The Dark Side of Not Unplugging

This is a really timely topic discussed in a recent HBR article. The article identifies reasons we overwork and at what cost to our own well-being as well that of the organization. Studies indicate that stress is the key factor causing impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking chronic disease and cognitive impairment – all of which impacts productivity and well-being, including our physical health.

Truly counter to the goals of worksite wellness programs! The well-being of the organization – the company- and the well-being of individuals are inextricably connected.

The article mentions that causes of overworking are both individual factors as well as work load factors. However, in addition, other research has clearly shown that employees work longer hours, don’t unplug ‘after work’ or on days off, and actually DON’T take vacations — not because they are totally driven, or that there aren’t great benefits and policies supporting time off, but because of the unspoken culture/climate.

There are unwritten expectations and understandings regarding the ‘real’ expectations, causing hesitation and fear to unplug and take time off. This then continues to feed the culture and indoctrinates new employees to what the ‘real’ work expectations are.

These issues need to be identified from leaders and all employees, especially teasing out mixed messages. Real and very recent examples of mixed messages are when managers send an email at night or on weekends and expect a response; IT is on vacation, but has to come in because someone needs a laptop; or, having a fitness center or contemplation room, but managers get upset when either are used by their employees.

Instead, the focus should be creating a great place to work that upholds well-being; one aligned with individual and organization core values and fosters a culture of caring. Target outcomes of striving to remain or become a great place to work? –

Energetic, thriving and flourishing employees;
Higher retention; attracting the best talent;
Saving $thousands annually on hiring and training;
Engaged employees;
Increased profit & productivity, and
A healthier workforce.

The goal of any company that wants to be a great place to work (and which shouldn’t want this?!) should be to ensure that employees re-energize when off , AND that employees feel better at the end of their workday than when they came to work, but definitely not worse, which is so often the case.

The Research Is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and for Companies  Managers want employees to put in long days, respond to their emails at all hours, and willingly donate their off-hours — nights, weekends, vacation — without complaining. The underlings in this equation have little control; overwork cascades from the top of the organizational pyramid to the bottom. At least, that’s one narrative of overwork. In this version, we work long hours because our bosses tell us to. (That’s the version most on display in the recent New York Times opus on Amazon.).

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at