If you passed through a New York City subway station in early March, you may have spotted a peculiar ad along your commute. The black-and-white ad for Fiverr, a digital freelance marketplace where creatives and coders alike offer services for as low as $5, stars a frazzled-looking woman with unbrushed hair. “You eat coffee for lunch. You follow through on your follow through,” the ad reads. “Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”
The ad came under fire for romanticizing the way workers prioritize the demands of the job over their physical and mental health. “The ‘gig economy’ is literally killing us,” wrote user @b_cavello, whose now-viral tweet fueled the initial backlash.
But whether we work freelance or full-time, the idea of working ourselves into the ground is hardly new, particularly for Americans. How many of us have humble-bragged (#nevernotworking) about how utterly busy we are? How often have we stayed late in the office or worked through a weekend to appear the exemplary employee?
If that’s not ringing a bell, let’s look at the facts: Americans work 25 percent more than their European counterparts, according to a working paper by economists Alexander Bick of Arizona State University, Bettina Bruggemann of McMaster University, and Nicola Fuchs-Schundeln of Goethe University Frankfurt.
“So many workers put in long hours, especially salaried employees,” said economist Heather Boushey, who co-authored the study Overworked Americans for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. “If you love your job, does that mean you don’t have the right to go home and see your family, or go on vacation? There may be a period where you’re happy to work a lot, but people shouldn’t be forced to do it every day.”
Working around-the-clock doesn’t always equal logging hours in an office. Employment in the 21st century often means taking work calls or firing off emails anywhere and anytime, with “business hours” reserved only for the post office and DMV.
“Work-life balance is in decline,” Glassdoor spokesperson Allison Berry told Mic. Berry blamed technology advancement as a main contributor to after-hours work. "People don't feel like they can unplug from their job," she said.
Work-life balance –– or the concept that an employee can attain harmony between work and personal life –– is, at best, a lofty goal. At worst, it’s downright fiction, something for us to dream about while climbing into our cars for another rush-hour commute.
That doesn’t mean we should just give up, of course. Maintaining a healthy personal life won’t just make us more fulfilled, but also keep us mentally and physically healthier.
Here are 15 signs your work-life balance needs adjustment.
You’re Working Too Much (Duh)
The Harvard Business Review found in a study that 94 percent of surveyed professionals worked more than 50 hours per week.
Of those workers, half clocked more than 65 hours of work. According to data collected by the CDC, working more than 40 hours a week is bad for you: Regular overtime is associated with unhealthy weight gain, depression, and increased alcohol and tobacco consumption. Science also shows working more than 10 hours a day is linked with a 60 percent jump in cardiovascular problems.
You Check Your Work Email in Bed
Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: Your alarm (which is on your smartphone) goes off in the morning. You roll over, pick up your phone, switch off the alarm, and then immediately swipe over to your notifications.
Mobile software firm Good Technology surveyed 1,000 workers and found 50 percent of American workers checked their email in bed –– 68 percent checked their email before 8 a.m. Deciding to check email outside of work hours is a slippery slope: A 2014 Gallup poll claims those who do so add an average of 10 extra hours of work to their week.
If you’re looking for more balance between work and life, reserve your bed (and entire bedroom, for that matter) for sleeping, relaxing, and spending time with your partner.
Your Health is Suffering
Health problems –– from weight gain and depression to infections and chronic pain –– can be a clear indicator you need to cut back.
Study upon study stress the strong correlation between work-life balance and physical health. Workers who report lower levels of conflict between their work and home lives experience less hypertension and better sleep. They also feel less depressed and experience less anxiety, work-related or otherwise.
As the saying goes, health is wealth. If your career is coming at the cost of your physical health, re-evaluating may be in order.
You Don’t Have Energy After Work
It’s called work/life balance, not work/sleep balance. Those who come home and lack the energy to do anything but vegetate or pass out may want to realign their personal and professional priorities.
“Work-life balance to me is a state of mind where you feel like you have energy and enthusiasm for the events of your personal and professional life,” Consultant Vicki Hess told PsychCentral.
Workers with a strong sense of work-life balance find enjoyment in their post-work activities, which can be anything from relaxing with a book, to cooking a nice meal to enjoy with the family, to challenging their bodies with physical exercise.
You Don’t Have Hobbies
If someone were to ask you what your hobbies (AKA skills and interests you pursue strictly for personal enjoyment) are, what would you say? For many, television and social media have shouldered traditional, developed hobbies out of the picture.
According to a study published in Annals of Behavioral Science, hobbies can have a truly positive effect on your health.
Researchers found that the people who spent time on leisure activities were 18 percent less sad and 34 percent less stressed while doing them. Beyond that, researchers studied the heart rates of participants, noting their heart rates lowered while engaging in a hobby, and stayed lower for hours afterward.
You’re Constantly on Your Phone
Feel glued to your phone? You’re not alone. Americans check their cellphones or mobile devices over 9 billion times per day, according to a Deloitte Survey.
The more time you spend staring at a screen, the more likely you are to work after hours, even if it’s just firing off a quick email. 59 percent of U.S. workers report using their smartphones to work outside of normal business hours, Workplace Options reports.
“Technology is expanding the workday, so it’s not just a nine to five shift. We’re expected to be on call 24/7,” Consultant Laura Garnett told Forbes. “Technology is so addictive — it’s easy to let that take away your balance. We need to be proactive about our downtime. To maximize energy, schedule time for rest, exercise, meditation — anything that gets you to turn off technology and focus on yourself.”
You’re Too Busy to Maintain Your Friendships
Are you the king or queen of canceling plans? If you can’t remember the last time you were in the same room with your friends, there’s a strong chance you’ve let work take over your life.
“Make time for the people who matter, simple as that,” wrote Jill Krasny for Business Insider. “Schedule time [with friends]as you would a meeting and promise yourself you'll stick to it.
Your Personal Space is a Mess
Your desk is a disaster. Dishes are piling up in the sink. You try not to pay attention to how badly your bathroom floor needs sweeping.
Yes, sometimes messy spaces can be a sign of creativity, but they can also be a clear indicator you need to take some time to get your life in order.
“Messy homes and work spaces leave us feeling anxious, helpless, and overwhelmed,” wrote Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D, author of the Psychology Today blog High Octane Women. “Clutter constantly signals to our brains that our work is never done.”
You Don’t Read for Pleasure
When was the last time you sat down with a book and a glass of wine on a weekday evening –– or any evening, for that matter?
According to a report from the National Endowment of the Arts, the number of U.S. adults who read literature (plays, poetry, short stories, or novels) reached a three decade low in 2015.
Someone suffering from work burn-out might find it difficult to pick up a book after coming home for the evening, instead turning to less mindful entertainment like video games or Netflix.
There’s nothing wrong with relaxing with a bit of television, of course –– but regular reading is essential for “insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness,” wrote the Harvard Business Review.
“Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through ‘a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills,’” they wrote.
You Dream of Work
Multiple business surveys show that 50 percent to 80 percent of U.S. workers dream about work. Of those who do, 25 percent admitted they experience work nightmares or wake up in a cold sweat once or more a week.
If this sounds like you, you might need to recenter your priorities.
“Emotionally detach from energy suckers like office politics, coworkers and your boss,” advised Marissa Brassfield on Ridiculously Efficient. “Instead, zero in on energy givers like loved ones, your pets, exercise and hobbies.”
You Look at “Overworked” as a Status Symbol
Are you humble-bragging (or just bragging) about how you work around the clock? If you view your 80-hour work weeks as something to be proud of, it’s time to ask yourself why.
You’re likely prioritizing your career above your personal well-being. Research links long hours with health issues including heart disease, stroke, and a higher chance of on-the-job injuries. Not exactly something to boast about.
You Eat Out All the Time
Trekking to work early in the morning can make figuring out what to eat for breakfast and lunch a hassle. After a long day at the office, takeout or fast food seems easier than cooking yourself. When your work-life balance is off, it’s easy to go days –– or weeks –– without cooking a single meal for yourself.
But relying on restaurant food is terrible for your health: 92 percent of meals from local and chain restaurants have significantly more calories than recommended for the typical person, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
There’s no shame in enjoying a good cup of coffee, but anyone who feels they need their caffeine via IV drip just to get through the day should start looking at ways to implement healthier habits.
Research about the dangers of too much caffeine is plentiful, but if that’s not enough to convince you, consider this: A lower caffeine intake can actually make your workdays more productive and less stressful.
You Work on Vacation
OK, friend. If you’re working from your deck chair at a Sandals resort, consider this your intervention.
Six out of 10 employees admit to working in one form or another while on a scheduled vacation, according to a Glassdoor survey.
Put your laptop away, get yourself a poolside cocktail, and take comfort in the facts: Studies of Japanese and European workers show taking vacation (and staying unplugged from work the whole time) make for more productive employees.
... Or You Don’t Take Vacation at All
The average American lets five paid vacation days go unused every year –– a collective loss of $52.4 billion in earned benefits, found economics analysis firm Oxford Economics.
“The US was founded on a strong work ethic. We often put our own balance and well-being aside and cave into that feeling of wanting to be productive and needing to perform,” Dr. David Ballard, director of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence (APA), told the Boston Globe.
If you’re guilty of this, remember that those vacation benefits are part of your compensation as an employee –– if you wouldn’t set fire to a pile of hundred dollar bills, why would you let hard earned PTO expire?
With a strong sense of work-life balance, you can schedule that family trip to Disneyland or solo adventure in India without any undue guilt. It’s time.