By Mercy Harper
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The holidays are almost here, and I’m really looking forward to checking my email by the open fire. Those twinkling lights are going to make a great Zoom backdrop. And I can probably review that report while I’m unwrapping gifts, or at least while the cookies bake in the oven.
That’s the life of a workaholic. Sound familiar? Most likely. Research shows over 80% of us are overworked and burned out. On the latest episode of "The New Rules of Business," Chief Co-Founder Lindsay Kaplan speaks to Dr. Stephanie Creary, professor at the Wharton School of Business, about how to break out of the cult of workaholism. The first step, Dr. Creary explains, is to understand that it’s not just about working long hours — it’s about taking on tasks that drain us.
"Overwork is when the ratio of time spent relative to the energy and enjoyment you’re getting out of the task is off," says Dr. Creary. "I can spend 12 hours working on a paper and it doesn’t feel like overwork — I feel energized, excited, and fulfilled. But if you give me 12 hours of work I don’t want to do, it feels like overwork."
Our workaholic culture leads us into what she calls vicious cycles of overwork and recuperation. "We get caught in this 'work hard, play hard' trap. We do too much at work during the week because we say to ourselves, 'Well, I just need the weekend. If I can just get to Saturday, I’ll be fine, because then I’m going to do all the things I really enjoy,'" she says on the podcast. "So, we use the weekends as a time of recuperation. But once Monday morning hits, what are we doing again? We’re overworking."
As an expert on creating better workplaces, Dr. Creary emphasizes that overwork is bad for business. "It’s costly, because when people are overworked, two things happen: they either call out or they show up and don’t do the job. That’s quiet quitting. The work isn’t getting done. Money is being spent without tasks being fulfilled."
She challenges leaders to recognize their role in perpetuating overwork and do their part to break the cycle. Many leaders subtly reward "always on" behaviors that aren’t beneficial to overall team and business performance. If you’ve come to expect employees to reply to your emails within milliseconds, think about what real work they’re stepping away from to do that.
"We need to fundamentally rethink how work is done. Help people organize their work around deliverables and deadlines, and let them manage their schedules in terms of how they’re going to get it done," she says.
Listen to the full episode on "The New Rules of Business" and be sure to follow wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes drop every Tuesday.