Overwork is a debt you will never repay

Overwork is a debt you will never repay
Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

Overwork is a topic I often discuss with my coaching clients, as it can be a significant factor driving them to seek coaching in the first place. I have strong opinions about overwork and believe that it is a debt you accumulate but never repay yourself. Overwork takes its toll on various aspects of your life, including your performance, health, family, friends, and colleagues.

My starting assumption is that we are all intelligent, creative, emotional people who cannot work effectively at 100% capacity.

A road operating at 100% capacity is a road full of stationary traffic.

When we operate at full capacity constantly without any room for reflection or creativity, our performance suffers. Overworking not only impacts our individual ability to be creative but also affects our personal life and relationships. It is crucial to strike a balance between being present and taking time for oneself because overwork has toxic effects on both us and our environment.

Our responsibility as leaders does not end with our personal responsibility. Our responsibility as a leader extends to the team and our peers and our network.

Leaders who overwork set precedents for others within the organisation; thus creating and perpetuating an unhealthy power dynamic where overworking becomes part of the norm. While there may be instances where short-term excitement from launching new projects leads to increased energy levels resulting in temporary "overworking," this should be the exception rather than the rule for sustainable, equitable and effective teamwork.

Overwork is not only toxic it is insidious, like the 'boiled frog' problem, it's important to build in mechanisms to to help us step back, reflect and adjust course. Obvious mechanisms are your boss, but that pre-supposes that they aren't part of the system that is perpetuating overwork. As a coach, obviously i believe regular coaching is a great mechanism for providing the space and time to reflect on your workload, recognise issues and identify actions to improve the situation.

However, just as overwork is not just within the scope of your own personal responsibility, so, as leaders, its important to implement mechanisms to identify and address overwork within your teams. For example, the word 'busy' is often overused, and therefore can be an umbrella term that shelters a long continuum of things, from not actually being busy to high stress overwork. Everyone is 'busy', but it's important as leader's to interrogate these statements and understand where on the continuum of busyness people really lie. I don't want a team full of busy people, I want people who are working at a sustainable pace on things that matter to them, with the resources, including time, that they need to do the job to their satisfaction, anything less than that i would consider to be a failure on my part.