Work hard, but rest just as hard
1 December 2021
A good friend of mine who grew up and lives on the other side of the world asked me once, “David, why don’t Americans rest?”
He was – and still is – what people call a “high performer,” very accomplished in a couple of domains. We often talk about the differences and similarities of our cultures and upbringings, and working continuously made no sense to him.
In America, “the grind” or a glamorized “Puritan work ethic” is normalized and popular. We are all familiar with the examples of no having boundaries at work, not taking vacation being so busy, plus the humble brags and badges of honor that come from all of that.
Overwork, self-sacrifice and lack of rest permeates both the macro and micro cycles of our lives: not only do we not take vacation, but every morning most of us check our work email before we even touch our partner.
Let’s not be Pollyanna about the effort necessary in business – there are times when business challenges demand a lot of effort, and we need to dedicate and prioritize our attention to them in order to succeed. But even the Puritans had the day off once a week.
Why? If you don’t balance your work with other interests and time off, you make mistakes, burn out, get frustrated and resentful. This is true for everyone – leaders as well as employees.
New leaders, founders of small companies who put in the energy and time to launch a successful business, often fit the mold of overworking themselves and others. So if you’re a new leader, ask yourself some questions:
- Have you carried over the urgent and hectic pace of your business launch to daily work? Does your approach towards work affect your employees’ approach?
- Do you praise – even subtly and indirectly – overwork, sacrifice, or a lack of boundaries between work and rest?
- Are you and your employees dragged down by mistakes, and a lack space to think about work and solutions?
- Do you reward and enforce vacations, personal time, and interests outside of work or is the person (including you) who comes in early, stays late, takes extra work and answers email on Sunday morning somehow valued more than others?
So we know that balancing work effort with rest and other interests actually boost performance – and who doesn’t want that?
So what can you do to make a healthy change?
- Realize that a change is necessary. Accept it. Make change real by talking with a mentor or trusted advisor about the need and how you could implement it.
- Recognize – and then embrace – the reality that change will feel awkward at first.
- Watch carefully for the benefits of having more balance and rest – more and better ideas, longer patience, less stress, and celebrate them with others.
- Enforce the consistent balance and rest for both you and your employees. Consider changing the unwritten culture with your behavior around everything from vacation, late night emails, deadlines and policies.
Incorporating rest and a change of focus into your work schedule will make you and your employees more productive, happier, and less likely to succumb to injury or illness and ultimately lead to more success.
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