Posted by Robert Half on 02 January 2017
As professionals, demonstrating a strong work ethic in the workplace is often presumed to gain the respect of peers and managers.
However, sometimes having a good work ethic may be at the expense of your time, health and wellbeing.
What are some of the hidden costs of a good work ethic, and how can you address them?
1. Longer hours, but lower productivity
According to the China Daily, workers in developed Asian countries, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, work the longest hours in the world.
However, long hours in the office do not necessarily yield better productivity. When employees work overtime excessively, this can have an effect on their ability to concentrate, which in turn affects work quality.
The cause can sometimes be a cultural factor of staff choosing not to leave before the boss, or simply lacking the ability to distinguish between what’s urgent and what’s important.
To make the most out of your office hours, learn to adopt effective time management techniques, which will help you be more productive within office hours.
2. Sacrificing personal time
A big part of having a strong work ethic is being dedicated to your work – taking care of every little detail and getting as much done as you can. However, when work commitment starts bleeding into your personal time, your personal relationships may suffer.
Prioritising work over other aspects of your life reduces your ability to engage in personal interests and your closest relationships - two very critical components that can affect work performance.
Business leaders interviewed by the Harvard Business Review acknowledge the importance of balancing “a great family life, hobbies and an amazing career”, which improves work performance and leads to a happier, less stressful life.
To avoid sacrificing personal time, schedule it into your day – this helps make personal time a priority. Scheduling also ensures that you focus on getting work done within office hours so that you can meet your personal time commitment.
3. Poor physical and mental health
Diligent professionals can be so dedicated to hard work that they neglect self-care, such as eating well, moving around, and getting enough rest. Add that to a highly stressful workload and determination to get things done – traits of a good work ethic – and you have a health disaster waiting to happen.
According to a cross-continent research led by University College London in 2015, overwork has been directly linked to increased risks of stroke and coronary heart diseases. In extreme cases, overwork can even cause death – as witnessed in Japan’s ‘karoshi’ epidemic.
While the dedication to produce excellent work is commendable, keep an eye out for your health by eating healthy, scheduling exercise, and sleeping well. UK-based Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends 8 hours of sleep every night to avoid potential health problems, tiredness and depression.
Being present and available at the office is part of having a good work ethic. When your team is within reach, communication is easier and work gets done faster.
However, presenteeism or coming to work when you’re sick, achieves the opposite of productivity, according to the Harvard Business Review. In fact, it slows you down by a third (or more).
When you’re sick, your ability to focus at work is affected, which in turn affects the quality of work that you deliver. Research by the University of Arizona found that the enclosed nature of most modern offices facilitates the transmission of germs and infectious illnesses, which further reduces your team’s productivity.
To prevent presenteeism, managers can look into flexible working hours that allow sick employees to work from home, and allow delays in work turnover to account for poor health.
If you’re feeling under the weather, don’t hesitate to take a day off (or more) to recuperate. You may need to catch up on work once you get better, but your body will thank you for it.
5. Working for less
Visualise this: two professionals with the same amount of work are paid the same salary. However, one works 40 hours a week, while the other works 60 hours a week. If you divide their pay with the respective number of hours worked, the latter ends up with a lower hourly rate.
When you work overtime for the same pay, you earn less money for each additional (and unpaid) hour that you work. Not only are you being paid less to do more - your willingness to do so can eventually disrupt the market rate for your job, where companies expect more work but don’t adjust the salary band accordingly.
It’s important for professionals with a strong work ethic to know their worth instead of priming your manager (and in the long run, your industry) to expect more work without increasing salaries.
If you’re in the finance and technology industries, keep an eye on market rates with the Robert Half Salary Guide to ensure that your salary is competitive.
The key: work smarter
As admirable as a good work ethic is, it may come at the expense of your time, health, and even market value.
To mitigate this, practice working smart, not hard – which retains your productivity level while preserving a good work-life balance and helping you to love what you do.