Hi, I’m Ceryn, and I’m a recovering workaholic.
That’s something you might already know about me; after all I’ve talked about it plenty of times before. But the more I work with women who make their living in the corporate world, the more I realise what a widespread problem that actually is. And not only that, but how much it’s becoming encouraged.
I know, I know – in this world of Diversity and Inclusion there’s plenty of talk of work life balance and of employers keeping their people safe. But then in a world of saving money and hitting targets there’s just as much need to work longer, harder, and to always be on call.
Hands up who at least checked their work emails over the last weekend? Yup, I thought so.
I recently talked to a friend who works in the corporate world. They told me that they’d taken to starting work early – arriving in the office at 7am means there’s no one else around so they have at least one hour of uninterrupted work before the rest of the team comes to life.
The problem with that is that they can’t finish two hours earlier to compensate… because meetings need to be had. And when the regular working hours are 9-5, that last part of the day will be filled up just as fast.
Then there’s the time after 5pm; the point when everyone – my friend included – catches up on all the work they couldn’t get done throughout the day because of those meetings; and when the pre-reads for tomorrow’s meeting come through. Meaning my friend’s usual work day is at least twelve hours long. At least four days a week.
I know how it goes; I spent over a decade working full time in corporate jobs; and still work part time for someone else while working for myself the rest of the week. And in job after job this recovering workaholic found herself sliding into those traps of staying into the office until late, checking her work emails in bed, and stressing about work that needed to be done even on the days I wasn’t in the office.
In fact when I talk about being a workaholic that’s because it really was an addiction. I’d thrive off the satisfaction of a job well done; be constantly striving for a bigger buzz, and greater success; and I’d get so much of an adrenaline buzz from a heavy workload or tight deadline that when those things didn’t exist I just felt a little flat.
I’d get so wrapped up in that buzz that even the first half of a week off would be spent thinking about work, until I eventually wound down on the Thursday ready to start again on the Monday; so wrapped up that I’d stay in the office even when I had nothing urgent to do because I was so buzzed I knew I wouldn’t be able to relax when I got home. Or not without a glass of wine or two anyway.
Honestly though, that addiction to daily adrenaline is no better for us than to any other stimulant… it drains our energy for everything else in life and health-wise, has the ability to cripple us. I’m not just talking about the extra weight that comes with stress eating (seriously, my diet in one old job was horrendous) but about the adrenal fatigue, the muscle tension, the high blood pressure, the digestion problems…
So how do we change that? When the world of work is – largely – broken and so many company cultures encourage us to put their workload ahead of ourselves it’s bloody difficult. In the last week alone two friends have told me that “you can’t change it, you just have to get on with it and hope it gets better.”
But no, I don’t believe that. I say employers pay for our time, not our health or our souls and so if yours is asking you to give more than that it’s about time you took a stand.
That doesn’t necessarily mean walking out and telling your boss where to stick their job (note: Even when I left my most stressful job ever I tried to do it on good terms… I’m not a fan of the “stick your job” mentality!), it means making the small changes by setting boundaries, by working out what the things are that light you up outside of work as much as that adrenaline does inside, and by listening to what’s right for you.
For me, that means spending one of my corporate days a week working from home – especially on the days I’m tired or particularly hormonal (believe me, since starting to track my cycle a couple of years back I’ve realised that day 21 is not the day to be in an office full of people) – where I can wear what I want (and yes, sometimes that does mean pjs) and take a trip to the park with Kali at lunchtime. It also means taking regular breaks – in one old job I used to set the alarm for regular toilet breaks, just so I could go and take a few minutes each hour to sit quietly somewhere and breathe. And it means remembering that while no one may pay me for the things I do in my own time, that doesn’t make it any less important.
In Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton talks about a conversation with her yoga instructor who told her that balance is equal pressure from both forces. I’ll be honest, the first time I heard that quote I panicked, because shiiiiiiiiiit, how can I possibly have the energy to give as much energy to everything else as I did to work?
But honestly, it’s just about finding the things that you enjoy enough to want to make time for, and then making a point of putting those as high up your priority list as work. Yes that’s tough at first, but the more you make the habit, the easier it becomes.
I know, I know – boundaries, outside of work interests, listening to what’s right for you; it’s all easier said than done, clearly I have no idea how long your to do list actually is, right?
Except that there’s one important point in all of this that I haven’t mentioned yet… the fact that doing all of these things makes you more productive. Seriously.
I recently had my first meeting with a new business coach – a lady who is something of an expert in productivity, and she talked to me about all the studies that have been done on that subject. The summary? That the less time we spend sat at a desk working, the more we actually do.
It’s why I’ve started restructuring my non-client work time into smaller periods with very definitive tasks; it’s why I’ve taken to writing from different parts of the house – or even out in public – when I’m working on my book; and it’s undoubtedly why I’ve already started to find myself doing more, quicker.
So how about you start doing similar? Set those boundaries, prioritise those out-of-work things that matter, mix up your working practices and make the decisions that are right for you.
And where those things don’t quite fix the need to work in a way that’s unhealthy for you then get in touch. Not surprisingly, working with other recovering workaholics to figure out the root of that drive and then work on fixing it has become a bit of a specialism over mine over recent years…
Because while the ways many of us work may have become broken over the years; it’s time for all of us to regain control rather than let it break us too.