Career Lifestyle

It’s time to break away from ‘hidden overwork’

October 31, 2022

How I’ve allowed small, insignificant out-of-hours tasks, creep into and impact my day-to-day. But not anymore.

Over the past couple of years we’ve seen the boundaries between life at home and work become increasingly blurred, and never really being reinstated to the same level as they used to be. Continuous long hours, increased pressure and being glued to our screens more than ever has led to phrases such as ‘burn-out’, ‘the great resignation’ and ‘quiet-quitting’ becoming hot topics within the workplace.

Although lengthy hours and ways of working need to be addressed, there’s another type of overwork which although normalised, could be more detrimental than the other issues that workplaces are tackling – hidden overwork.

Different from starting or finishing work outside of your normal hours, hidden overwork refers to those non-work specific tasks which are still related to your industry, like listening to a podcast, reading an article or book, or even preparing for a meeting, in your own time.

Hidden overwork isn’t just a result of working from home during the pandemic, employees have been working behind the scenes for years and it is easy to fall into small habits, like checking your inbox over the weekend or even using your personal time to up-skill for work related reasons. But what may seem to be innocent enough tasks makes it next to impossible to switch off, ever. I should know, I’m guilty of this almost every evening or weekend.

Funnily enough, this isn’t pressure that has come from any employer, past or present. I’ve always been like this, wanting to keep on top of the ins and outs of projects, thinking about what I can do to support the rest of the team, and making sure I’m doing the best I possibly can. For the most part this didn’t used to have a huge impact on my day-to-day life when I was heading to the office everyday and had a consistent work routine, but as working days get longer (especially when working from home), I realised that I couldn’t remember the last time I completely switched off from work, with the exception of one holiday earlier this year. I even find myself looking at emails whilst I’m at the gym. Completely unhealthy, I know. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. But, here we are.

Ironically, this realisation came to me on a Sunday, whilst I had been writing up a few emails to send out first thing in the morning to get ahead of the week. Before you start to think ‘wow she mustn’t be good at prioritising her workload’, I don’t do this because I’m not productive during the week. I manage to get the majority of my work completed on a weekly basis and I pride myself on my time management, but sometimes I like to have more time to mull something over, or want to be able to fully focus on specific task uninterrupted (sometimes the do not disturb function on Teams just isn’t enough). There are other times where I use my morning walks to listen to a podcast, or use my evenings to read an article that I came across throughout the day. At the beginning of my career I used to have much more ‘investment’ time in my working day, but now, and I’m sure this is the same for many others, this time has been eaten away by various calls and daily tasks.

I feel as though I need to add a disclaimer here to mention that I absolutely would not expect anyone else to do this. I’m such an advocate for setting boundaries and having a work-life balance. I just find it hard to maintain one myself.

As I begin to feel the impact of hidden work seeping into other aspects of my life, I wonder how many others feel that their motivation for their career has fuelled this incessant need to constantly have their finger on the pulse? Is it something you just accept, or something you want to change? Do you find that once you’ve prepared for the week ahead on a Sunday you can fully switch off for the evening? I’d love to know.

I’m trying hard to break away from the habits I’ve fallen into, working towards a few simple steps to switching off when the day is over (or barely begun), taking the important time back for myself and putting energy back into other aspects of my life like I used to. If I learn anything along the way, I’ll let you know. 

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