Sustain issue #24 (Get Sustain in your inbox next Thursday)
This past Monday was the 127th Labor Day in the United States. For many of us, it’s just another day off that marks the last bit of summer.
The work of 1894 compared to today is completely different. Today, there’s a massive group of, largely, marginalized workers in the gig economy, Amazon’s warehouse & delivery employees, and many frontline workers in the service & care industries. And the pace of knowledge work has increased leading to deeply stressful days and, since the start of the pandemic, many extra hours worked as life and work blend together.
In May, the World Health Organization put out its first report on the loss of life from overwork. It concluded that working 55+ hours a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and 17% higher risk of heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week. In 2016, 750,000 deaths occurred due to long hours, a 29% increase since 2000.
The problem is so bad in Japan, they actually have a word for this — Karoshi — translated to “overwork death.”
Hustle culture preaches working long hours now so you can enjoy later. But to be morbidly blunt, you have to be alive to get to later.
So, what do we do about the phenomenon of death by overwork?
- Governments should implement and enforce policies to limit working hours based on the modern way work gets done. (See: Ireland’s ‘Right to Disconnect’ legislation)
- Organizations should measure employee success based on outcomes, not on total hours logged on
- Managers should ensure employees have psychological safety to say when they’re at capacity
- Individuals should reflect on what success in life really looks like to them and decide if their actions and how they spend time supports that vision.
Burnout and overwork is a messy issue that’s going to take all of the above bodies to solve and to ensure marginalized groups are actually protected. As you can imagine, it’s going to be complex and time-consuming.
The good news is that we individuals are not helpless. Your labor is recognized and your life is valued. Speak up when you just can’t. Take time to restore.
At a sustainable pace,
Ready to downsize your relationship with work and quit burnout?
Hi, I'm Grant Gurewitz. I'm on a mission to end burnout at work. I've been in tech for 10 years (ex-Zillow, current: Qualtrics) who suffered deep burnout and came back from it with no help of the hacky advice out there.
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