More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies." This is, indeed, the heart of the matter, and where we'll start today, let's get working, so to speak.
Remember back in the 50s and 60s where they thought that stress and overwork caused ulcers. Well, today we know they were wrong: ulcers are caused by an infection caused by the bacteria h. pylori and stress, poor diet and alcohol just make ulcers worse. But consumption of alcohol, poor diet and a more sedentary lifestyle are, in fact, some of the effects of overwork, so they were not entirely wrong either. But there are more negatives to working too hard than that. For starters, working longer hours, ironically, doesn't mean you do more work. Erin Reid, a professor of Organizational Behavior at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, found that "managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to." That's right, you work longer, and you work harder, and you suffer because of it, all for almost no noticeable productivity gain. Like I've said before, it's like a punch to the nose AND a kick to the groin. But, hey, there's more.
Let's talk about sleep. We all know the importance of sleep, and the need to recharge. Johns Hopkins says that some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Other potential problems include obesity, depression, reduced immune system function and lower sex drive. They also found that it may also affect the ability to function while performing daily tasks like driving, causing an estimated 6,000 deaths just in the U.S. every year. And in a meta-analysis titled "The Effect of Long Working Hours and Overtime on Occupational Health: A Meta-Analysis of Evidence from 1998 to 2018" they found four studies that "demonstrated that the longer the working hours, the higher risk of suffering from insufficient sleep for both male and female workers." So, you know, there's that.
So why work so much anyway? Well, according to a paper titled "Why Do People Overwork at the Risk of Impairing Mental Health?" published in the Journal of Happiness Studies (yes really), it was found that "... people who overvalue job satisfaction work excessive hours, consequently damaging their mental health." But then they go on to say, "People recognize their mental health deterioration when they work long hours; however, they simultaneously tend to overvalue job satisfaction." So they know that they are hurting themselves, even if subconsciously, because they want to perform better and be more satisfied at work and, which they don't get anyway, but they continue thinking that they will, and then they don't, rinse and repeat. It's like a hamster wheel without the benefit of the physical exercise.
And what about your heart? Well I'm glad you asked, because there is a mountain of evidence that suggests overwork and long hours cause or increase the severity of a number of cardio vascular conditions. The journal Environment International published a study titled "Global, regional, and national burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke attributable to exposure to long working hours for 194 countries, 2000–2016: A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury" that found that "each year, three-quarters of a million people are dying from ischaemic heart disease and stroke, due to working long hours." For a global perspective, that means more people die from overwork than from malaria. So, what can be done about your overwork problem? Like I said, this will only work for some people, but I have some suggestions.
One step in the right direction is to have your workplace change. This sounds simplistic, but if senior management of any workplace realize that the productivity doesn't increase with higher workload, and also burdens the company with high turnover due to burnout, they may think about a change. In an article in the MIT Review titled "Fixing the Overload Problem at Work" by Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen, it was suggested that workplaces focus on results rather than workers' time, put less importance on the "always on" scenario of workers, and give workers, within reason, more control to dictate their working conditions. It's worth having that conversation, at least to see whether or not you should be polishing up your resume.
Also, get some perspective on your own abilities and habits. If you're a workaholic, it probably has less to do with you being the best at your job, and more likely just that you can't delegate, recognized how to leverage teamwork, or even notice that you're doing the same amount of work as people around working half as hard. Stop being that person, take a good look at your work hours, intensity and output, and ask yourself where the value is. Chances are you're on a team, maybe look to your manager to restructure workload, and take a goddamn step back from some of the shit you're taking on. If your overwork problem is your own fault, recognize that and figure out the steps to change it. Don't kill yourself with work because, you know, it's Wednesday so some friggin' thing.
And, as simple as this sounds, improve your work/life balance. The things you enjoy away from work is the reason you work in the first place. So find those things that you really love to do, and do more of that. Spending time with family, travel, hobbies, whatever it is, make sure that you define the boundaries between those things and your work life, and don't blur them. Also, don't let work take over those times either. In those times when work absolutely has to come first, make sure there is some payoff on the flip side. Always, place your health and happiness above your work. If your workplace doesn't agree with you, think about next steps that may include a new workplace. No one on their deathbed ever said that they could die happy if only they could put in one more overtime shift. Not one person ever.
Okay, so that’s it for this episode. As always, I’ll leave you with a Disgruntled nugget in a second, but first I want to thank you for listening. Remember to subscribe to this podcast, I’m on all the major platforms, and please visit www.disgruntledlifecoach.ca for all my podcasts – working on the w-w-w, please still use it until further notice. Please also follow me on twitter @lifedisgruntled, there’s a link on my website – DM me if you want some stickers. Have you heard about my stickers? They're free. Also, if you like what you’ve heard today, tell your friends. If you think this is ridiculous, still, tell your friends, I mean how hard is that?
The great writer C.S. Lewis once said "It is by human avarice or human stupidity, not by the churlishness of nature, that we have poverty and overwork." George Orwell made it clearer when he said "Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished forever." And the social commentary of the late, great Christopher Hitchens brought us this: "I think the socialist movement, by removing many, many people from grinding stagnation and poverty and overwork, does enable people not just to lead better lives but to be better people." So we can blame human stupidity as the root cause of hunger and overwork, but the grinding stagnation of our human avarice is the real enemy of leading better lives, or something, I don't know, whatever ...
Again, thanks for listening, and thanks also to Audionautix and Partners in Rhyme for music and sound FX, thanks again to Neatnik for visuals, and thanks for your patience - see you in two weeks, or not, whatever...