From an early age, many Americans are taught the value of hard work. The harder you work, our society reasons, the more successful and financially prosperous you will be.
As a result, companies often demand much of their workforce, and a high percentage of Americans work overtime to meet or exceed their business’ expectations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 85 percent of men and 67 percent of women work more than 40 hours a week. The International Labour Organization reports that Americans work longer hours than people in most of the world’s developed nations.
But an emerging school of thought holds that many American workers are overworked, and further, that going the extra mile isn’t worth it due to higher health costs and other deleterious effects.
“Overworking is overrated,” says Jeremy Greenberg (www.AveGroup.com), founder of Avenue Group, a firm that advises executives of Fortune 500 corporations, private equity firms, and mid-market companies. “We are told to work longer hours, sleep less, and grind. But it’s a big misconception to think that this kind of sacrifice leads to success, more money, faster advancement, and happiness.
“Chronic overwork can have very negative impacts on our overall quality of life. And when we consider what we must give up when we work so hard – too hard – we need to re-evaluate on a lot of levels.”
Greenberg gives four reasons overworking is overrated:
• It can’t compensate for business flaws. Putting in another two or three hours a day, while continuing to use the same ineffective ways of doing things, won’t solve fundamental issues related to the company’s success, Greenberg says. “Whether you’re rank-and-file, a mid-level manager or an entrepreneur, there’s no guarantee that overworking will save a flawed business model or weak business acumen. You might work very hard and fail, which happens most of the time in new businesses.”
• It distracts from the big picture. Having too much to do often promotes tedium, taking away from valuable time that might otherwise be spent on thinking, creating, planning, or maybe just taking a breathe. “Business owners have endless to-do lists, but they often get caught up in the day-to-day minutiae or things that are time-intensive and don’t have high value,” Greenberg says. “Taking time to rest and reflect is a critical part of being successful in business. It helps us differentiate the important work from the low-value work.”
• It leads to health problems. Numerous studies show that overwork and stress can result in all kinds of health issues. “Working too hard is simply bad for us,” Greenberg says. “It takes a toll on the brain and the whole body, by boosting stress and inducing bad habits, such as poor eating, reduced exercise, skipping sleep, and relying on too much caffeine.”
It lowers performance levels. Sarah Green Carmichael of Harvard Business Review says overwork results in diminishing returns – a general drop-off in quality and an uptick in avoidable mistakes. “Researchers have found that overwork – and the resulting exhaustion and stress – makes a person less productive in the long run because their mental and physical levels are drained,” Greenberg says. “Fatigue and sleep deprivation make it hard to perform at a high cognitive level.”
“The irony about overworking,” Greenberg says, “is you really get less done, accomplish fewer significant goals, and moreover rob yourself of the quality of life that you’re presumably trying to attain by working harder and longer.”
Jeremy Greenberg is the founder of Avenue Group (www.AveGroup.com), which builds businesses through advising leaders (Advisors division), operating early stage companies (Ventures division), and sharing business knowledge (Educators division). He is also the co-founder and CEO of Flyte Fitness (www.FlyteFitness.com), an exercise equipment and education company. Greenberg built multi-million-dollar businesses for two Fortune 500 companies (Capital One and Avon Products). He holds an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Greenberg serves as Entrepreneur in Residence at The Wharton School.