'Work intensification' during pandemic adds dimension to workaholism
Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun
The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a lot of new stresses to our work-life balance, business Prof. Lieke ten Brummelhuis has observed, from irritations of sharing a home office with a spouse to financial insecurities.
Then for those already prone to work addiction, the blurred lines between home and office combined with fewer options for after-work diversions, there is the potential for an already problematic situation to become worse.
“There is almost like a work intensification, because there is not really that much else to do even,” said ten Brummelhuis, an associate professor in management and organization studies at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business.
Ten Brummelhuis studies the differences between simply working a lot and feeling compelled to always be working, classic workaholism, and the stresses that puts on the work-addicted and health risks that come along with it.
And she is sharing some insights from her research, the stresses of workaholism and advice on how to avoid them or at least cope, in a talk Tuesday as part of the SFU President’s Faculty Lecture Series on the theme of Recovery and Resilience.
“What I hope to establish on Tuesday is making people more aware of healthy ways of working,” ten Brummelhuis said. “Like, it’s not a doom story that I want to share.”
Her observations about the intensification of work during COVID-19 are more anecdotal, from watching how colleagues and other professionals are behaving during the pandemic, but she worries it has the potential to add to those stresses and the risks. It will differ from person-to-person, depending on whether children are involved, but “if you can’t go to out-of-house activities you had previously, if you can’t meet up with friends, there’s only so much Netflix that you can watch,” ten Brummelhuis said.
The workaholic is someone who feels a compulsive drive to work, rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment from having worked hard that allows them to turn off at the end of the day.
For the work-addicted, there can be a sense of guilt from being away from work to the point they will prioritize working over family time and be unable to stop checking and answering email, even from the sidelines of a child’s soccer game.
So, with less to do outside of work, where workaholics find it harder to set clear boundaries, “at some point, people might actually choose to then open their laptop again and get some work done,” ten Brummelhuis said.
The stress of a workaholic mindset “keeps (your) body really activated all the time,” leading to psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches or neck pain, ten Brummelhuis said.
And there are also serious health consequences, she added. Ten Brummelhuis isn’t a medical researcher, but in a previous study found that the workaholics in the study group were more likely to have the health markers that carried higher risks for cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
In her lecture, she will emphasize the importance of recovery, taking time after a workday when you can unplug completely.
“No. 1 is setting very clear boundaries between work and home, and sharing that with your family,” ten Brummelhuis said.
For people working at home during the pandemic, employers can help with a little bit of understanding, perhaps allowing employees to be flexible over which hours they work, and recognition that “we can’t run as hard as we usually do and we’re all doing our best.”
“Then there is this aspect of recovery that I can’t underscore enough,” she said, being able to detach and get quality sleep at night. “Especially when you think you don’t have time for relaxation or a walk outside, that’s probably when you need it the most.”
Sometimes finding the balance involves experimentation, she said. If someone finds they are tired by 4 p.m. and tasks seem to take a long time, ten Brummelhuis suggests they stop and take that walk to see how long it takes in the morning when they’re well-rested.
“I think it really helps to observe your own work behaviour and to become smart about when you are productive and when you actually need a break,” she said.
Ten Brummelhuis’s lecture, titled Work Hard, Play Hard: The Role of Recovery After Work, will be streamed online starting 6 p.m. on March 9. Tickets can be obtained through Eventbrite.
This was published by Vancouver Sun on March 5, 2021.