Why always working long hours is ruining your productivity

July 9, 2021 - 15 min read

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Why do people feel like they’re always working?

How many hours should people work?

What are the risks of always working hard?

How can you promote healthy working hours?

Not always working makes you a better worker

Lately, the line between our personal lives and work is blurry.

Whether you’re in bed responding to a work email or spending yet another late night staring at your laptop, it feels like you’re always working. And you’re not the only one. 

The truth is, the 24/7 job and always being ‘plugged in’ has become all too normalized in today’s work culture. In a recent survey, 92% of respondents admitted they regularly work on evenings and weekends. Another 40% said their workday has increased for the past three to five years.

But always working long hours or expecting your team to do so is anything but normal (or healthy). 

Let’s talk about the risks of constantly working and what you can do to promote healthy working hours in the workplace. 

 

Why do people feel like they’re always working? 

If you feel like you’re working all day, every day, it’s time to stop and think about what’s causing you to overwork. Let’s take a closer look at the most common reasons why this is happening. 

1. Always plugged-in

While working from home has many perks, it also comes with a few challenges

Not being able to unplug and create boundaries between your personal and work life is one of them. 

In a post-pandemic Deloitte survey on women in the workplace, 46% of women felt they needed to always be on. This meant responding to emails right away or being expected to be online even during their off-hours. 

With 24/7 access to a work laptop, email, and chat, it’s hard to know when to switch off, making the workday feel like it’s never-ending. 

2. Work pressure 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt pressure at work. 

You’re not alone. 1 out of 4 US employees deal with constant pressure from their boss, and 1 in 7 even experience pressure from their colleagues. 

The consequences?

A recent Zenefits survey shows that employees feel guilty for taking time off and instead work long hours so that they’re not perceived as unproductive. 

3. ‘Work martyr’ syndrome

A work martyr is someone willing to sacrifice their personal time for the benefit of their team members. They take pride in always working hard beyond their regular hours and feel validated when their colleagues rely on them for help. 

Does this sound familiar? 

In psychology, this is a form of impostor syndrome, and it’s also known as the superwoman/man. 

People who identify as a superwoman/man feel like they’re always working. This happens because they often sacrifice late nights, weekends, and holidays to prove themselves. 

4. Heavy workloads 

Having too much work on your plate can feel like a huge burden, especially when Zoom meetings are eating into your schedule and causing additional strain on my mental health, cue Zoom fatigue. 

Heavy workloads force you to work overtime just to catch up on your to-do list and meet deadlines. The Zenefits survey also revealed that 43% of employees don’t take time off because their workload won’t allow it. 

5. Poor self-management

People who struggle to focus on tasks and manage their time effectively will often work longer hours than they need to. 

Learning self-management skills can help improve your time management and work focus. Mastering these skills will free up your schedule and make you more productive. 

 

How many hours should people work? 

Is there an ideal number of hours people should be working each week? The truth is, there’s no magical number. But there is such a thing as working too many hours. 

After extensive research, studies found that working over 45 hours each week is bad for the average employee. 

As this number goes up, so does your risk of health conditions like stroke or heart attacks. The World Health Organization even warns against working 55 hours a week or more, as it’s a serious health risk. 

But hard work always pays off, right? 

Not if that means overworking yourself. 

Working too many hours is actually counterproductive. 

Once you pass the 50-hour mark, your productivity takes a downward turn. This means that putting in 60 hours a week won’t make you any more productive than someone who works 50 hours or less. 

As the saying goes, working smarter, not harder, may be the answer. 

Working fewer hours increases productivity 

Organizations that have put in place shorter workweeks or days have found that it’s been extremely beneficial. Some of these benefits include: 

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In 2019, Microsoft Japan decided to experiment with a four-day workweek. This reduced work schedule increased productivity by 40% and made employees happier. They even took fewer vacation days as a result. 

This experiment proved that giving employees more time to rest makes them more productive during their working hours. 

Countries like Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands have also experimented with shorter work days or weeks. In 2015, several companies in Sweden introduced six-hour workdays as an experiment. And the results were impressive — a productivity boost and happier, more energetic employees. 

Today, many other companies around the world are starting to introduce shorter workweeks.

 

What are the risks of always working hard?

Always working long hours may not feel like a burden at first — especially when you’re passionate about what you do. But stretching yourself too thin comes with many risks in the long run. 

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According to the WHO, working over 55 hours a week increases your risk of having a stroke by 35% and the risk of heart disease by 17%. 

In Japan, dying from overworking (known as karoshi) is even recognized as an official cause of death. 

Karoshi is caused by strokes and heart attacks suffered by employees who work long hours and don’t take any time off because of guilt and work pressure. 

Mental and emotional well-being risks 

Always working hard with no time to rest leads to emotional exhaustion, stress, and depression. 

It’s also one of the main causes of burnout, leaving employees feeling overwhelmed and drained of energy. 

Lack of productivity 

It’s been proven that working longer hours doesn’t make someone more productive. Like we mentioned earlier, it can have the opposite effect. 

Using your normal working hours more efficiently can help you improve your productivity. 

Lower job satisfaction 

The stress and burnout caused by always working can lead to lower job satisfaction. A company with dissatisfied employees has a higher turnover rate and more absenteeism. 

No work-life balance 

Professionals who work long hours that spill into evenings and even weekends don’t have enough time for their personal life. Neglecting it can quickly lead to burnout and strained personal relationships. 

Finding harmony between your work and personal life is the key to living a well-balanced life. When you thrive, everyone around you (including your peers and loved ones) does too. 

 

How can you promote healthy working hours? 

Since the start of the pandemic, the work environment has become more uncertain and demanding than ever before. 

A recent survey found that 70% of professionals who work remotely clock in longer hours throughout the week and on weekends. 

As remote working will continue to play a part in our lives, leaders must promote healthy working hours in the office and at home.

Let’s take a look at four ways you can promote healthy working hours.

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1. Lead by example

Employees will mirror the day-to-day behaviors of their leaders. 

So, lead by example and promote a work culture that values time to rest and recharge as much as it values hard work. This can include:

  • Not spending late nights at the office 
  • Scheduling meetings only during work hours
  • Not contacting employees during their weekends or time off 
  • Organizing wellness activities like yoga, meditation, or outdoor fitness during work hours

In the end, actions speak louder than words. So show your employees that not always working is healthy and encouraged. 

2. Encourage work-life balance 

According to a recent study by Deloitte, companies that promote a work-life balance are twice as productive as ones that don’t. 

This isn’t a surprising finding. Employees that have a strong work-life balance are more healthy, energized, and motivated. 

As a leader, you can help employees achieve a good work-life balance by:

  • Encouraging them to take all their allotted vacation and personal days 
  • Taking regular wellness surveys 
  • Giving manageable workloads to each employee 
  • Not scheduling unnecessary work meetings (that could have been an email) 
  • Checking in with each employee using one-on-one meetings 

3. Set healthy boundaries 

Working from home has undeniable benefits. But it has also merged our personal and work lives like never before. 

Separating the two has become a challenge for many of us. Leaders need to help employees set clear boundaries between work and their personal lives. 

So how do you start? 

You should communicate the importance of these boundaries with your team. 

For example, encourage them to close down their laptop at the end of the workday and completely ‘unplug.’ You can also share your best practices and wisdom with your peers to help those that are struggling to find this balance. 

Setting boundaries leads to a happier and more productive team

4. Embrace flexibility when necessary

Flexible schedules are becoming increasingly important to employees. 

In a recent FlexJobs survey, 80% of respondents said that they would be more loyal to their company if they were given flexible work options. The survey also found that 75% of professionals want more flexibility because it improves their work-life balance. 

Embracing flexible work arrangements can help promote healthy working hours.

 

Not always working makes you a better worker

If you feel like you’re always working, it’s a sign that something needs to change. 

Putting in long hours is not only unproductive, but it can quickly lead to burnout, health problems, and a lack of fulfillment in your role. 

Organizations that have tried shorter workweeks or work days have made one thing clear. Reaching optimal productivity and success doesn’t have to come at the expense of employees’ well-being and time. 

Many other companies around the world are starting to do the same.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to promote healthy working hours within your own organization. This can transform the well-being and productivity of your team. 

If you’re not sure where to begin, reach out to BetterUp for a demo, and we’ll help you get started with a customized plan.

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Published July 9, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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