Tips from the intersection of workers' comp and business.

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We work too much, and that's not a good thing.

While pulling long hours is often viewed as a badge of honor, in reality, the stress caused by overwork harms health, lowers productivity and raises expenses for medical care and workers' comp.

Hard-Driving Culture

According to the OECD, the U.S. ranks 28th of 38 countries for work/life balance, with more than 11% of people working more than 50 hours a week.

For entrepreneurs and small business owners, the picture is even worse. Nearly 80% feel like they're working too much, a study by the Alternative Board found. Almost 30% spend at least 50 hours a week on the job, and 19% push themselves past 60 hours.

Some entrepreneurs are influenced by the famously hard-driving Silicon Valley ethos, putting every waking moment into the business while striving to become the next unicorn company. In addition, entrepreneurs and small business owners often lack the resources to hire staff for billing, bookkeeping and other administrative tasks.

As for delegating higher-level work, forget it—entrepreneurs tend to believe nobody else can do it as well as themselves.

They may actually be right. In a brain scan study at MIT, entrepreneurs used both the right side of their brains—the creative, emotional side—and the logical left side to solve problems, whereas managers stuck to the left side. Creative thinking is vital to success for a new company trying to gain attention and customers.

In any case, relaxation and time for family and friends do not fit with our culture's startup business model. Many entrepreneurs don't even want to think about taking time off. In a NodeSource survey, 43% said that the prospect of taking a holiday was more stressful than meeting their goals or closing their books.

Health Effects

The problem with working too much is that you can get away with it for a while, which leads you to believe you're immune from its harmful effects. But eventually, health problems catch up with you.

Nearly half of working adults say their job affects their overall health, according to a study by NPR and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 70% of those who are stressed experience physical symptoms, which range from eye strain and neck and back problems to serious conditions like strokes and respiratory problems.

A University College London study found white-collar workers who worked three or more hours longer than required had a 60% higher risk of heart problems than those who didn't work overtime.

The irony is, risking your health by pushing long past the point of fatigue doesn't help your business. Working more than 50 or 55 hours a week causes performance to dramatically decline. It also affects productivity. A Stanford study found that someone who puts in 70 hours a week produces no more than someone else working 40 hours.

Medical Expenses and Workers' Compensation

In addition to causing pain and suffering, stress-related health issues take time away from work.

They can also hit you in the pocketbook. Healthcare expenditures are nearly 50% higher for workers who report high levels of stress—a serious problem for small business owners and entrepreneurs, who already pay more than others for insurance.

Overwork and stress also lead to higher expenses from on-the-job injuries. A study by the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health examined the workers’ compensation claims of nearly 17,000 employees at 314 organizations across industries and found that stress at work increases the chances of worker injuries and influences claims costs. The more claims you have, the more likely it is that your workers' comp premiums will go up.

Achieving a Better Balance

In our workaholic culture, it can be hard to take a step back. Instead, think of it as taking a step forward—a step towards better health, better work quality, and a more fulfilling life. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Make time off official by blocking out hours on your calendar for regular exercise, family time, walks or meditation, just as you would do for a meeting with an important client. (The important client is you.) Encourage your employees to do the same.
  • If your head is drooping, take a nap or a brisk walk outdoors instead of grabbing yet another cup of coffee.
  • Pause after completing each task. Look out the window and be in the present moment, finding stillness before you rush off to the next item on your to-do list.
  • Don't wait for the weekend to have fun. Do an enjoyable little something every day, whether it's listening to a favorite song or visiting a LOL-inducing website like Damn You Auto Correct, the Onion, or Emergency Kittens. Make your own list of funny sites and jokes to revisit when you feel your blood pressure rising.
  • Get away from the computer and put your smartphone aside for at least an hour a day. Living without constant interruptions reduces stress and allows for the kind of sustained thinking and creativity that lead to business success.

Improving your work/life balance should be a top business goal. With your health, productivity, success, and personal relationships all at stake, there's no better investment of your time and energy.