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Why Working Too Hard Could Be Bad For Your Career

Why Working Too Hard Could Be Bad For Your Career

You would think that working really, really hard is the best guarantee of advancement in your career. If you put in tons of effort, in the end you will get noticed, right?

The reality is quite different though. There’s a reason why employees are expected to work around 40 hours a week, and why they get paid vacations (although the number of weeks vary per country).

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Here are six reasons why working too hard could hurt your career:

1. Working too hard will damage your health

If you work too hard and spend too many hours at your job, you will have no time and energy left to take proper care of yourself. You won’t find the time to exercise, eat foods that fuel your body, or get enough sleep. Skipping on these three elements of a healthy lifestyle is a recipe for illness. Moreover, spending too much time at work will leave you feeling worn out and stressed. Again, high levels of stress are a recipe for illness. In the long run, nobody can keep up a crazy work schedule. Whether it happens sooner or later, you will get ill—and working yourself until you collapse is not something that will impress anybody at work.

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2. Working too hard will damage your creativity

You need time off from work to reframe and refocus. If your work schedule is so hectic that you have no time left at all for any of your hobbies, your imagination will simply dry up. In The Art of Thought, Graham Wallace analyzed the creative process of famous scientists. He found out that an important step in the process is “incubation,” a time period during which thoughts are in the back of someone’s mind, and sitting aside in a sort of stew. If you keep on working on your projects without leaving time and space for incubation, you will not come up with any novel ideas.

3. Working too hard indicates you are not working smart

Working hard is so 1980s. The key to success is to make smart choices in your career and tasks, so that you can elevate your profile. Slaving away all of your waking hours at your job shows that you are not working smart. Working smarter is about knowing what tasks you are good at, and delegating the rest. Working smarter is about fueling yourself with creativity and motivation, instead of letting yourself get drained by repetitive tasks. Above all, working smart is about self-reflection and optimizing your workflow processes so that you can benefit from optimal productivity. By working smarter, you show leadership.

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4. Working too hard indicates that you can’t delegate

If you are working in a team or your have support staff, and you are the one putting in 80+ hours while your staff members are twisting their thumbs and going home early, then you have a trust issue with your staff. You then need to learn to delegate your work. If everybody on your team is working 60+ hours a week and running around stressed out, then you need to convince your bosses that it is time to hire an extra staff member. We all have a limit of what we can take.

5. Working too hard indicates that you can’t prioritize

Don’t fret away your time by doing the puny tasks that don’t advance your career. Don’t spend too much time replying to emails for example. Try to reply to your emails once a day, during an allocated time period in which you determine whether you can immediately reply to the request or should prepare time in your schedule to deal with the question. Continuously changing tasks and replying to emails in between slows you down, and makes you spend more hours at the job to get the same amount of work done.

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6. Working too hard indicates you are overwhelmed by your job

If you need 80+ hours a week to finish your tasks, this might send off the wrong signal to your bosses. They might interpret this as a sign that you are overwhelmed by the work, that you are not able to deal with your tasks in a limited amount of time, and that, by all means, you are not ready to take on more responsibility. Think about how much of a different signal this is from what you might see as being a very devoted employee.

Featured photo credit: Work by Flickr user Devar via farm1.staticflickr.com

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Eva Lantsoght

Eva is a university professor and a professional structural engineer. She writes about achieving excellence and success in life on Lifehack.

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Published on November 12, 2020

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

5 Signs You Work in a Toxic Environment (And What To Do)

What’s the most draining, miserable job you’ve ever had? Maybe you had a supervisor with unrealistic demands about your work output and schedule. Or perhaps, you worked under a bullying boss who frequently lost his temper with you and your colleagues, creating a toxic work environment.

Chances are, though, your terrible job experience was more all-encompassing than a negative experience with just one person. That’s because, in general, toxicity at work breeds an entire culture. Research shows abusive behavior by leaders can and often quickly spread through an entire organization.[1]

Unfortunately, working in a toxic environment doesn’t just make it miserable to show up to the office (or a Zoom meeting). This type of culture can have lasting negative effects, taking a toll on mental and physical health and even affecting workers’ personal lives and relationships.[2]

While it’s often all-encompassing, toxic culture isn’t always as blatant or clear-cut as abuse. Some of the evidence is more subtle—but it still warrants concern and action.

Have a feeling that your workplace is a toxic environment? Here are 5 surefire signs to look for.

1. People Often Say (or Imply) “That’s Not My Job”

When I first launched my company, I had a very small team. And back then, we all wore a lot of hats, simply because we had to. My colleagues and I worked tirelessly together to build, troubleshoot, and market our product, and nobody complained (at least most of the time).

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Because we were all in it together, with the same shared vision in mind, cooperation mattered so much more than job titles. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way.

In some workplaces, people adhere to their job descriptions to a fault:

  • Need help with an accounting problem? Sorry, that’s not my job.
  • Oh, you spilled your coffee in the break room? Too bad, I’m working.
  • Can’t figure out the new software? Ask IT.

While everyone has their own skillset—and time is often at a premium—cooperation is important in any workplace. An “it’s not my job” attitude is a sign of a toxic environment because it’s inherently selfish. It implies “I only care about me and what I have to get done” and that people aren’t concerned about the collective good or overall vision.[3] That type of perspective is not only bound to drain individual relationships; it also drains overall morale and productivity.

2. There’s a Lack of Diversity

Diversity is a vital part of a healthy work environment. We need the opinions and ideas of people who don’t see the world like us to move ahead. So, when leaders don’t prioritize diversity—or worse, they actively avoid it—I’m always suspicious about their character and values.

Limiting your workforce to one type of person is bound to prevent organizations from growing healthily. But even if your work environment is diverse in general, the management might prevent diverse individuals from rising to leadership positions, which only misses the point of having a diverse work environment in the first place.

Look around you. Who’s in leadership at your company? Who gets promotions and rewards most often? If the same type of people gets ahead while other individuals consistently get left behind, you might be working in a toxic environment.

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However it manifests in your workplace, keep in mind that a lack of diversity is a tell-tale sign that “bias is rampant and the wrong things are valued.”[4]

3. Feedback Isn’t Allowed

Just as individual growth hinges on being open to criticism, an organization’s well-being depends on workers’ ability to air their concerns and ideas. If management actively stifles feedback from employees, you’re probably working in a toxic environment.

But that definitely doesn’t mean nobody will air their feelings. One of the telltale signs of toxic leadership is when employees vent on the sidelines, out of management’s earshot. When I worked in a toxic environment, coworkers would often complain about higher-ups and company policies during work in private chats or after work hours.

It’s normal to get frustrated at work. That’s just a part of having a job. What isn’t normal is when dissent isn’t a part of or discouraged in the workplace. A workplace culture that suppresses constructive feedback will not be successful in the long run. It’s a sign that leadership isn’t open to new ideas, and that they’re more concerned about their own well-being than the health of the organization as a whole.

4. Quantifiable Measures Take Priority

Sales numbers, timelines, bottom lines—these metrics are, of course, important signs of how things are going in any business. But great leaders know that true success isn’t always measurable or quantifiable. More meaningful factors like workplace satisfaction, teamwork, and personal growth all contribute to and sustain these metrics.

Numbers don’t always tell the whole story, and they shouldn’t be the only concern. Measure-taking should always take a backseat to meaning-making—working together to contribute to a vision that improves people’s lives. If your workplace zones in on quantifiable measures of success, it’s probably not prioritizing what truly matters. And it’s probably also instilling a fear of failure among employees, which paralyzes employees instead of motivating them.

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5. The Policies and Rules Are Inconsistent

Every organization has its own set of unique policies and procedures. But often, unhealthy workplaces have inconsistent, unspoken “rules” that apply differently to different people. When one person gets in trouble for the same type of behavior that promotes another person, workers will feel like management plays favorites—which isn’t just unethical but also a quick way to drain morale and fuel tension in the office.[5] It only shows how incompetent the leadership is and indicates a toxic workplace.

For example, maybe there’s no “set” rule about work hours, but your manager expects certain people or departments to show up at 8 am while other individuals tend to roll in at 9 or 10 am with no real consequences. If that’s the case, then it’s likely that your organization’s leadership is more concerned with controlling people and exerting power rather than the overall good of their employees.

How to Deal With a Toxic Work Environment

The first thing to know if you’re stuck in a toxic work environment is that you’re not stuck. While it’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to make positive changes that prevent harmful actions to employees, you also have an opportunity to speak up about your concerns—or, if necessary, depart the role altogether.

If you suspect that you’re working in a toxic environment, think about how you can advocate for yourself. Start by raising your grievances about the culture in an appropriate setting, like a scheduled, one-on-one meeting with your supervisor.

Can’t imagine sitting down with your supervisor to air those problems on your own? Form some solidarity with like-minded colleagues. Approaching management might feel less overwhelming when you have a “team” who shares your views.

It doesn’t have to be an overtly confrontational discussion. Do your best to frame your concerns in a positive way by sharing with your supervisor that you want to be more productive at work, but certain problems sometimes get in the way.

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Final Thoughts

If your supervisor truly cares about the well-being of the organization, they will take your concerns seriously and actively take part in changing the toxic work environment into something more conducive to productivity.

If not, then it might be time to consider the cost of the job on your well-being and personal life. Is it worth staying just for your resume’s sake? Or could you consider a “bridge” job that allows you to exhale for a bit, even if it doesn’t “move you ahead” the way you planned?

It might not be the ideal situation, but your mental health and well-being are too important to ignore. And when you have the opportunity to refuel, you’ll be a far more valuable asset at whatever amazing job you land next.

More Tips on Dealing With a Toxic Work Environment

Featured photo credit: Campaign Creators via unsplash.com

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