Americans have always tied a strong work ethic to success. The thinking is: hard work brings financial rewards. It also means better job security. The more dedicated you are, the more solid your standing with your boss and employer. Add to the mix never-ending, pervasive technology and a gadget-centric world that cannot disconnect, and you have the makings for a very un-relaxed society.

Dreamstime
Source: Dreamstime

Did you stay home this summer? In a recent Allianz survey, more than 135 million Americans (56%) said they haven’t taken a vacation within the past 12 months – an increase of almost 10 million from the 126 million Americans (52%) who reported no vacation over the prior year.

Maybe you took a vacation this calendar year, but have trouble remembering it. Expedia.com reports that 30% of vacationing workers feel work-related stress while on vacation. No doubt these employees checked email, voice mail and texted the office repeatedly, as the expectations are in many companies today that the boss has virtual 24/7 access to you – especially a demanding boss.

But because having a strong work ethic is so rewarded in corporate America and in society generally, it’s hard for many to draw the line between what’s healthy and what isn’t.            

A Checklist

Take a look at this list and see if you, like a growing number of American workers, are falling prey to this propensity:

1)  You cannot detach from work. It’s almost impossible to avoid thinking about work, even if you’re out socializing. When you’re not working, you feel guilty, as if you’ll have to make up the time. And before you go out, you feel like you have to compensate ahead of time. You often feel like if you just take one more call or answer one more text or email, you’ll be satisfied. You don’t want to ever let down your boss or client by being unavailable; your work comes first. (You don’t even need a bad boss to feel this way…much of it is just self-driven.)

2)  You're virtually chained to your desk. You’re habitually the early bird; you’re on a first name basis with the evening cleaning crew. You never take lunch and eat at your desk as you review emails. Your idea of a break is walking down the hall to stretch your legs.

3)   Vacation is a bad word. When you’re not at work you worry about not being there. A “staycation” is the closest thing to your form of vacation, but you end up working anyway. You figure if you’re close to home, you’re more accessible and more in control of work.

4)   You lower personal priorities. Work seems to constantly override other priorities and commitments, even when it comes to your health. You might do something healthy if it benefits a client relationship, like a tennis game. Fear is a continuous driver, and job security is job one.

5)   "Delegation is Dangerous." You believe that if you delegate, things will fall apart; the only one you can really trust is yourself. Sometimes after a busy day, you don’t feel you’ve accomplished much of anything – so you feel you must work late into the night to get anything of real value accomplished.

Stepping Away from Overwork

If the above thoughts sound all too familiar to you, you're not alone. And clearly, it's unrealistic to change work habits overnight. But do consider taking some of these steps as a start or even as an experiment - to break your routine and gain control:

1)   Take time to refresh. Consider scheduling a time each day, even for just 10 minutes for meditation to refresh your mind and body. There is a vast amount of research that supports how this will provide you with clearer thinking, reduced stress, and an enhanced ability to focus.

2)   Practice playful engagement. Disengage from serious thinking by spending a few minutes a day on an area of fun, passion or humor. Maybe it’s listening to a few of your favorite tunes with your headphones, watching humorous YouTube videos on your break or taking a walk while talking to a friend who keeps you laughing. Putting your sense of humor "to work," can not only create a better atmosphere among your peers, but it’s heart healthy and flexes the mind.

3)   Get a Health Check-Up. Countless studies have shown that working consistently without breaks hurts productivity and health. And a sedentary lifestyle, little exercise and poor eating habits all add up to a shortened life span. An annual physical is a good idea for anyone, but for especially someone with a propensity for working long hours. Your doctor may be just the objective catalyst you need to give you a long-term physical perspective of the choices you’re making. If you decide to make a further commitment, consider a work-life coach or therapist who specializes in work-related issues and/or addictions.

4)   Challenge yourself to an electronics-free evening. Without all the outside distractions and “nothing to do” you might find an entirely different someone you didn’t know, such as — yourself. When you’re not distracted, you can actually think more clearly about your true life passions and priorities.

5)   Take time to plan a real vacation. Planning a vacation allows you to let go of routine. Many people who have reinvented their careers have come up with “Aha” moments while on vacation because they finally had time to step away from the daily grind. If the idea of leaving work for more than a week creates more stress than happiness, then start a few short-trips or half-day trips where you can leave your emails behind. Slowly begin setting boundaries with those who are overly intrusive, using your best diplomacy and emotional intelligence.

If your dedication has taken your career to unimaginable heights, that’s fine. But now step back and determine if you can leverage that success toward creating the balance you seek. It will likely take courage, tenacity, time and some boundary setting with your boss ...and maybe even yourself. Don’t be surprised if colleagues who email you at 10pm and don’t get an immediate response, ultimately surprise you with newfound respect.

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