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Toxic Productivity

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Welcome back to another edition of ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth, I’m your host Al Waller. Now, in a year where uncertainty seems to be the order of the day and unrest appears to be lurking just around the bend, the urge to be productive is actually becoming widespread. Back with us today is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®, to discuss just how this compulsion to be productive can become toxic. Now I guess, when I initially hear the term “toxic productivity,” I immediately think of oxymorons such as: “act naturally,” and “clearly confused” or even “military intelligence.” So, could you please explain to us what exactly toxic productivity is?

Mihaela Vincze:

Toxic productivity is a slightly more nuanced form of workaholism. It is the unhealthy desire to constantly be productive and go that extra mile, to the point where you feel like a failure if you are not constantly completing tasks. Instead of recognizing your accomplishments, you feel guilty what you did not get done.

Al Waller:

Interesting. I mean some work managers might say “Bravo!” and “Way to Go!” to higher productivity. But seriously now, how does something like productivity become toxic?

Mihaela Vincze:

Toxic productivity is the concept that we need to always be useful. It is unrealistic to expect to be productive all the time and this can make us feel stressed because of the guilt we face when we are unable to meet this standard. By not allowing ourselves to unwind and relax, we end up burning out.

Al Waller:

Well, agreed, there’s absolutely nothing productive about that. Now how does toxic productivity surface to light more frequently now, during the pandemic, than before?

Mihaela Vincze:

The pandemic has induced some serious struggles, especially uncertainty. Being productive can take our minds off things and can be give us a sense of security. However, when the need to be productive does not stop, it becomes unhealthy.

Al Waller:

How can someone recognize the triggers or telltale signs and acknowledge that they are in fact afflicted by toxic productivity?

Mihaela Vincze:

They can look for some red flags by asking themselves the following questions, “Do I feel like I should always be doing something, and if I am not, I feel uneasy?” or “Do I have a lot of work-related guilt?”. Also, another telltale sign is fatigue and exhaustion, even after a good night’s sleep.

Al Waller:

So then, how do you, recommend dealing with toxic productivity?

Mihaela Vincze:

There are a few ways. Try to prioritize self-care and unwinding, however you define that, just as you’d prioritize other tasks. If you feel guilty unless you are working around the clock, Laurie Ruettimann’s book Betting on You suggests practicing “professional detachment”. This means staying committed to your job and working hard while understanding that “the role isn’t your sole identity.”

Al Waller:

I guess for those wondering, how can well-intentioned individuals go about preventing toxic productivity for themselves or those they care about?

Mihaela Vincze:

Remember, what can make productivity turn toxic is that it leaves us feeling drained and stressed. Instead of simply deciding to take on a task you don’t have the mental energy to complete, take a pause and ask yourself: What am I deciding to do right now ― and why? Are you choosing to do something because it’s important to you, or because society has told you it’s what you need to do in order to be worthy?

Al Waller:

You’re right. It’s certainly healthy to reflect on what motivates us. Besides, I’ve come to understand over the years that guilt is truly over-rated. Any final thoughts you want to share before we call it a day?

Mihaela Vincze:

Forcing constant productivity on yourself is not going to achieve the intended outcome, that is, feeling accomplished. So, instead of putting pressure on ourselves to be productive at all costs, we should try to prioritize taking it easy.

Al Waller:

That’s all the time we have here for ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth. This is Al Waller, on WYPR, Your NPR News Station. Until the next time, stay safe, keep it together, and thanks for listening.
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Clearpath is paid for by Transamerica Institute.

Al Waller is a long time native of the Baltimore area. He entered the field of Human Resources Management starting as an HR Generalist with PwC (Pricewaterhouse-Coopers). This marked the beginning of a 30 year career that advanced into the management level for locally and globally based corporations. His primary area of expertise has focused on but not limited to: Talent Acquisition /Retention, Employee Relations as well as Training & Development.
Mihaela is a public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute