Despite the misconception that we’re lazy or entitled, we work a lot. The U.S. could be considered the most overworked nation in the world. But with little to show for it.
Don’t believe so? Here are a few data points that compare us with our peers worldwide.
- There are laws setting a maximum work week in 134 countries; there is none in the U.S.
- The average number of hours worked by American workers is 1,767 per year, compared to 1,687 for OECD countries.
- Based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, American workers have become more productive since 1950 by 430%.
- The United States does not have a law requiring paid sick days.
- In the industrialized world, the U.S. is the only country without a legally mandated annual leave policy.
- In the Americas, only the United States does not offer paid parental leave. A typical European worker receives over 20 weeks of paid leave and over 12 weeks anywhere else.
- A Gallup survey conducted in 2021 found that on average, full-time employees work 44 hours a week, while 41% work 45 hours or more.
- ADP discovered that employees work a weekly average of nearly nine unpaid overtime hours in 2021. A remote employee clocks 9.4 hours of unpaid overtime, while a hybrid employee clocks 9.8 hours. In that case, they would have worked close to 50 hours per week.
Why are we logging so many hours at work? Your mileage may vary. Some, however, have difficulty disconnecting from work. Others may feel pressured to be accessible 24/7. And, if your business is understaffed, you may have no choice but to carry this additional workload.
The Downside of Overworking
I’m not saying you should work fewer hours. However, when you are genuinely passionate about what you do, there’s no limit on how many hours you can work.
In many cases, however, more work is associated with more significant stress and a lower standard of living. A balanced life can’t be achieved without time to unwind, take care of your home, spend time with family, enjoy hobbies, and connect with friends.
More specifically, working too much can have the following effects:
- Stalled productivity. People who work 70 hours per week don’t actually accomplish more work than people who work 56 hours per week, according to a Stanford research paper.
- Your heart is also working overtime. Stress at work can release the hormone cortisol, which has a detrimental effect on the heart. In turn, this increases your risk for strokes, cardiovascular disease, diabetes type 2, and even cancer.
- Neck and back pain. According to the Occupational & Environmental Medicine journal, people with back pain are more likely to work longer hours.
- Impaired sleep. In exchange for more working hours, your get less time to sleep. This leads to decreased productivity and increased risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
- A toll on your mental health. According to one study, those who worked more than 11 hours per day were more likely to experience depression.
- Puts a strain on relationships. Stress, fatigue, and depression caused by work may also affect your relationships — even if you still make the time for them.
- You turn to unhealthy habits. When you work more than 40 hours a week, you are more likely to drink alcohol in “risky” quantities. For women, that’s a minimum of 14 drinks a week, while for men, it’s 21 drinks a week.
What is Quiet Quitting?
Again. We work a lot. And not only is that detrimental to all aspects of our lives, it offers little in return.
So, no wonder people have embraced “quiet quitting.” But, what exactly is this phenomenon?
“Contrary to how it sounds, quiet quitting doesn’t mean slacking off, sabotaging, or outright quitting your job,” states Corey Wilks Psy.D. “It means rejecting the idea you have to go ‘above and beyond at work.”
In other words, you come to work, do your job, and go home.
A TikTok user known as zaidleppelin kicked off the conversation with a video he posted on July 25. “I recently learned about this term called ‘quiet quitting’ where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”
“To me, quietly quitting just comes back to setting your boundaries about what your outputs are going to look like at work,” TikTok user Amanda Henry told CNBC Make It.
“For some, that might mean just doing the bare minimum because that’s all they have to give at the moment for a variety of reasons. For others, it just means not burning yourself out.”
“I realized no matter how much work I put in, I’m not going to see the payoff that I’m expecting,” add Zaid Khan, a software developer and musician said, in a Bloomberg interview.
“Overworking only gets you so far in corporate America. And like a lot of us have experienced in the past few years, mental and physical health really takes a backseat to productivity in a lot of these structured corporate environments.”
Do you think this is just a social media trend? According to an August 2022 survey of 1,000 Americans by ResumeBuilder.com, nearly a quarter say they are quiet quitters.
What the critics are saying.
As with any trend, there are some downsides.
It’s understandable that people unhappy with their current job situation may not want to work particularly hard. But quitting quietly may not be an effective strategy. Instead, unsatisfied employees should talk to their managers about how to improve their current situation or begin looking for a job that’s more fulfilling.
Kevin O’Leary, a Shark Tank star and investment mogul, calls quiet quitting “a really bad idea.”
“People that go beyond to try to solve problems for the organization, their teams, their managers, their bosses, those are the ones that succeed in life,” he explains on CNBC. “People that shut down their laptop at 5, want that balance in life, want to go to the soccer game, 9 to 5 only, they don’t work for me.”
“Despite employment ‘experts warning people of the risks of quiet quitting (like being passed over for promotions or getting laid off first), it’s important to remember the source of this advice—employers and their spokespeople,” adds Wilks. “In reality, quiet quitting could be just what the proverbial doctor ordered—for your mental health.”
How to Stop Overworking
No matter whether this fad sticks or not, working too much can have dire consequences. As such, here are some suggestions on how to stop overworking.
1. Review your values.
Do you ask yourself the same question every time you open your eyes: why should I bother getting up? If so, you should ask yourself another question: “What do I live for?”
“If it is hard to figure it out by yourself, try talking to the people who know you well,” writes Andrey Zagorodniy in a previous Calendar article. “Without finding the proper motivation, you won’t be able to get out of the pit of your burnout.”
According to Daniel Goleman’s best-seller Emotional Intelligence, there are two types of motivation. Extrinsic motivation stems from rewards, financial gains, or avoiding punishment, as well as promises of rewards. A person’s intrinsic motivation is determined by the inspiration they receive from within.
“The first type is a powerful stimulus to push you in the right direction if you remind yourself that you will get a promotion and a salary increase once you have accomplished the project,” adds Andrey. This, however, will only boost your motivation temporarily.
In contrast, the second type may stem from something that is particularly meaningful to an individual and remains with them throughout their lives. In order to become a better version of yourself, Goleman recommends focusing on it and picturing your ultimate goals.
Additionally, you should be thankful for what you have rather than regretting what you lack. “Such wistful regrets are destructive and won’t bring you anywhere,” notes Andrey. Be grateful for what you have and value what you have.
2. Adjust your priorities and expectations.
Jim Collins famously said, “If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.” I understand that everything may seem like a priority for you. However, how much progress are you making if you’re moving a million pebbles at once?
Moreover, isn’t this a tedious and impossible challenge? Yes, you’re right.
How about focusing just on three giant rocks? Sure. This isn’t the easiest feat. But, it’s certainly easier and more manageable than moving millions of pebbles.
Consider asking yourself, “What are the three things you have to accomplish today?” before getting overwhelmed. The activities you engage in should be ones that help you achieve your goals.
Whenever you identify these, mark them on your calendar. The reason? This will make it easier to establish boundaries. For example, if you have a doctor’s appointment after work, then that’s a top priority for the day. As such, that means you can’t work overtime.
Similarly, I’d also recommend that you also adjust your expectations. You may never become a Fortune 500 CEO, the next Jeff Bezos, or a better tennis player than Serena Williams. As long as you lead a fulfilling life that you love, that’s fine.
Leaving your perfectionism behind is also a good idea. You don’t need to create a masterpiece for every email or report.
3. Go beyond work-life balance.
“For years, work-life balance was the answer to having your cake and eating it too,” says Calendar co-founder John Hall. “Unfortunately, it’s a myth.”
“For starters, there will be times when work bleeds into our personal lives and vice versa,” adds Hall. “That could be putting out a fire or responding to an important email. Attempting to maintain this non-existent balance will only stress you out” leading to burnout.
Is there a better approach? Integrate as much as possible.
“Examples could be having your child file, sort, or organize your office or having a work call while taking your dog for a walk,” Hall states.
Additionally, he lists the following myths as needing to be dispelled;
- It is important to compartmentalize your life. “You can’t evenly split up your time between work and life,” Hall explains. “Rather, you need to devote the right amount of time to your current priority.”
- You can have it all. Unfortunately, I have bad news to share. It is inevitable that you will have to make some sacrifices in life.
- Managing your time is the key. That’s not exactly true. The key is to manage your energy and focus.
- More time will be available to you thanks to technology. Despite the fact that these can be valuable, not everything in life can be automated. Also, in some cases, productivity tools can make you less productive.
- It’s the most important thing to employees. Flexibility is important. But meaningful work, recognition, and empathy are even more important.
- Early birds catch the worm. “Unless you’re a morning bird, don’t fight against your circadian rhythms.”
- During off-hours, you never work. On some days, you will have to work 12 hours. On the flip side, there will be some workdays that will only last four hours.
- You’ll be happier if you work less. “Even if you worked a 20-hour week, would you be happy if you spend the majority of your time just watching Netflix?” asks Hall.
- You need to schedule everything. “Outside of your essential tasks and appointments, you can leave some free space so that you have a little wiggle room.”
4. Identify your non-negotiables.
“Most every work decision we make involves consequences and compromises,” writes Jayne Hardy in Making Space: How to Live Happier by Setting Boundaries That Work for You. “If we’re asked to work overtime, there’s a trade-off that occurs somewhere else because we can’t be in two places at the same time.” Many of us don’t realize we’re making this sacrifice.
“It’s helpful to have a nonnegotiables list, pre-written when we have the time and space to weigh up the implications of the choices that we might make where work is concerned,” adds Hardy. “If we’re saying yes to overtime, what are we saying ‘no’ to? Or even, what are we saying ‘yes’ to?”
Working overtime, for example, is only acceptable if you need to make a down payment for a home or launch a new product. You could put your family first, such as never missing a birthday or caring for an ill family member. Another option is to take a good lunch break so you can decompress and reenergize.
“Our non-negotiables could be about methods of communication,” asserts Hardy. “Perhaps we don’t want to be contacted by our work colleagues via WhatsApp, text message, or social media because we prefer to use those with our close friends and family.”
“Creating a list of nonnegotiables helps us uncover what’s important to us,” she continues. And, “from them, we can create, communicate and negotiate boundaries to support and shield our priorities.”
5. Clearly define your availability.
Your coworkers should know when you’re working, taking calls, and off-limits.
How? Well, you could share your calendar with them. Often, this simply involves sending them a link to your online calendar. Once they have access to this, they can see when you’re available.
Of course, you don’t want to share personal too much information. Thankfully, you can customize your calendar so that some entries can be kept private.
At the same time, non-work activities should be scheduled on your calendar in order to make them appear more official. And overall, a shared calendar can be especially helpful if you share it with coworkers or family members who can provide support.
Enter “busy” entries in your calendar for the following:
- Work breaks
- Focused work without distractions
- Family time
- Vacations days
6. Purposefully overestimate.
When estimating the duration of a task or project, add a little buffer time. It’s a simple way to prevent going over hours.
For instance, let’s say that at 3 p.m., you dive into your final priority of the day. You believed that it would take under two hours, meaning you can leave by 5 p.m. Unfortunately, it’s closer to 3 hours, meaning you’re working overtime. If you had overestimated the length of this task, you could have either started it earlier in the day or waited until tomorrow.
7. Ask for help.
“Stop trying to do everything yourself. It’s impossible, advises Choncé Maddox in another Calendar article. “This is why at most jobs, there are teams.” Be realistic with your supervisor about your capacity and ask your team for support.
“If you’re self-employed, consider hiring a virtual assistant or someone who can take a time-consuming task off your plate,” Choncé Maddox adds. “I know this will require some money, but it’s worth it if it allows you to be more productive and build your business.” If you want your business to grow, don’t hesitate to invest in it. In addition, you’ll avoid some of the health effects caused by overworking.
8. Share your needs.
Chris Edmonds, founder, and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group, recommends speaking with your manager after figuring out what you need for your position and life to be successful and fulfilling. After all, there is no substitute for communication.
“You may have one idea of what your job responsibilities are, and your boss may have another,” Kathy Caprino, author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss, said. “If you stop doing some tasks because you feel they’re outside your scope, it could look like you’re slacking if your manager thinks those are part of your job,” Caprino added.
“Even running my own team, if I suddenly stopped doing work that everyone assumes I’d be doing, there would be trouble, and things would fall through the cracks. In order to get fairly compensated, tell your manager about your job performance and what you’ve accomplished,” she advised.
9. When you leave work, leave work.
“I’ll admit that I’m just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to answering work emails at all hours of the day,” says bestselling author James Clear. “That said, on the evenings when I’ve ignored my inbox, I’ve noticed something: nothing changes.”
“When the work day starts, I still have things to do and people to respond to,” he explains. “The additional time the night before doesn’t make the next day any easier.”
“Give your email a rest for a night or two and see if work is any different the next day, “Clear advises. “Your time outside of the office should be spent on you and the people you care about, not in your inbox.”
10. Let go of the guilt.
Do you clock out while everyone else is still at the office or online? You shouldn’t feel bad, says Psychologist Adam Borland, PsyD.
“There tends to be feelings of guilt,” he says. “Remember in order to be the best wife or husband, parent or child, sister or brother, you need to take care of yourself.”
“In our society, it’s almost like a badge of honor to say, ‘I worked this much on this little amount of sleep,’” says Dr. Borland. “We need to adjust that type of mindset.”
The Role of Leaders
Business leaders and owners can also take practical measures to help their employees make healthier schedules — even though understaffing and client pressure won’t go away. When you do, your team won’t just be more productive, you’ll increase your chances of retaining them.
Make sure breaks are assigned.
It is possible for employers to designate lunch breaks for their employees and use employee monitoring software to make sure they are taken.
Executives can also use these tools to identify team members who should be encouraged to take time off by tracking how much each member is working.
Don’t burden your team with unplanned work.
“Unplanned work is similar to packing your travel suitcase without conscience,” states John Hall in a previous Calendar article. “You’ll never be able to fit your items properly if you randomly throw in stuff.” If you want everything to fit properly, arrange it carefully so that every corner is utilized.
Employees should not be stressed by unplanned work, especially by managers. Employees can be overwhelmed by last-minute tasks and shifting priorities.
It may be a good idea for managers to limit the number of meetings they schedule for their employees. Employees can be less distracted if only necessary meetings are held, or if certain meetings are combined.
As a result, they can spend more time crossing off items from their to-do lists during their working hours. And, more importantly, at the end of their shift, they can feel confident that they have completed their work for the day.
Procedures and expectations should be reevaluated.
Due to the expectations placed on them and the procedures they must follow, employees may work longer hours. When companies evaluate duties and processes, they may discover inefficiencies. And, if corrected, would reduce workloads and improve performance.
The workplace can be reorganized, roles redefined, and protocols implemented to ensure employees don’t work more than 40 hours a week in a healthy environment. People’s work hours need not reflect their accomplishments; some staffers are capable of completing a robust workload in less time simply because they are more efficient.
Offer flexible working arrangements.
“People don’t want a full, nine-to-five day of meetings,” Brian Elliott, executive leader of the Future Forum, tells Fortune. “They want the flexibility to turn off notifications when it’s right for them. Maybe for caregivers, it’s the flexibility to log off from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., and then come back and do some heads-down work after the kids are in bed.”
In fact, knowledge workers prefer flexible hours to hybrid work by an overwhelming 95%.
There are several types of flexible work arrangements, including:
- Remote work. During the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has become a necessity for most office workers rather than an optional perk.
- Flextime. Flexibility in work arrangements allows employees to organize their days or weeks as they see fit. Rarely does it happen, however. Most flexible work arrangements require employees to work a certain number of hours each day. In spite of this, they have the option of choosing their own start and stop times — within certain limits.
- Compressed workweek. This arrangement requires employees to work fewer than five days a week on average. In compressed workweeks, employees work four 10-hour days rather than five eight-hour days.
- Job-sharing. Shared jobs are held by two permanent employees. A worker’s salary and benefits may be prorated according to how much of the job he or she shares. An effective job-sharing arrangement requires both employees to be qualified for the job and able to function well together.
- Less than 40 hours. A limited work schedule is suitable for employees who wish to limit their working hours. The average workweek lasts between 20 and 29 hours. There are times, however, when employees can choose which days to work and how long to work.
Don’t skimp on healthcare.
Wellness should be a priority for both in-person and remote employees. Employee assistance programs can provide workers with services that will improve their personal and professional lives by providing them with benefits that boost their physical and mental health. As a bonus, these perks can increase employee retention.
Enforce “off” hours.
In order to allow workers to disconnect, employers must let them know it’s okay. It is even possible for businesses to disable email access during nighttime hours and on approved holidays. In order to achieve a healthier work-life balance, workers should be encouraged to take a break after their shift is completed.