Why Our Addiction to Work Is Making Us Stupid, Depressed, Unhealthy, and Hurting Our Career

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Research has shown that long hours affect our brains. An American Journal of Epidemiology study followed British civil servants over five years to understand the relationship between long hours and brain functioning. Compared to those who worked 40 hours per week, participants who worked more than 55 hours showed poorer vocabulary and reasoning skills. In plain English, working too much actually makes us stupider.

Recent retail announcements of opening doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day sent shockwaves throughout the nation. Though bargain-seekers were thrilled, many are questioning the decision. In recent years, such “Thanksgiving Creep” has inspired multiple protests from employees, with one petition calling it “inhumane and inconsiderate.”

Unfortunately, this problem doesn’t just exist in retail establishments around the holidays. Across all job types and industries, Americans are working more than ever.

According to a recent Workforce Management study, since the great recession, 55 percent of employees have seen their workload increase, and 27 percent say it’s doubled. The constant pressure to do more with less, coupled with the belief that being busy means we’re important, is creating an unsustainable pattern.

For many workers, taking time away from their jobs feels like an untenable luxury. Most European countries provide workers at least four weeks of vacation each year — Germany and Sweden are particularly generous, with seven weeks. But a Center for Economic Policy and Research study reveals that 25 percent of U.S. employees don’t take any vacation at all — either because they don’t use their accrued time or their employer doesn’t provide it.

Why would anyone choose not to take the time away that they’ve rightfully earned? For many, fear is a factor — fear of missing out on promotions, topping the layoff list, being judged by bosses or coworkers, or the work that will inevitably pile up.

Certainly, anyone can work 50, 60, or 80 hours per week — and take little time off — if they choose. But as it turns out, according to Dr. Tasha Eurich, profound consequences are attached.

A proud leadership geek, executive coach, speaker, and author, Dr. Tasha Eurich is the author of the new book, Bankable Leadership: Happy People, Bottom Line Results, and the Power to Deliver Both. She also helps organizations succeed by improving the effectiveness of their leaders and teams. Dr. Eurich passionately pairs her scientific grounding in human behavior with a practical approach to solving some of today’s most common leadership challenges. Her decade-long career has spanned roles as an external consultant and a direct report to both CEOs and human resources executives. The majority of Dr. Eurich’s work has been with executives in large Fortune 500 organizations, including CH2M HILL, Xcel Energy, Western Union, IHS, Destination Hotels and Resorts, Newmont Mining, Centura Health, CoBiz Financial, the city of Cincinnati, and HCA.


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