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How Toxic Productivity Creates Less Productive Workplaces

A study in the Netherlands showed that 33% of workaholics have regular migraine headaches because of the stresses of their job. With the UK becoming the nation with the most workaholics we have become more susceptible to burnout which has connections to sickness and absences from work. Overworking our employees has brought a decline in health as People who work 11 hours a day or more have a 67% greater chance of suffering from coronary heart disease when compared to those who work a typical 8 hour day.

Toxic productivity has stemmed from hustle culture storming through America and having a large influence on the UK, it is sabotaging employee performance as well as employee wellbeing which is dragging organisations down into a never-ending burnout stage where employees feel overworked, stressed and on edge. Many employees are finding themselves in 60 hour weeks, constantly being asked to do overtime or being called in to cover as burnt-out staff are hit by sickness and exhaustion. Leaders and HR professionals commonly feel that their employees have a good work-life balance, but employees tend to disagree, claiming that work projects often eat into their free time at home.

Being a workaholic and an engaged worker are two very different things although some leaders may claim they are the same which is why they allow their workplace to take on such a negative culture. The motivations and underlying behaviours in the two show the drastic differences and why one is unhealthy and the other is a much more positive experience. For example, those who are experiencing a workaholic culture will often feel compelled to work because of internal pressure, this causes them to work those extra hours in their free time and sacrifice personal enjoyments for work, on top of this they will likely stress about work-related issues constantly even outside of work when they should be relaxing. Engaged workers are more driven to do their work as they find it enjoyable with a reasonable purpose behind their work, there are no internal or external pressures causing them to fear the high amounts of work needed to be completed. Engaged employees tend to have a much more positive experience in the workplace, feeling fulfilled and satisfied with their work-life balance, whereas a workaholic will experience primarily negative emotions at work, these emotions can range from guilt, disappointment or even anger in some cases as the frustration becomes too much for the individual to handle.

Workplaces with high workloads and large amounts of pressure on employees become a breeding ground for toxic productivity, a behaviour that often shows as a symptom of high-functioning depression, also known as masking, these individuals drown themselves in their work to hide emotions of sadness or low self-esteem which is a method that works well to hide their struggles as “hustle culture” celebrates and congratulates those who work to unreasonable extents. These employees are able to ignore their personal life struggles by consuming themselves with unreasonably large workloads, if they don’t have time for the problem they do not have to think about it, this causes the employee to avoid finding healthy and sustainable solutions to often important matters. When leaders and managers are then also reinforcing that this workload is the norm, it is easy for people to begin to measure their self-worth through work, likely lowering their confidence and encouraging them to pursue work over hobbies, friends and family which can lead to isolation and feelings of loneliness.

Data shows us that long hours working or multitasking lowers productivity and even kills creativity over time, hustle culture has set up newer generations with unachievable goals, and unhealthy lifestyles and uses the workplace as a largely competitive area rather than a team-based organisation. Employees who acted collaboratively stuck at their tasks 64% longer than their solidarity peers, whilst also reporting higher engagement levels, lower fatigue levels, and higher success rates. This statistic alone is proof enough that a competitive workplace with a lack of teamwork will lead to less productive organisations, as well as a business with high resignation rates as 47% of employees, would prefer to stay in a company if they can “work with a great team”

As a leader, avoiding toxic productivity is almost completely within your control, although high functioning depression can also cause an employee to overwork it is still within a leader’s control to set the workplace expectations as a whole and ensure that employees stay in a healthy work-life balance. Leaders have the ability to regularly remind employees to take their breaks, this means not checking emails during their lunch period, this also includes avoiding bad habits such as working out of hours, in small amounts when necessary these occurrences are sometimes necessary, but biome an issue once they develop into a regular habit. During meetings, you should also be expressing these boundaries as well as allowing employees to set their own and encourage them to stick to their decision, at the same time these meetings can be used as a whats on your mind session to check in with employees to ensure they aren't nearing or experiencing burnout, if you find a struggling employee it is important to take the correct steps towards the appropriate solution, such as encouraging the use of their leave days.


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