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Beware The Burnout: The Danger Of Overworking

26/06/2017 12:38

In a fast paced world where careers often come first, putting off that sick day could be more dangerous than you think.

Picture your perfect sick day. What does it look like? Is it one of comfort; curled up under a quilt, with candles and relaxing music playing? Is it you, binge watching your favourite show with a hot drink cradled in your hands? Whatever it is, the ideal sick day is best filled with relaxation.

It's common knowledge that the best way to get better is to slow down, take a breather and let our body recover. So why then, are Brits taking fewer and fewer sick days?

A survey by National Accident Helpline has revealed some worrying statistics about the UK's working population. Nine out of ten Brits (89%) admitted to dragging themselves out of their sickbeds to go to work, with over half (53%) having taken no sick days in the last six months.

Research by the Office for National Statistics also shows an overall falling trend in the amount of sick days taken between 1994 and 2016. Whilst it's understandable that money or job security worries keep us going in when we probably shouldn't, we really need to consider the impact that this is having on our health.

Doctor Jamie Shah says you risk making things worse if you go to work when you're ill.

"You do need time off when you are ill to recover properly, because if you are working continuously you aren't getting that extra nutrition and rest you need.

"You also risk causing yourself more stress, which is proven to reduce the body's immune system."
Working through illness also affects your mental ability, says psychologist Joan Harvey.

"If you go to work when you're ill you're more likely to make mistakes.

"The issue is that there are a lot of tougher absence policies in the workplace, so people are terrified to not go in," she says.

Tech entrepreneur Andrew Ward doesn't go to work when he's ill out of fear, but because it's essential that he isn't beaten by illness. If he's too ill to make it into work, he will still work from home. He hasn't had a day off work for half a year.

"If I'm ill I try to work; I would have to be very ill to not do anything. I hate being forced to take a day off work due to illness. It takes all the power and control away," he says.

His aversion to duvet days has led to intense stress.

"You do sometimes get periods of very high pressure from pushing yourself when you're ill. You could be forced to put extra time in over the weekends and evenings.

"I'd say stress is a contributor to me getting ill."
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His driven nature has paid off, leading to a successful career as Managing Director of an app development agency and he is happy with his fast paced life, but this doesn't mean there's not a price to pay for refusing to slow down when he's ill. He and his wife Anna spent four years without going on holiday.

Andrew's idyllic weekend is not one spent in front of the telly, but where he gets stuff done. He's been known to work 13 hours a day because he struggles to switch off.

It's not just men working in the high octane business world who suffer; I'm a 21-year-old female student whose fear of missing out and refusing to take a step back has put my health at risk.

There have been weekends when I've slept for only a few hours because I'm trying to juggle a social life as well as working, and I have taken myself to university when I should have been bed-bound with flu.

This means I suffer with chronic stress and recurrent illness. I ended up in hospital four times over six months with Peritonsillar Abscess; a potentially serious complication of tonsillitis. The first time, I had dragged myself into university before giving in and realising I needed to call A&E. I carry on despite wanting to curl up under a duvet.

Even if I do manage to stay in bed, I'm not actually allowing myself time off. Mentally, I'm still attempting or obsessing over work, guilt coursing through my groggy body as I click Watch Next on the latest Netflix binge series.
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This is partially to do with guilt. Modern life is extremely demanding and students are put under immense pressure to compete with thousands of others to get a job when we graduate.

These pressurised feelings of guilt are understandable, especially as Britain has such a workaholic culture, but working a lot isn't even making us work better. The latest release from the Office for National Statistics shows that we just aren't that productive as a country. Output per hour worked in the UK was 15.9% below the average for the rest of the G7 advanced economies in 2015.

Long, demanding working hours are also having a negative impact on our mental health.

Almost one in four employees from the 2016 Britain at Work Report said that they have had to miss work over the past 12 months because of stress-related conditions and the Work Family Balance report found that workers often feel their life is skewed towards work to the detriment of their families.

Our need to get things done may be down to money issues and internal or external pressure. The National Accident Helpline survey found that reasons for working when ill included money worries (25%), pressure from colleagues (11%) and pressure from the boss (19%), with well over one in 10 having been threatened with disciplinary measures as a result of taking sick leave.

This doesn't come as a surprise to life coach Lucy Owens.

"People come to me with extreme dissatisfaction with their work but keep going because they don't want to be seen as a slacker," says Lucy.

PR Executive Claudia Barnett has often learnt this the hard way.

"Sometimes I've been known to massively push myself to the extent of burn out. It happened towards the end of last year where I just couldn't push forward anymore and literally had to stop my life for a while to recover," 23-year-old Claudia says.

She has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), often known as 'pure OCD', and says her condition worsens when she's stressed, run down or lacking in sleep.

"This is why 'slow living' is important to me- to give myself and my body a chance to recover," she says.

Hearing that you need to take more time off when you're ill can be frustrating when you have bills to pay and a family to feed, but learning how to look after yourself and slowdown could prevent a devastating burnout.

Illustration by Meg Mundy

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