We all know that stress is harmful to us and professionals often complain about high work pressure. While many say they can’t deal with the stress, they also brag about having a successful career and being at the top of their game.
Research at University of Miami on stress and health suggests that chronic stress can hurt professional performance by depleting the cognitive skills necessary to do great work.
This is nothing new – so why people keeping pushing themselves to work harder?
Emma Seppala, science director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, explained that on some level people want to wear themselves out so they get to brag about it.
In an interview with Business Insider, Seppala said “We may not like to feel stressed, but we wear it like a badge of honour.”
Happiness often paves the way for professional success but unfortunately, Seppala says many workers have it backward, thinking that they need to be successful before they can be happy.
That logic results in what she calls a fruitless “chase” for one achievement after another, thinking that the next one will finally make them happy.
Call it workaholism or “successaholism”, Seppala says it’s a problematic cycle because it eventually leads to burnout and worse job performance.
Seppala’s argument echoes the main findings of a recent study co-authored by a Harvard professor: Working long hours has become a status symbol, but much of the time that people spend working isn’t very productive.
It’s widely known that professionals in fields like finance and consulting regularly log more than 60 hours a week. Even when they aren’t at the office, employees are expected to be on call whenever the client send them an email or give them a call.
But much of the time people spend working isn’t very productive, said Robin Ely, Ph.D., a professor at Harvard Business School.
In this culture of “overwork,” staying up all day to work on a proposal or to leave a family event early to return a client phone call will make you look impressive — especially to your colleagues, according to Ely.
Ely referred to one of the professionals she interviewed in the study saying success and rewards are given to those who are always on.
“It makes me want to scream when I see emails at 3am and senior leaders praising that person for their hard work. Leaders have a tendency to not be good about preventing work from taking over life,”
One of Ely’s co-authors, Erin Reid, Ph.D., an assistant professor of organisation at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, found in another study of the same firm that many men simply pretend to log 80-hour workweeks.
That way, they can impress their superiors with their dedication to the company while still spending time with their families.
Ely said at many consulting firms the belief is that clients need to have consultants available 24/7. But how much is an email response sent at 1am really benefiting the client — and how much is it boosting the consultant’s self-esteem?
“There is something almost appealing to being available 24/7. Being in demand is a symbol of status. It suggests you’re important and influential,” said Ely.
Now that we understand the constant complaints about workload may be more of showing-off than feeling stressed; the culture that being stressed is a sign of success is unlikely to disappear anytime soon because friends, colleagues, and employers are doing it.
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