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Working Hard Is Great, Working Too Hard Is Not

someone who needs to ways to improve work-life balance

When considering different cultures throughout the world, clear differences emerge. Certainly, preferences in foods and dishes exist from one culture to the next. Likewise, personal space, punctuality, and varied religious beliefs portray unique differences as well. But one of the more interesting aspects of regional tendencies relates to work ethic. For many decades, if not centuries, Americans have been known for their high commitment to their jobs. Unlike some countries where month-long vacations take place annually, Americans rarely do so. To a large extent, this dedication to occupation explains the nation’s ability to thrive amidst global competition. However, it seems these behaviors also lead to what is referred to as a burnout culture. And unless ways to improve work-life balance are considered, Americans’ long-term health might be in jeopardy.

dude needs ways to improve work-life balance
Do you need ways to improve work-life balance? Many do…

(Forget what you think about workplace culture and read this Bold story.)

Increasingly, research supports that engaging in an excessive workplace culture poses real threats to our health. This not only pertains to our physical health but to our mental and emotional well-being as well. Of course, recognizing that one is suffering from the effects of a burnout culture can be challenging. Symptoms can mimic a variety of other illnesses, and identifying ways to improve work-life balance can similarly be hard given life’s demands. That doesn’t mean it can’t be accomplished with a bit of effort. Researchers and health experts alike recommend a number of strategies to help overcome the effects of excessive work. All it takes is being aware of the tell-tale signs and pursuing healthier behaviors to prevent them from the start.

Recent Research on Burnout Culture

Over the years, several studies have explored the effects that excessive work and lack of sleep have on health. Sleep deprivation is well recognized to cause a variety of health issues. These range from chronic fatigue, headaches, and muscle tension to irritability, poor concentration, and reduced productivity. But a recent study involving more than 7,000 adults from age 22 to 50 years highlights this even better. Researchers from NYU’s School of Social Work analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. In essence, they compared those with sleep deprivation and volatile work hours to those without these features. They then looked at health outcomes between the two groups. As it turned out, those more burned out had much higher rates of depression and poor health at age 50 years.

While the study is impressive in its capacity to follow adults over many years, it does have limitations. Notably, it can be hard to assign poor mental, emotional, and physical outcomes to a single thing like excessive work. America’s burnout culture is without question linked to a lack of sleep and exhaustion. But other things may contribute to these features as well besides excessive work schedules. Regardless, it is likely that Americans tendency to work too much contribute to these health problems. This is why the researchers in this study encourage greater awareness about warning signs of burnout. And they similarly recommend proactively finding ways to improve work-life balance before these signs develop.

a woman sleeping among her papers
Everyone values hard workers, but what good is a worker who works themselves to burnout?

Knowing the Signs and Symptoms

When it comes to warning signs indicating the burnout culture is taking hold, several have been identified. The most obvious one tends to be constant fatigue and feelings of exhaustion. But given the many stresses we experience in our lives beyond work, this is not necessarily specific. Other warning signs tend to also include a declining ability to concentrate and pay attention. From a mood perspective, warning signs often involve irritability and a desire to isolate from others. Finally, the use of various substances like alcohol to cope with the burnout should also be a red flag. Combined with excessive work hours and poor sleep, these tend to support a diagnosis of burnout. In order to reverse the effects, it’s imperative to find ways to improve work-life balance sooner rather than later.

Using these features as a frame of reference, it’s amazing how many American experience burnout over time. In a recent Gallup poll, three-quarters of adult Americans stated they had experienced burnout culture at some point. More importantly, a quarter stated they experienced symptoms and signs often on multiple occasions. This resulted from a lack of self-care opportunities and an inability to find ways to improve work-life balance. In some instances, their specific jobs prevented healthier lifestyles. In others, the choices were self-inflicted due to an innate and excessive work ethic. Regardless, both groups suffered from ill health effects as a result.

Investing in a Better Work-Life Balance

a dude who's joined the burnout culture
Burnout culture is real, and detrimental to long-term success.

For Americans, it’s easy to get caught up in the burnout culture and the inherent competitive rat race. But over time, excessive hours and a lack of sleep catches up with us. It might be months or years or even decades. But physically, emotionally, and mentally, our inability to find ways to improve work-life balance catches up with us. Because of this, it’s important to routinely invest in self-care activities that enable us to re-balance. Making time for exercise instead of happy hours is one strategy. Likewise, relaxation techniques, seeking out social support, and indulging in recreational hobbies are all beneficial. Combined with those much-needed vacations can go a long way.

(Remote work has become a feature, not a bug–read more in this Bold story.)

If it’s a particular job or employer that’s to blame, then things may be more challenging. Walking out of a well-paying job is difficult, especially if alternatives are not readily available. In these instances, it’s important to find ways to improve work-life balances as mentioned above. Keeping an eye out for new opportunities for change helps too. In this regard, jobs that promote inclusivity and flexibility in work hours are more likely to respect the need for work-life balance. Also, employers that allow remote work opportunities are also less likely to contribute to the burnout culture. Certainly, asking directly about their perspectives on work and lifestyle balance is worthwhile. There’s nothing wrong with a good work ethic but going overboard can be detrimental over time. Because of this, the short-term reward is not likely worth the long-term effects down the road.


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