9 Signs Your Work-Life Balance Is Off


For many Americans, the daily 9-to-5 is just a dream. The U.S. is renowned for having the longest work hours in the industrialized world, and our hours are only getting longer. Family, friends, personal pursuits, and general relaxation are all sacrificed.

Too often, it's by choice. While extra toil may seem like the best way to advance your career, numerous studies — summarized in the Harvard Business Review — have shown that overworking can backfire by damaging your health and reducing your productivity at work. One study in particular by HBR and the Boston Consulting Group found that forcing consultants to take time off at predictable periods (such as nights and weekends) improved their efficiency and effectiveness.

Are you part of the growing, and disturbing, trend of self-sabotage through overwork? Read on, and see how many of these red flags you check off. It's possible your work-life balance is completely out of alignment.

1. You're working way too many hours

Let's start with the simplest red flag. The typical workweek is 40 hours. Some days you may work a little more, some a little less — but it should even out to around 40 hours overall. You may not have a time sheet to fill out, but you should still have a general idea of how many hours you're putting in.

If it's consistently more than 50 per week, you are working too much. Any more than 60–70 hours a week, and you pretty much have no life outside of the office. This kind of stress can affect your health in many negative ways, including increasing your risk of heart problems, type 2 diabetes, and substance abuse.

Even if you work from home, you need to delineate your time. If you have a home office, make it off limits after certain hours. If it's a laptop or computer in the corner of a room, shut it down. If you are working overtime for extra money, only do it for short periods of time.

2. Falling asleep (or barely staying awake) at work

If you're routinely having trouble staying awake on the job, you are probably putting in too many hours. It's not unusual for some professions to demand an excess of 40 hours per week. In advertising, for example, it's considered the norm to work 60 or 70 hours, which burns many people out. This burnout is not only dangerous — it's deadly. You risk having a stroke, severe anxiety, depression, and if you work more than 80 hours per week, your risk of major heart disease increases by 94 percent!

If you're sleeping at your desk, getting in early, staying late, and drinking eight cups of coffee to get through the day, you are working way too much. Slow down. (See also: 13 Hacks to Avoid Burnout at Work)

3. You have no social life

Think back over the last few months. How many times did you cancel plans because your job took priority? How often did you turn down invitations to parties or get-togethers because "something came up at work?" Did you have to sell your tickets to a concert, or back out of a weekend trip, because the boss needed you to come in?

These are all signs that your work-life balance is completely messed up. It's OK to work late once in awhile. Sometimes, it's unavoidable. But if your social life always takes a back seat to your career, you will suffer. And so will your work. You need down time. Take it.

4. Work is always on your mind

You muse about it at the dinner table. You think about it in bed. You lose track of the conversation because you're worried about the project you're working on. When the only thing on your mind is work, you have a serious problem.

At work, it's great to be this focused. At home, your focus should be your family, your friends, your hobbies, and other nonwork pursuits. Thinking about the job all the time will take its toll on your mental health, and you'll eventually burn out.

If you find yourself unable to switch off, it may be time to seek help from an occupational therapist. They will teach you coping skills that allow you to turn off the "work brain" and come back to reality.

5. You are constantly checking work emails

These days, we carry smartphones that put the office in our pockets. You can open emails in the checkout line at the grocery store, at the ballgame, or even on a date. And if you're doing any of those on a regular occasion, your job is taking over your life.

You need to put hard restraints on your private time. You should not be expected to check emails all hours of the day and night. Some people even get woken up in the middle of the night by emails from an overzealous boss or coworker. Set limits. Refuse to answer emails after a certain time. It's as simple as that.

6. You never take a vacation or sick day

Americans aren't using their vacation days. As of 2015, workers only took an average of 16.2 days of vacation per year — almost a week less than the average between 1978 and 2000 — and 55 percent left days unused. That's a lot of wasted opportunities for a healthier work-life balance.

Vacation days are important. Sick days are important. Refusing to use either of them is going to have serious repercussions on your wellbeing. Even if you think you're completely fine, but haven't taken a vacation in years, you may be ready to burn out. Sadly, by the time it happens, it can take months to put right. Sick days are vital for when you are genuinely sick. Not only will showing up to work prolong your illness, but you'll also spread it to other people in the office.

Your work suffers when you're sick, too. This is why companies want you to use your sick days when you are ill. Dedication is one thing, but letting your health suffer isn't helping you or your employer.

7. You crack under the slightest pressure

You find yourself having far less patience these days. You shout and become frazzled at the smallest provocation. You apologize often for outbursts that never should have happened. You are almost certainly showing signs of a work-life balance that is very unhealthy.

When we have our work-life balance right, we can more easily handle problems that arise. We don't crack, and we don't fly off the handle. But the more we work, and the less time we have to relax, the quicker our patience reserves go into the red. If you're breaking easily, you need to re-evaluate the time you're spending at work.

8. You constantly think about quitting

They say that if you do something you love, you'll never work a day in your life. Most people don't have that luxury. It's a job, it pays the bills, it provides health insurance, and it serves its purpose.

But if the job starts consuming your life, and all you can think about is quitting, then your work-life balance is way off. Yes, it may also be because the job itself is not pleasant, but when the bad job becomes the bane of your existence, it tips the scales. (See also: 8 Signs You Should Quit Your Job)

9. Your personal space is a mess

No time to clean. No time to organize. No time to do anything other than work — and boy, does it show. It usually starts with your desk at the office, and then it spreads. Before you know it, your home is just the place you sleep and shower. Your space is an utter mess, and you ignore it all.

Why? Because you're never there long enough to care. And when you are home, you're exhausted. Take a look around you, right now — has your personal space gotten out of hand? Is everything a mess? Then it's time to take a much-needed break.

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