When Workaholism Stops Working: Humanity’s Last Stand Is on the Job

By Patrick Riley

Where have all the humans gone?

It might sound like the plot of a sci-fi thriller, but it’s a legitimate question when you consider how much of the business world reflects robot-like qualities. Companies tend to reward employees who sacrifice their personal lives for work, staying tethered to their jobs around the clock.

Employers might prefer an army of machines, but workers are flesh and blood rather than gears and switches. Workers can’t run for unlimited hours — we need down time to recharge. Most of all, we crave encouragement from other human beings.

My company has tried to squash this bad habit by viewing team members as human beings first and foremost. We have a “no overtime” policy, and employees understand they have only 40 hours each week to get their work done. Instead of viewing work as a sprint, we’ve shifted to a marathon mentality. We sometimes put in 16-hour days, but they’re the exception rather than the expectation.

Regrettably, this isn’t the norm in the startup world. Our industry routinely pushes people to put in 60-plus-hour weeks, then we act surprised when people become too stressed out and exhausted to be productive. We must focus on the needs of the human body, mind, and spirit to avoid sending ourselves into crisis mode.

Stop treating yourself like a machine

It’s relatively easy to measure work needs. How many widgets were produced? How are key performance indicators trending? How much money is in the bank? They’re all fairly black-and-white metrics.

Measuring human needs isn’t quite as straightforward. They’re not tangible, and they’re not necessarily easy to track. It’s surprisingly difficult to know when you’re truly tired, stressed out, or anxious. It’s time to take action and reclaim your humanity:

1. Consistently inventory your needs: No lie: This can be a challenge if you feel driven to act like a machine, but you must know what you want in your heart of hearts. A major takeaway from Robert Glover’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” is that few people actually recognize what they want in life. If we don’t even know what we need, Glover argues we’re doomed to remain unhappy.

A recent study found 52 percent of workers delayed basic bodily functions such as going to the bathroom to meet work deadlines. It’s completely absurd. We need to listen to our bodies. Do we need rest? Would hitting the gym make us more productive? Are we refreshed enough to get back to the grindstone? Our bodies have the answers.

2. Learn to listen to your body: Still confused about how to get in tune with your body? Go on a hike, or head to a quiet place for an hour. Spend about 30 minutes writing down everything that has been on your mind lately. Let your gut talk to you.

Jot down whether you’ve been feeling sad, tired, stressed, or anything else. For each emotion you note, add possible reasons behind that feeling. Have you been sleeping too little? Is a relationship hitting the skids? Write everything that comes to mind.

Once you’ve gotten it all out, spend 30 minutes going through your notes. Themes and patterns will start to emerge. To wrap things up, spend about 15 minutes making a game plan of no more than three things you’d like to change in the coming week.

3. Stop glorifying workaholic tendencies: Most workaholics would tell you they feel productive and successful — almost like they’re changing the world. People thump us on the back, and in Pavlovian fashion, we eagerly repeat this self-destructive cycle. Go for a run? Leave the office early to spend time with our family? Nah. We have work to do!

No one congratulates the person who works 38 hours a week and squeezes in time to address personal needs. But clock 65 hours in a week, and you’re heralded as a hero: “Whoa! Nice work getting all that stuff done.” The message is clear: You’re important because you work.

When a co-worker leaves at 4:30 p.m. to attend yoga class, we’re more likely to glare at him than give him a thumbs-up. Considering we’ve been knee-deep in the “more work equals better person” myth since birth, it’s not entirely our fault. But workers who take time to address their physical needs ultimately win. A recent study suggests exercise can improve memory function and effectiveness at work. Want to have a greater impact at the office? Take time to do something other than work.

4. Disconnect from technology: I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I recently found myself guilty of treating a business partner like a robot. He went to Hawaii on a family vacation, but we ended shooting messages back and forth throughout his week away. Neither of us prioritized his human needs for downtime and connecting with his family. We exchanged texts while he was on the beach because we could, never considering whether we should.

Technology is a wonderful thing, but it also taps into our cravings for instant gratification and connectivity. What if we miss something important? We decide it’s a good idea to check our email several times over the weekend to ensure nothing slips through the cracks. As scary as it might feel, we must remind ourselves that every device has a feature we should use more often: an off button.

Unless we want to create a world of exhausted employees shambling around like zombies, it’s time to re-establish a positive view of our innate humanity. Work needs often stem from a desire to care for others, but this can quickly spiral into self-neglect.

Ignore your body’s signs long enough, and you’ll wake up one day to find you have no energy and are completely ineffective at work and home. Treat yourself — and your colleagues — to a little kindness and compassion, which are two things the robots of the world will never understand.

Image credit: Pixabay

Pat Riley is the CEO of the Global Accelerator Network, a group of respected startups and the organizations that support them from around the world. More than 5,500 startups are in GAN, and many grew through one of its startup accelerator programs. Startups in GAN get access to its partner network and venture fund, which provides capital for startups to create and grow their businesses. For more information, visit gan.co.

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