Is it time to leave yet?

By Kathryn Mayer

Earlier this month was National Leave the Office Earlier Day.

(I was at the office until close to 7 on that day, but whatever).

Of course, celebrating holidays that are — um — not quite official is sometimes hard to justify. While I considered packing up around 1:30 and saying “have a good holiday,” when people inevitably gave me quizzical looks, I instead stared at my long to-do list for a good long while and felt incredibly discouraged and stressed. And then I stayed for a long while after I was going to leave and barely crossed anything off my list.

But I guess that’s the whole point of this so-called holiday.

Laura Stack, a “personal productivity expert” who created the day eight years ago, says the day is intended to focus workers on improving their personal productivity and asks them to commit to working no more than eight hours on that day.

It’s not a free pass out of work, but it’s about keeping employees focused — on both the job they have to do and about the life they want out of work (you know, the kind where you are not constantly thinking about work, stressing about work, or of course, continuing to work off-hours).

It’s a nice thought. I’ve said this before, but work stress and job burnout may perhaps be our country’s biggest common denominator. Americans work longer hours, take fewer vacation days and retire later than employees in other industrialized countries around the globe.

And it takes a huge toll on our health.

Consider this: Health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress. Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressors, including financial and family problems. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers who must take time off work because of stress, anxiety, or a related disorder will be off the job for about 20 days.

Research earlier this year told us that job burnout and stress — dealing with emotional, mental and physical exhaustion from your work — makes you a prime candidate for heart problems. Those identified in the top 20 percent of the burnout scale were found to have a 79 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease — an accumulation of plaque in arteries that can lead to angina or heart attacks.

I have a feeling that when the majority of people think about their job, they don’t feel so fulfilled with it that they want to die for it. But that's just a guess.

Oh, and speaking of wellness and random unofficial holidays, National Doughnut Day is also this week. I wish there was a better health angle to justify that one.

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