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Why Being a Workaholic Just Isn’t Working

man on his laptop and on the phone in bed next to sleeping woman

You’ve been waiting for approval from a client on a big project, so you just need to check your email a quick couple times during dinner. Someone is relying on you to send over a report, so you have to heat up those left-overs for lunch and eat at your desk. You have a handful of paid days off left, but they’re really just there if you need them, right?
If a thought like this has ever crossed your mind, you might be feeling overworked and overstressed in your career. The fact that you’re feeling the pressure at work is no surprise, considering both finances and job stability are two of the biggest stressors men feel in their daily lives. And a little work stress can help you perform and reach a goal, but too much can decrease your productivity, affect your life at home, and have a negative effect on your health. Though it might sound counterintuitive, taking breaks and vacations from work are crucial to your productivity — and health.

Make Time to Take Time

The pressure to provide for your family and excel at your career are not only coming from internal expectations you may have for yourself, but society also places heavy expectations on your work performance. As it turns out, the United States is the only industrialized country that has no mandatory minimum requirement for paid annual leave, and there is no federal law requiring paid sick days. Every modern industrialized democracy in the world, particularly those in the European Union, have an average paid leave requirement of 20 days per year. Despite the United States already offering fewer days off than other developed nations, Americans are still not using the time they are given. In fact, only 23 percent of employees are taking all their eligible time off. The average employee only takes about half (54 percent) of his or her paid vacation time.

So why aren’t employees taking their hard-earned paid time off? One expert suggests that fear is the culprit — fear of getting behind, fear no one else will be able to do their work, fear of negative consequences and perception of being viewed as lazy at work, and the fear of being disconnected from the rest of the company.

Another pitfall of the modern work setting is that your job seems to follow you out of the office. Technology has come a long way, and it can really help you out — like allowing you to work from home when you have a sick child to care for. However, being eternally connected can also hinder your work-life balance, such as constantly checking your work emails and texts while on a camping trip with the family. If you’re like 66 percent of Americans, you likely feel that there’s a part of you that’s still on the clock while taking vacation, and you’re not making the most of your time off. Paid time off is given to you for a reason — for your health and well-being — enjoy it! You’ve earned it and it is your right to use it. Studies have shown that you’ll return to work feeling refreshed, motivated and ready to be more productive.

Work Hard, Break Hard

Along with taking guilt-free vacation time, there are simple ways to take breaks at work to reduce stress and burnout. Giving your brain small breaks throughout the day can make a world of difference. Here are a few simple tips on destressing during work hours:

Take a break every 90 minutes. A 2008 study from the University of Illinois found that your brain’s attentional resources start to deplete after focusing on a single task for a long time. Even with small breaks, your focus and energy can be restored. Experts recommend working in 90-minute bursts and then taking a break. Get up, stretch, exercise, take a few deep breaths, but choosing to take that break can really determine how well you bounce back.

Set yourself free from the screen. When break time rolls around, it’s a natural reaction to mindlessly scroll through Facebook, Twitter and other social media. While switching your attention to something else other than work is beneficial, continuing to stare at a screen is not.

Get some exercise (and better yet, some air). The next time it’s time for a break, stand up from your desk chair and get some blood flowing. In addition to burning a few calories, walking relieves stress, reduces fatigue and boosts your mood. Walking outside is even better because green space has been shown to put the brain in a state of meditation.

Shoot the breeze. When the clock strikes break o’clock, head to a spot in the office where other employees tend to gather for their breaks. Small talk about last night’s big game or the latest local news not only takes your mind off work for a bit, but also helps create social ties in the office.

Don’t skip lunch. Working through lunch might buy you an extra hour in front of your computer, but it’ll do nothing for the actual quality of your work. Innovative and creative ideas happen after you change your environment. Allow yourself that well-deserved midday break, and make sure to refuel with a healthy and balanced lunch.

If you’re used to feeling guilty or unable to take time off, just remember that stress is a leading cause of health problems, both mentally and physically. Taking care of yourself, whether by taking a weeklong vacation or a five-minute jaunt around the office, is pertinent to keeping yourself happy and healthy and your productivity high. If you feel like the stress at work is becoming unmanageable, remember that the professionals at Sauk Prairie Healthcare are always here to listen and offer help.