In our “hustle and grind” culture, there’s a thin line between being dedicated to your career and being a workaholic. I’m all for diligence and excellence—but not at the cost of being overworked. And of course, there are seasons when you have to put in extra hours to get a big project across the finish line. But life’s too short to tread water every single day. Sooner or later, you’ll start to feel like you’re drowning.
The truth is, you can make good money and do something you love without working 60 to 80 hours a week! Here’s how to tell if you’re being overworked so you can make a plan to change it.
6 Signs That You’re Overworked
Your situation might look different from the next person’s, but here are the most common signs that you’re overworked.
1. You have trouble disconnecting.
In our fast-paced and wired world, we have never-ending access to our work—it’s sitting in our pockets! Technology is completely interwoven throughout our lives, making it difficult to ever truly disconnect from work. We’re always “on,” and—even worse—sometimes our leaders expect us to be available at all hours of the day.
This constant stimulation makes it difficult to truly disconnect and rest. And do you know what’s fascinating? My friend and fellow Ramsey Personality Dr. John Delony explains, “You can actually become addicted to the stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that your brain releases when caught up in constant stimulation. For most of us, we don't go looking to stimulate our stress response: We go looking for feelings of anger, or to seek out excitement and stimulation, which in turn sounds our alarms and stresses us out." Insane, right? But we’ve all been there. We reach for the phone, check our email incessantly, and run around with our heads spinning because we feel caught on a technological hamster wheel.
2. You feel like you’re always behind.
The ironic thing about overworking is that it actually makes you less productive—both at work and at home. You spread yourself so thin that you can’t focus and dive deep into work that gives you the juice. And when you’re pouring the majority of your time and effort into work, you start to feel behind in other areas of your life: physically, relationally, spiritually. Even those odds and ends kind of tasks that life throws at you, like paying the bills or changing the oil, can become hard to do. You simply can’t keep up.
3. Your health is declining.
The impact of overworking will show up in your body, whether your brain acknowledges it or not. Are you experiencing these symptoms of overwork?
- Exhaustion, brain fog and difficulty concentrating
- Stress—feeling tense and on edge
- Anxiety and depression
- Weight gain/loss and poor eating habits
Listen to your gut. Let your body speak for itself—it’s trying to warn you! If you’re feeling one or many of these symptoms, then it’s time to pay attention. At first, you might not think this is a big deal. But over time, you could develop some serious issues, like heart disease.1 And increased stress can lead to behaviors like alcoholism.2
4. You can literally count the hours.
There’s a very objective measuring stick to figure out if you’re overworked: how many hours you put in each week. Sadly, 50-, 60-, and even 80-hour workweeks are the norm in many work cultures.
But is there something magic about the traditional 40 hours? It turns out that we’ve got over 100 years of research to support its benefits. Here’s one example: Henry Ford was one of the earliest business leaders to adopt the 40-hour workweek in our country. His factory workers had been putting in eight-hour days, six days a week. When he decided to give them two days off, instead of one, he saw an increase in productivity, not a decrease. Ford inspired other leaders to adopt his policy, which helped turn the cultural tide against overworking. In 1940, the congress amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to mandate that employers must pay workers overtime if they exceeded 40 hours—and the 40-hour workweek was officially born!3
There are always exceptions—I get it. You might be a teacher who puts in more than 40 hours every week for long stretches of time. Or maybe you’re a medical resident with a grueling schedule for the next couple of years. The point is that a healthy balance between work, recreation, relationships and rest is essential for long-term happiness and productivity. An 80-hour workweek just isn’t compatible with a well-rounded life.
5. You feel distant from friends and family.
It’s simple, folks: The more time you spend at the office, the less time you’ll spend with family. As you miss one event after another, you’ll start to slowly drift further and further away from the people you care about—and you’ll start feeling disconnected, frazzled and lonely. When work becomes more important than the people around you, everyone feels the impact. Your spouse notices. Your kids notice. Your friends and family and community notice.
6. You’ve lost your passion.
You simply cannot sustain the joy and excitement of pursuing your calling when you’re grinding all day, every day. The spark that ignites your passion is snuffed out by demanding hours. Creativity and vision need breathing room. If you’ve lost your drive and your passion for work, it’s a good sign that you’re spending too much time at the office.
Consequences of Overworking
Overworking is not a neutral, harmless or even honorable habit. It has destructive consequences with a far-reaching impact on you and others around you. If overworking is a lifestyle for you, pretty soon you’ll start to see these consequences:
At the very least, overworking will lead to burnout at your job. As we mentioned before, health issues are a big sign that you’re being overworked. If you stay in that chronic state of stress, you could develop potentially life-threatening conditions. Plus, you become a slave to other people’s unrealistic expectations, which is not sustainable.
Your family and friends suffer.
Your kids, spouse and community all feel the effects of your absence. You’re going to miss recitals, birthday parties, happy hours and date nights. And when you do show up to these events, you’re so drained by your long day at the office that you can’t be present. An even scarier outcome is the possibility that you won’t even have true community and friends or make time to start your own family because you’re dedicating so much of your time to your job.
Your workplace suffers.
When your team is overworked and exhausted, the quality of work goes down and the number of mistakes goes up. People begin to miss work or quit altogether, and the workplace culture starts to fall apart.
Our society as a whole suffers.
The end result of an overworked culture isn’t pretty. There are rising healthcare costs, fragmented families and communities, and toxic organizations. There’s a fascinating case study we can take from Japan, which has a widespread workaholism problem. In fact, in 2018, only 52.4% of Japanese workers took the paid time off they were allotted. Karoshi is a Japanese word that means “death from overwork.”4 I’m afraid that we’re headed down that road, and unless we take a strong stand, we’ll end up with the same problem in many communities here in the United States.
We need to come face to face with the harsh realities of overworking. Take your ego off the table and recognize that you have a limit. You’re only human, after all!
What to Do When You’re Overworked
The first thing I want you to hear is this: You have the power to change your situation. It will take some dedicated effort to change your situation or find a new one, but you have what it takes. You can make good money and do something you love without working 60+ hours a week.
Here are three action steps you can take if you’re feeling overworked:
1. Assess your situation.
In order to know what steps to take, you need to understand what has led you to this point. Are you overworked because you put the pressure on yourself, or because it’s what’s expected in your company culture?
If overworking is self-imposed, then you need to reflect and get to the bottom of your motivations for overworking. Maybe you prefer your job over your home life. Maybe you’re seeking fulfilment from work that needs to be met somewhere else. Maybe you need to learn to set healthy boundaries. There’s no shame in this—but you have to honestly look yourself in the mirror and decide who you want to be and what life you want to live.
If overworking is part of the company culture, you’ve got a different set of problems. Your situation might be fixed with a simple, direct conversation with your leader. But if you’re in a work culture that’s resistant to change or that glorifies workaholism, then it’s time to get the heck out of dodge. Don’t let fear or shame or false loyalty keep you tied to a toxic environment.
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2. Imagine your dream work-life scenario.
Feeling overworked is actually a fantastic opportunity to step back and examine the bigger picture. Are you in the right role? Are you pursuing the right calling? Does the thought of starting your workweek give you the Sunday Scaries?
I get it. These are HUGE questions that most of us wrestle with throughout our lives. My team and I have put together a free resource that will help you simplify the process. Download the Career Clarity Guide and start dreaming big about the future you want to create for yourself and your family.
Imagine your future and then ask yourself: What about my life needs to change in order for me to make this dream a reality?
3. Make your plan.
After you get clear on your current situation and the reality you want to create, it’s time to plan your next step—whether you’re staying or going.
If you plan to stay at your current job: Be clear with yourself on what needs to change. Get some accountability—loop your spouse, mentor or friends into the conversation. Set specific boundaries with statements like, “I’ll be home by 6 p.m. every day for family dinner.”
Then, get some time on the calendar to talk to your leader. Be respectful and direct about your stress and concerns. Share your boundaries with your leader and ask, “Can we work together to make this a reality?” Ask for what you need, whether that’s cutting back on your responsibilities or scaling back your hours.
If you plan to look for a new opportunity: If you’re absolutely miserable and in a financial position where you can quit, do it. You might even need to spend some time recovering because you’re emotionally and physically exhausted.
But let me be clear: Don’t make this move unless you know with certainty that you’ll be okay financially until you find the next gig. You don’t have to bail immediately. You can be intentional about finding your next job. Use the Proximity Principle to start creating connections with people who will open the door to your next gig.
Your Work Matters, So You Should Enjoy It
Being overworked is simply not worth it. Your life is so much more than what happens at work. And I believe with every fiber of my being that you were created for something that only you can do. The world needs you to do it! So, do whatever it takes to thrive and grow—to be your best self—because this is so much bigger than you. Press on!