Workplace Fatigue

So much work, so little motivation.

Conner Newbold Jul 1, 2017

You’ve got enough work to fill five full days, and you’ve been busy. You organized your desk, KonMari-d your desk drawers, sorted your paper clips by color and reorganized your email inbox three different ways. You’ve even planned healthy lunches for the next three weeks. Meanwhile, requests and obligations continue stacking up in your pristinely ordered folders.

Vague thoughts of “real” work hover on the fringes of your mind, but you push them away along with the queasy, panicked stress that follows. Restlessly, with a slight buzzing in your ears, you launch into thoroughly cleaning your laptop screen.

Overstressed, Overworked, Over It

Procrastination is the most noticeable symptom of workplace fatigue. Sometimes called burnout, brownout, bore-out or simply mental exhaustion, it’s all the same thing: The unpleasant mental state that comes with believing there’s too much to do and too little time. Anxiety, resentment and self-doubt are often the results.

Awareness of this condition followed the rise of the every-millisecond-counts productivity culture that began in Silicon Valley and leaked to the rest of the nation. As far back as 1999, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was reporting that 20.5 percent of America’s total workforce worked at least 49 hours a week, with 11 million of those working more than 59 hours per week — and work hours for some have accelerated since then.

Harvard Business School reported that a recent survey of 1,000 professionals found that 94 percent worked at least 50 hours a week, with nearly half working more than 65 hours. Burnout and workplace fatigue are the product of that culture, though many exhausted workers fail to realize it.

Negative Emotions Cause Fatigue

Long hours may not be the sole culprit for those heavy eyelids and low motivation. Often, the cause is emotional weariness, according to renowned self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie in his 1944 but still-relevant book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.”

He synthesized the work of several prominent psychologists into a simple concept: “What kinds of emotional factors tire the sedentary (or sitting) worker?” he wrote. “Joy? Contentment? No! Never! Boredom, resentment, a feeling of not being appreciated, a feeling of futility, hurry, anxiety, worry — those are the emotional factors that exhaust the sitting worker, make him susceptible to colds, reduce his output, and send him home with a nervous headache. Yes, we get tired because our emotions produce nervous tensions in the body.”

Take Heart: There’s a Cure

According to Carnegie, there are a few simple ways to help alleviate workplace fatigue. The first may be to simply acknowledge that the problem is workplace fatigue and not necessarily a dead-end job, chronic fatigue syndrome or lack of sleep. After that, Carnegie offers two pieces of advice:

First, relax. He explains that we unconsciously tense up to feel as if we’re putting in serious effort. “We scowl when we concentrate,” he writes. “We hunch up our shoulders. We call on our muscles to make the motion of effort, which in no way assists our brain in its work.”

Second, eliminate distractions and diversions. He strongly encourages the reader to make a to-do list, arrange it by priority, then focus completely on each task in that order. He writes, “Charles Evans Hughes, former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, said: ‘Men do not die from overwork. They die from dissipation and worry.’ Yes, from dissipation of their energies — and worry because they never seem to get their work done.”

Next time your eyelids start to droop or you find yourself working at everything but work, take a closer look at what’s happening inside your head and tackle the real causes of your fatigue.

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