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How to Recognize and Combat Toxic Productivity in the Workplace

Learn how to identify and combat toxic productivity in the workplace. Explore strategies to promote work‑life balance, mental well‑being and foster a healthy work environment.

Being productive in the workplace is a positive thing. Unfortunately, there comes a time when productivity can be toxic, affecting an employee's physical and mental health.

We're told our whole lives that being productive is good. But when you feel like you should constantly be doing something with a purpose, it can seriously drain your energy. Toxic productivity is real and can lead to burnout, causing the best employees to leave their jobs.

While being productive at work can help a business succeed, being unable to turn it off when you get home can be a major issue in your personal life. Toxic productivity has another name — workaholism. It's an addiction and something most people suffering from can't bring themselves out of because they feel like they should constantly be doing something productive, even if it's not work.

Someone experiencing toxic productivity may not bring their work home with them. Instead, they may find ways to be productive at home. Again, this isn't always a bad thing. We all have chores and errands. However, it becomes toxic when you feel guilty about relaxing or enjoying yourself instead of being productive.

Keep reading to learn more about toxic productivity and how to combat it to support employees' physical and mental health.

Toxic productivity is overworking at the expense of your personal life. While every business wants to improve productivity, asking too much of employees can harm their emotional well-being. Toxic productivity is a mindset most often created by an unhealthy work environment, which affects an employee's personal life, leaking into activities that make them happy or help them relax.

Yes, productivity in the workplace can save time and increase efficiency, but it should never be at the cost of employee well-being.

Unfortunately, toxic productivity is more common now partly because of the rise of remote work, which blurs the lines between work and life. With so many remote employees forced to prove they're constantly productive by keeping their Slack or Teams lights on, workplaces have created a mindset that people must constantly be doing something, whether working or at home.

Unfortunately, toxic productivity can affect both physical and mental health, which are closely related. Many people work desk jobs, so when they don't take breaks for several hours or work more than eight hours, they sit the entire time, which can cause aches and pains, lead to fatigue, and increase pain.

On the other hand, toxic productivity can lead to mental health issues because it forces employees to use their time for work. Instead of relaxing and doing things they enjoy, they're constantly worried about their jobs and all the tasks they have to complete. When they don't spend personal time working, they may feel guilty or even more stressed because the workload piles up.

Differentiating between healthy and toxic productivity

As mentioned, productivity in itself is not toxic. It can be a good thing that helps someone accomplish the less fun parts of life like working or doing chores. It becomes toxic when you replace personal needs with work and feel the need to constantly be doing something with a purpose.

Toxic productivity is different for everyone. For some, it means their laundry is piling up, and personal chores aren't getting done. For others, it affects relationships with family and friends because they're too busy working. Unfortunately, toxic productivity can lead to serious issues, including mental and physical health conditions like anxiety, stress, addiction, and depression.

Everyone has a lot on their to-do list, but that doesn't mean work should hinder your personal life. Identifying toxic productivity is the first step to combating it in the workplace. Employers should be aware of their employees' thoughts and feelings and notice who is working overtime too often.

Employee burnout and excessive workloads

If your employees are working extra hours regularly, it could mean their workloads are too large. There are benefits to not overworking your employees. There are no benefits to overworking them. Believe it or not, making your employees work more hours doesn't necessarily increase the amount of work they get done because they'll eventually slow down. The more your employees burn out, the less they'll be able to accomplish, so workloads that are too large can actually hinder productivity.

Obsession with constant busyness and multitasking

Employees can easily become obsessed with being busy and multitasking, thinking they can accomplish both work and personal tasks at the same time. This stems from their guilt about not getting enough done in a single day, even if what they have accomplished is reasonable. These employees have unrealistic expectations and feel guilty when they fall behind, so they're constantly looking for ways to stay busy.

Disregard for work-life balance

There's a reason it's called work-life balance; work and life are separate. Yes, sometimes one may affect the other, but for the most part, you can prevent employee burnout by ensuring employees have their promised personal time.

If an employee has recently shown a disregard for work-life balance, it could mean they're feeling overworked. Few people can afford to lose their jobs, but it means potentially risking their mental health.

Unhealthy competition and comparison

Competition in the workplace can be beneficial because it makes employees want to do better. However, if employees are constantly compared to their coworkers, it can foster an environment of toxicity. This type of environment forces employees to always try to be productive even when it doesn't benefit them or the company, just because they're being compared to their peers.

Neglecting self-care and well-being

Without employees, there wouldn't be businesses. Employees must take care of themselves before they can take care of your business. If employees neglect self-care, they can quickly burn out. Deprioritizing things like cooking, exercising, sleeping, and chores can have significant consequences on someone's life and well-being.

Unfortunately, a workplace often breeds a culture of toxic productivity. Business leaders might not even realize they're doing it, but they should know the warning signs to help protect their employees and, in turn, help their businesses succeed. Here are a few easy ways to combat toxic productivity in the workplace:

Cultivate a healthy work environment

A healthy work environment promotes work-life balance, prioritizes self-care, and boosts creativity. At the very basic level, it means your employees only work the hours they're supposed to work and can take time to themselves for chores or personal days when needed.

Your work environment should also encourage open communication and support. You may only know your employees are facing burnout once they tell you, so they should feel comfortable enough to tell you.

In addition, you should foster a positive and inclusive company culture. Team dynamics are crucial for any business, so managers must determine the best ways to make sure their employees' needs are met.

Set realistic expectations and boundaries

Employees should set realistic expectations for themselves and boundaries with the business. It's not uncommon for business owners and managers to have unrealistic expectations, but it's the employees' responsibility to speak up if they want to restore their work-life balance.

All employees should determine when work ends and personal time begins. In most cases, you work a job that ends at a certain time. From that point on, you're dedicated to your personal time. If work needs you, don't ignore them, but make sure you set clear boundaries and expectations for work.

Leaders can support these efforts by giving their team clear start and finish times, being vocal about setting boundaries and normalizing longer response times. It's common for someone to text a coworker during off-hours, but that doesn't mean that coworkers should be expected to respond until they're back at their desks. If your job is not an on-call job, you don't need to be on-call.

In addition, employees and employers should consider deadlines and workload expectations. Many times, leaders don't know how to do their employees' jobs or how long they should take, so they set unrealistic expectations. Managers should continue to check in on their employees and give them the opportunity to push back when necessary.

Encourage self-awareness and self-reflection

Leaders should encourage self-awareness and self-reflection that helps employees identify personal limits and boundaries. Every employee is different. Some can't answer calls after work because they have other responsibilities like family, while others don't want to be bothered while they're running errands or performing personal tasks.

You should recognize and challenge societal pressures. Society thinks we can do it all, and we can. That doesn't mean we don't need boundaries and time to ourselves.

Unfortunately, work has a way of creeping into your personal life. What's important is that you don't let it become your personal life. Promoting self-care and utilizing stress management techniques can prevent work from affecting your personal life.

Promoting work-life balance and flexibility

Promoting work-life balance is increasingly important, with many employees leaving their jobs every year due to burnout or unnecessary stress. While business owners might not be able to offer their employees flexible schedules that allow them to work whenever they want, there are ways to promote a better work-life balance without upsetting the delicate balance at work.

If you can't offer flexible work arrangements or remote opportunities, you can encourage employees to take time off and recharge. Your PTO policy should extend beyond the state laws. Instead of giving your employees the minimum, increase their PTO or give them unlimited PTO to use within reason.

You can also give them more opportunities for breaks and rest. For instance, you can let them listen to music while they work or give them a break room where they can spend some time recharging throughout the day.

Lead by example and fostering a supportive management style

The right leadership style shows employees that they can balance work with life. Managers should model healthy work habits and boundaries while acknowledging employees' efforts and offering resources for support or professional development.

Create a culture of healthy productivity

Healthy productivity can support your overall business by ensuring your employees are accomplishing all their tasks. Unfortunately, there's a fine line between healthy and toxic productivity. Knowing that line and identifying toxic productivity can help you address what makes employees burn out or increase their stress.

Mailchimp helps your teams avoid toxic productivity, improve efficiency, and reduce stress by improving collaboration. Manage your website, contacts, and send marketing messages from one dashboard to make it easier to manage your marketing strategy. Try Mailchimp today.

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