When You’re Off the Clock but Can’t Punch Out

By: Kamaljit "Sonya" Virdi, Ph.D. | March 20, 2020

Not that long ago, the ultimate status symbol was one of leisure and relaxation but busyness in the office and social media posts constitute today’s most important status updates. While overworking can give a sense of recognition from others and impart some sense of importance for self, it might lead to deteriorating health effects and burnout in the workplace. As our communities currently cope with the coronavirus outbreak, many employees and students are asked, if not required, to work from home. This time of social distancing presents a good opportunity to re-evaluate your relationship with work.

Five strategies to deal with problem overworking:

1.  Reflect on the most important values you look for in your work
A few to consider include flexibility, travel, passion and interest, salary, benefits, interaction with others, job pace, professional development opportunities, and workplace. Assess where your current position matches your values. Where there’s a mismatch, consider other options like working at another company or choosing another career path. This may take time, effort, or additional training, but it may also increase job satisfaction in the long run.

2.  Face your fears
One common fear that fosters overworking is fear that co-workers and supervisors will view you negatively if you don’t. Look for actual evidence that supports such assumptions as you face your fear. For example, do your colleagues really work as hard as you do? If not, perhaps you work more than required and may benefit from setting professional boundaries. (Read more about this below.) On the flip side, if everyone works as hard as you do owing to fears of termination, then revisit the alternative career strategies in #1 above.

3.  Set boundaries about when you work and when you don’t
Signals of setting poor boundaries include checking emails excessively during evenings and weekends. If your work requires checking emails outside work hours, then designate certain times of day to do that while resisting email checks outside those designated times. Similarly, spending too much time at the office signals poor boundaries too. Prioritize your tasks! If tasks lacking high priority keep you in the office beyond business hours, working late to complete those tasks may lack any benefit to you. Go home and re-energize by spending quality time with friends and family.

4.  Make more time at work for work
Set boundaries by saying no to requests. For example, many employees are inundated with meetings. While meetings might have benefits such as improving communications or troubleshooting arising problems, meetings might also cut into employees’ time to complete their own work. Ask to leave the meeting if your presence is not required. In addition, when presented with a new task or project, say no by communicating your current responsibilities. The requester may not be aware of the full scope of your workload.

5.  Evaluate personal costs of overworking
Consider your personal costs of overworking such as when it prevents you from spending time with friends, family members, or even a date, engaging in self-care, or enjoying new or old hobbies. If time spent working inhibits you from finding pleasure in other important things, then it may be worthy to re-evaluate how much you work. A healthy work-life balance can help you feel more energized and connected to yourself and others.

I hope these strategies help you tip the scales of your work-life balance in your favor. If you need additional support, a mental health professional at Therapy Changes can help you find additional ways to achieve a healthy balance between what you do for work and what you do for you.


Image: Boris Baldinger on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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