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Taking care of business…by taking care of yourself

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Taking care of business…by taking care of yourself

Why our addiction to work is making us stupid, depressed, unhealthy, and is hurting our careers -- and what to do instead.

Kmart’s recent announcement to open its doors at 6am on Thanksgiving Day sent shockwaves throughout the nation. Though bargain-seekers were thrilled, many are questioning the retail chain’s decision. In recent years, such “Thanksgiving Creep” has inspired multiple protests from employees, with one petition calling it “inhumane and inconsiderate.”

And unfortunately, this problem doesn’t just exist in retail establishments around the holidays. Across all job types and industries, Americans are working more than ever.

According to a recent Workforce Management study, since the great recession, 55% of employees have seen their workload increase, and 27% say it’s doubled. The constant pressure to do more with less, coupled with the belief that being busy means we’re important, is creating an unsustainable pattern.

"Across all job types and industries, Americans are working more than ever."

For many workers, taking time away from their jobs feels like an untenable luxury. Most European countries provide workers at least four weeks of vacation each year—Germany and Sweden are particularly generous with seven weeks. But a Center for Economic Policy and Research study reveals that 25% of US employees don’t take any vacation at all—either because they don’t use their accrued time or their employer doesn’t provide it.

Why would anyone choose not to take the time away that they’ve rightfully earned? For many, fear is a factor—fear of missing out on promotions, topping the layoff list, being judged by bosses or coworkers, or the work that will inevitably pile up.

Certainty, anyone can work fifty, sixty, or eighty hours per week—and take little time off—if they choose. But as it turns out, there are some profound consequences:

1.    Working too much makes us stupider.

Research has shown that long hours affect our brains. An American Journal of Epidemiology study followed British civil servants over five years to understand the relationship between long hours and brain functioning. Compared to those who worked forty hours per week, participants who worked more than fifty-five hours showed poorer vocabulary and reasoning skills. In plain English, working too much actually makes us stupider.

2.    Working too much makes us depressed.

Research has shown that long hours are also a significant risk factor for depression. A study published in PLoS ONE examined more than 2,000 workers in the United Kingdom over six years. They found that employees who worked more than eleven hours per day had more than twice the risk of depression than those who worked seven to eight hours per day. The relationship remained even when researchers statistically removed the influence of socio-economic factors, chronic physical disease, smoking and alcohol use.

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