On a cold day last Jan­u­ary, I report­ed on the lat­est in sum­mer vaca­tions. The news in my post was about com­pa­nies such as Daim­ler that were now mak­ing it pos­si­ble for employ­ees to take time off and not have to wor­ry about emails or check­ing in with the office. Dur­ing an employee’s time away, some­one else would be assigned to cov­er the vacationer’s duties. The log­ic behind this was sim­plic­i­ty itself; too much work can lit­er­al­ly make peo­ple crazy:

The prob­lem of hav­ing to always be on-call when it comes to your job – evenings, overnight, hol­i­days, week­ends, vaca­tions – is a famil­iar one to many, who now feel guilty if they miss even one call from the office. [New York Times reporter Tanya] Mohn’s arti­cle includes some sta­tis­tics from a 2012 sur­vey done by the Pew Research Cen­ter. Of 2,254 peo­ple sur­veyed, some 44 per cent of those own­ing cell­phones slept with it acti­vat­ed and next to their bed. Think that’s bad, try this addi­tion­al stat: “67 per­cent had expe­ri­enced ‘phan­tom rings’, check­ing their phone even when it was not ring­ing or vibrat­ing.”

OverworkedAbout a year ago, Lau­ren Hock­en­son wrote about the “Tell-Tale Signs Your Employ­ee is Over­worked” [link], and her post has some fan­tas­tic illus­tra­tions and info­graph­ics on the sub­ject. She talked about the anger and irri­tabil­i­ty, reduced mem­o­ry capa­bil­i­ty, low­er qual­i­ty of work, fatigue, slop­py time man­age­ment and oth­er hints that some­one has worked them­selves into a life fren­zy. And though her data foun­da­tion is US-based, I can assure you that the symp­toms and the dis­ease can be found around the world. And the con­se­quences of too much work are, thus, dan­ger­ous to ignore. As Hock­en­son notes:

Of course, the con­se­quences of ignor­ing these signs can be major — 66% of employ­ees suf­fer from stress-induced health issues, includ­ing but not lim­it­ed to high blood pres­sure, headaches, sleep­less­ness and more fre­quent peri­ods of sick­ness. Over­worked employ­ees are also more like­ly to have dras­ti­cal­ly decreased pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and play hooky than those who are sat­is­fied with their work­load. The over­all result is clear: Over­worked and stressed work­ers are nev­er good for a com­pa­ny.

This mat­ter is even mak­ing the news. Con­sid­er this head­line: “Over­worked? 24-Year-Old Ogilvy Chi­na Staffer Dies After Heart Attack at Desk — Cause of Heart Attack Unknown But Death Rais­es Issue of Over­work in Chi­na” [link]. Ani­ta Chang Beat­tie wrote of this in Ad Age on 16 May of this year. And she said that this inci­dent is not an uncom­mon occur­rence:

Although it was not clear whether long hours played a role, over­time is rou­tine for white-col­lar work­ers in Chi­na. Cul­tur­al­ly, there are few bound­aries between work and per­son­al life. Pun­ish­ing work hours are com­mon in China’s mar­ket­ing indus­try, with its noto­ri­ous­ly demand­ing clients.

It’s not the first time a young person’s death has been linked to their career; in 2011, the Shang­hai­ist blog spec­u­lat­ed that a 25-year-old female audi­tor work­ing for Price­wa­ter­house­C­oop­ers in Shang­hai was worked to death.

Yet the choice is not whether to take time off or face pre­ma­ture death. The inci­dents in Chi­na are note­wor­thy here because the two indi­vid­u­als cit­ed in the sto­ry were under 30 years of age. I’m not an expert on this, but it seems to me the bur­den of over­work must be heav­ier as one grows old­er. I write this now as a sug­ges­tion that, if you have not already, you should con­sid­er book­ing some time away for two impor­tant rea­sons.

First, time off is proven to be restora­tive to one’s over­all health. Rather than send you to some sta­tis­tics-filled web­site (easy to do!), why not take a quick look at the post by Grace Bon­ney on “the lux­u­ry of time off” [link]? She admits to suf­fer­ing from too much work, and I like the idea that she does not feel that one in an over­worked state needs weeks or months away to get back to 100 per cent. A day or two of being real­ly away can do won­ders for the work-oppressed.

Sec­ond, when it comes to nextsens­ing, one can be too atten­tive to the chal­lenge of think­ing strate­gi­cal­ly. That is, you can often ben­e­fit from leav­ing a prob­lem, doing some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent, then return­ing to the impor­tant chal­lenge. Derek Thompson’s own com­ments and those from some of his read­ers on this sub­ject are most com­pelling [link]. The head­line says it all: Vaca­tion Nation: ‘I Have Solved More Prob­lems on a Walk Than Brain­storm­ing’. Yes! Thomp­son quotes Saman­tha Brown in this arti­cle:

I use vaca­tion time to com­plete­ly let go of work. It is a time to re-charge the bat­ter­ies and focus on the things that I enjoy. I try to leave all the things asso­ci­at­ed with work at the office. Every­one likes to think that the com­pa­ny won’t func­tion with­out their pres­ence, but it just isn’t true. They will find a way to man­age with­out you. When I am on vaca­tion, I turn off the cell and shut down the com­put­er. I go com­plete­ly offline for the dura­tion. When I get back to work, I am com­plete­ly refreshed and ready to jump back into my work life. I am more pro­duc­tive and effi­cient because of breaks and vaca­tions. I don’t feel the “burn out” that comes with work­ing long hours under stress­ful con­di­tions. I can stay calm and pos­i­tive under pres­sure and meet new chal­lenges eager­ly.

As more and more peo­ple work more and more hours, it’s impor­tant to realise that push­ing hard­er, work­ing longer and all the oth­er nose-to-the-grind­stone clichés are coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Here’s what Tony Schwartz said in The New York Times not that long ago [link]:

MORE vaca­tions are sim­i­lar­ly ben­e­fi­cial. In 2006, the account­ing firm Ernst & Young did an inter­nal study of its employ­ees and found that for each addi­tion­al 10 hours of vaca­tion employ­ees took, their year-end per­for­mance rat­ings from super­vi­sors (on a scale of one to five) improved by 8 per­cent. Fre­quent vaca­tion­ers were also sig­nif­i­cant­ly less like­ly to leave the firm.

The head­line of his excel­lent arti­cle will hand­i­ly serve as a clos­ing here: “Relax! You’ll Be More Pro­duc­tive”.

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