Chalk it down to the culture of hustle, or technology that always keeps us connected, or even the tricky, ever-changing economy that we are trying to operate in — but most of us have trouble unplugging from work today.
Think about the last time you worked on something over the weekend or responded to an email beyond work hours. If that happens often enough that you don’t even remember a particular instance, you might be caught up in this culture of being busy and staying available all the time. These are a few of the reasons that you might have trouble unplugging:
1. You are insecure about your abilities
To a lot of people, being “on” all the time is one way of showing the world (and their boss) how committed they are at getting things done. However, the constant need to prove yourself can be a sign of insecurity too.
For instance, if you are the youngest person in the office, you may feel like you won’t be taken seriously by your more experienced colleagues; or if you have recently taken on a new role, you may not feel confident in your own abilities just yet. The hesitance to unplug may then be your way of playing catch up, and hoping others don’t notice (what you think are) your shortcomings.
Erin Parisi, a licensed mental health counselor and a certified addictions professional, noted that such insecurities can be gendered as well. Women are sometimes perceived to be less dependable as employees because they may potentially get pregnant or need time off to look after young children as their primary caregiver. This perception, of course, depends on the culture of individual workplaces. However, “women can internalize some of the stigmas/biases, and have difficulty unplugging from work under the (real or imagined) pressure to prove their ability to do the job regardless of these other factors,” Parisi said.
2. Fear that you won’t be recognized
If you work in a highly competitive firm, or if you’re a naturally competitive person yourself, not being recognized is a very real fear for you. You don’t want to be lost in the crowd or remain unremarkable — and simply being good at what you do may no longer seem like enough to make you stand out. So you may choose to become indispensable to your boss by staying available when others won’t.
In fact, a lot of people feel uncomfortable leaving work before others — even if they have actually completed all their tasks. The situation is exacerbated when firms encourage this disregard for personal time. When an employee is praised, recognized, and financially rewarded for this, it puts pressure on others to do the same.
Heidi McBain, women’s mental wellness specialist and author of Major Life Changes: Stories of Motherhood, Hope and Healing, pointed out the unsustainability of this over the long term. “What people often forget is that having boundaries and taking breaks may actually help them to be a better employee at their workplaces,” McBain said. In a healthy workplace, employees would be appreciated for performing well while still respecting their own boundaries — not simply for working longer hours. If it is the other way round in your organization, that could signify a toxic culture.
3. You find it difficult to say no
Your boss puts you in charge of a new project when you are already overworked. Your colleague requests you to take over his share of the paperwork minutes before you are about to leave. Rather than saying no, you agree — and then find yourself working round the clock to fulfill these promises. Sound familiar?
While many of us have trouble saying no, the reason we avoid setting boundaries differs from person to person, per Psychology Today. Some simply want to avoid causing offense or coming across as unlikeable. Others fear that by saying no, they may be letting a great opportunity slip by — something that would perhaps have enabled them to get ahead in their careers. Parisi explained that for those who struggle with anxiety, setting the boundary itself may be a huge stressor, “The idea of leaving an email or text unread, or not tackling a problem we know is there, can create more anxiety,” she said. They would rather deal with the issue now than have it gnawing at the back of their mind until the next day. Identifying and acknowledging the reason can be a great starting point in moving towards a healthier work-life balance.
4. You are a perfectionist
Being a perfectionist is a point of pride for many, but perfection is too high a standard to live up to every single time, and it can be why you are never done working. If you have ever gone over a presentation ‘just one more time’ or read and re-read a short email before sending it out, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Being overly critical of your work can stretch a simple two-minute task to over an hour.
Moreover, it may not always be as simple as wanting to do your best. McBain stated that perfection often goes hand in hand with fear and anxiety. Getting to the root of what is causing you anxiety at work may help you deal with it effectively. A self-care routine that includes meditation, mindfulness, and journaling can help you lower stress levels on a more regular basis.