All Articles Leadership Management Make your work "work" for you

Make your work “work” for you

Higher-educated people work longer hours, but there's a limit to how much work you can do without burnout.

4 min read


Make your work "work" for you


You probably don’t need an economist to tell you that you are working longer hours, either at the workplace, at home, or “on the go.” Our digitally enabled economy may free us from the physicality of an office, but it does not liberate us from the pressures of work.

Robert Samuelson, a columnist for the Washington Post, cites a study by economists Edward E. Leamer and J. Rodrigo Fuentes in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Samuelson reports, “Between 1980 and 2016, the annual average number of working hours for employees with advanced degrees rose from 1,930 to 2,109, an increase of 9 percent. The gain for those with just bachelor’s degrees was 7 percent, from 1,872 hours (1980) to 2,009 hours (2016).”

In return, according to a study, incomes between 1980 and 2016 did rise. Samuelson reports, “From 1980 to 2016, the average increase in wages for those with advanced degrees was 41 percent, from $67,349 to $94,967. The gain for college graduates was 17 percent, from $56,262 to $65,865.” 

By contrast, hours for less-educated workers did not noticbly increase, and consequently, their incomes decreased.

No real surprise, so what can be done about it?

For some employees, nothing. Many professionals equate work with self-worth. The more they work, the more they feel successful and empowered. But is there a breaking point at which too many hours are diminishing any self-satisfaction?

Indeed. It’s called burnout, which leads not only to less job satisfaction but lower productivity because when you are mentally depleted, you are less able to do produce efficiently. Fatigue is a form of impairment.

Working longer hours may be perceived as a choice, and in theory it is, but if you want to maintain your position, its status and its income, long hours are mandatory. There are, however, things you can do to facilitate a better work environment, at least for yourself.

Abraham Lincoln, the one-time rail-splitter turned lawyer-president, has been quoted as saying, “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” The message is to prepare for work by planning for it. And so here are some suggestions for working more intentionally.

Know your limits

Yes, you can work 80 hours a week, but should you? Find ways to minimize your to-do list by separating what is urgent from what is not. Optimize your time by focusing on what’s important rather than what you think is essential. Itemize things you can stop doing immediately without affecting your performance.

Take breathers

My therapist colleague Donald Altman advises stepping away from your desk or your laptop to partake in a “Stress Pause.” Breathe from your diaphragm. Feel your physical presence. Look at what’s happening around you. Take a break by taking a walk, chatting with a friend or thinking of something else to do. Then go back to work. You will feel more refreshed.

Invest in yourself

Do things that make you better at what you do at work and in life. For example, support your colleagues. Exercise regularly. Eat healthily. Engage fully with your family. Make time for friends. Pursue your hobbies. Consider these practices as investments in a better you.

Work is what you make of it. The challenge is to enjoy what you do so that work is not a chore but a reward. Likewise, so too is unhooking from work so that you can enjoy your family, your friends and your community.


John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including“MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, “GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us.” Learn more about why he wrote “GRACE” in this short video.

If you enjoyed this article, sign up for SmartBrief’s free e-mails on leadershipcareer growth and HR, among SmartBrief’s more than 200 industry-focused newsletters.