Work, and Dated Ideas About Work, Could Kill You

Washington Post journalist Brigid Schulte presents on "Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time" at the Spring CLO Symposium. (Photo by WIll Byington Photography)

I spent most of the week in Miami at the Spring CLO Symposium, a biannual event my company throws for learning leaders.

One of our keynote speakers was Brigid Schulte, author of “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time.” A seasoned journalist for The Washington Post, Schulte spoke with refreshing candor about an issue most everyone can relate to: not having enough time.

Schulte presented the issue in a heart-wrenching way, however. For her, not having enough time meant more than exposing herself to physically toxic levels of stress. It meant more than struggling to meet an unreasonable and dated perception of the ideal worker — more on that later — for her, not having enough time meant missing out on once in a life time moments with her children.

She described one particular stressed out day, in a loop of stressed-out days, where her children wanted her to join them in the yard jumping on their trampoline. She said something like, “I’ll be right there” — she was working on her very long to-do list — and when she looked up again, her children were gone and it was dark. The moment was also gone, never to return again.

I know what that’s like. To work and work and work no matter what time it is or what day it is. I can relate to that physical compulsion to answer just one more email before I leave the office, to even put off going to the bathroom in order to nurse my endless inbox or finish up an article.

I’ve probably missed a lot of irreplaceable moments, too. Why? Part of it’s related that perception I mentioned earlier about the ideal worker.

Schulte drew a clear picture of this mythical beast, this workaholic with nothing to do but feed the company coffers via their sweat and creative equity. Guess what they look like. You’ll never guess: This unicorn of dubious productivity is male without familial responsibilities.

I know; I was shocked, too. I’m kidding. But it’s ridiculous, right? This is not the only person of value in an organization. It can’t be. There’s not enough of them to make the business world go round.

But until we change that perception, until we advance beyond this dated need to appear busy and put in the hours vs. producing a tangible outcome, of penalizing women for having children and logically needing to take time off to tend to them, of ignoring paid vacation days for fear of appearing not committed, of sacrificing flexibility, health and the resulting engagement, performance and creativity gains that go along with them to maintain the status quo, there will be no trampoline jumping in any of our futures.

Schulte introduced me to a Japanese word: Karoshi, which loosely translated means to kill yourself with work. I actually shivered when she described this cultural phenomenon. And I immediately thought, there’s no way I’m going out like that. I like to work. But am I — are you — willing to sacrifice life, limb and happiness for it?

Dude, no. Jump on the trampoline. It won’t kill you.