I’ve noticed a disturbing trend over the past several years–People are putting their work over their well-being.
Now, don’t twist my words. I’m not saying that people are working too much, too hard, have too much success (if there is such a thing), etc. I’m saying that we are literally putting our jobs, schoolwork, and extra obligations over our health and sanity.
No exaggeration–myself and everyone I know are absolutely overloaded with work to do. Some of us only get a few hours of sleep a night, have no time to eat, and even put off laundry a few extra days due to complete lack of time. But hey, we’re successful and that’s what it takes so it’s fine, right?
I used to think so too.
Like many freshmen, I had a few struggles during my first two semesters at IU. I was still grieving the loss of my grandfather earlier in March, and I missed my friends that I had spent a decade growing up with, who were now hours away. Add in the loss of a friend to cancer in the spring semester and continuing to gain weight as I had been since sophomore year of high school, it might be an understatement to say that I was dealing with some shit.
However, me being the perfectionist and overachiever that I am, I kept pushing. Instead of truly evaluating myself and my situation, I chose to keep moving as if nothing had changed. Except, here’s the funny thing: your body and your mind can’t continue to operate normally if things aren’t normal. You may be able to trick yourself for a little while, but it will all catch up with you, and when it does, it’s a bitch. You look in the mirror, open up to someone or go to the doctor and you are shocked by what you find; you are not the person you used to or wanted to be.
I know for a fact that I am not the only person that this has happened to. I know that there are MANY of us out there, who in the pursuit of success, leave the most important things behind.
What does an A in your stats class mean if you can’t finish your nightly homework without sobbing halfway through? What does a new job or promotion mean if you’re too tired mentally and physically to get out of bed in the morning? What does your degree mean if you’re now 50 pounds overweight and as a result, are on 3 new medications in an attempt to keep your body running well enough to be considered “normal”?
We all know from both experience and science that the healthier you are all-around, the more productive you are. Basically, we’ve confirmed that our parents and teachers weren’t crazy when they told us to go to bed early and eat breakfast before that big exam. Even the CDC makes the claim that healthier employees are, on the whole, more productive.
So knowing this, I guess I just can’t understand why, as a society, we decided that this was okay.
Is it because of the competition for jobs and success in a tough market, or because we continue to stigmatize poor mental health while we accept and profit off of poor physical health? Maybe it’s because we glorify huge successes as something that is attainable to any of us just as long as we work hard enough, when anymore these huge successes tend to happen based on a combination of pure luck and networking. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say that our culture as a whole has a large influence on the phenomena of placing work above all else.
Culture shifts are certainly hard to make, but those in charge of the success we strive for can make a big difference. I’m talking about those big businesses and organizations we view as the pinnacle of achievement. Luckily, some of these companies are examining this problem and are making huge strides to change the way our culture operates.
A company that is at the forefront of this social change and most people are familiar with is Google. Not only do employees have great deal of flexibility in their schedule and are able to work from home, but they also have various gyms all over their campus for use throughout the work day. RCI, a timeshare company (that happens to be based in Indiana), also has an on-location clinic and nurse practitioner, in addition to reimbursing employees for their vacations. A consulting company called Accenture not only provides a program to help their employees struggling with nutrition and health decisions, but they also provide assistance to employees for mental health issues and substance abuse problems. Each of these organizations have managed to provide these incredible benefits to their employees while still maintaining a prosperous business model and high-level task performance from employees. Many schools, as well, are making start times later due to data showing the importance of getting enough sleep in order for young adults to be successful.
I would encourage more employers and school administrators to consider the culture that they are creating by not providing these benefits, while simultaneously demanding more and more from their employees. I truly hope that people who are struggling will stand up once and for all to say that putting our work before ourselves is unhealthy, and worth no amount of money, power, or success.
For more information about chronic overwork and stress and its effects on the body, check out this short video from TEDEd: http://bit.ly/1WatPIv
Photo courtesy of Robby Meuller: http://bit.ly/1OTpla2