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Flexibility Guilt – How to Break the Overwork Conditioning - Liberty Mind

Flexibility Guilt – How to Break the Overwork Conditioning

Flexibility Guilt - How to Break the Overwork Conditioning

Do you ever feel a twinge of guilt because you don’t work ‘normal hours’? 

Maybe your company has taken on new ways of working, or perhaps you’re self-employed. Either way, you don’t work the usual 9-5, five days a week. Yet it’s harder than you thought it would be because there’s a voice in your mind telling you that you ‘should’ be working longer hours. 

The voice might say…

“You should be working more hours if you want to be successful!” 

“You should be working more hours if you want to make more money!” 

“You should be working more hours if you want to be taken seriously!” 

And the loudest one…

“Well, aren’t you lazy working less hours than everyone else!” 

Oh yes, our inner critic really comes to life when we cast aside our old ways of working. 

I vividly remember realising this voice was dominating my thoughts one day when I was sat meditating. 

When I began Liberty Mind, as well as practising what I preach in the new ways of work, I also knew that it was unsustainable to continue working in the ‘rat race’ style that I had done before. 

In my previous career, I was just living for the weekend. Each week passed in a fast blur with me waking up on a Saturday morning wondering what had happened and depressingly thinking, is this it?  

During the days, my Fitbit would be a constant reminder of how work was having a detrimental impact on my health.  Move it would say. But there wasn’t enough time. I’d get to the end of the day, look down and realise just how little I had moved my body. 

Now I know, I’m not the only one who has struggled with this way of working or still struggles. And I have heard far worse stories of how outdated ways of working cost both health, relationships and even lives. 

So, I knew that when I had the choice of how I would work when building Liberty Mind, I wouldn’t choose the old way. I didn’t want that way ever again. 

However, the truth is things don’t just change overnight. 

Although I was working a 4day week and sometimes shorter days, that inner critic would often get the best of me. 

If I got up too late, had a slightly longer lunch hour, or finished early to help friends and family, the same mental spiral would occur. The inner critic would shout, I would feel like a failure, and I would then overcompensate, even though I didn’t have to. 

I began to feel bad about myself, even though I was healthier, had better relationships, and my business was successful. So, what gives? 

It wasn’t until one day when I got up late and the mental spiral began again, that I sat down to meditate and observe my thoughts and feelings. And there it was. I felt guilty. 

Working in my own way had me feeling guilty,  like I had committed some kind of workplace crime. (Lock her folks, she’s a slacker! is what it felt like my critic was shouting.) 

I laughed at how ridiculous this was. 

Did working in my own way cause harm to others? – Absolutely not. 

Did working in my own way help or hinder my business? – 100% help. 

Did working in my own way support my clients? – Yes, because I’m healthier and more creative. 

So where did this pressure to be working 24/7 come from? 

Old ways die hard...

Well, I think we can all answer that. The work culture we have created. 

Despite our best efforts to change how we work we forget that it’s also our mindset and beliefs that stop us the most. 

Yes, we can change the way we work on an operational level. That’s the easy part. 

The hardest part is letting go of the workplace conditioning we’ve had over decades. The story that if you don’t work every hour of every week, you’re not worthy of success. 

From a young age, it’s ingrained into us that rest is lazy and unproductive, and that the hours you work equals your worth. 

And let’s not forget the fallacy, that we have to work really hard right now, because we need a good nest egg to retire, otherwise we’re done for. 

While you may think this is just a self-employed problem, it isn’t. These are entrenched societal beliefs that span decades and are woven into the fabric of how we build our company cultures. 

Want a pay rise? – give more hours 

Want to get a promotion? – give more hours 

Want to look like the most committed member of the team? – give more hours 

Want to look important? – give more hours

The list goes on and on because deep down we’re all still buying into the belief that hours worked equals success. 

Even though work is getting smarter. There are apps and tools to help us do things much faster than ever before. And even though work doesn’t just stop because we’re not at a desk ‘doing’ work, it’s still too easy to fall foul of playing along to an old game. 

When we throw out the rule book for old ways of working and make our own rules, the wave of benefits floods in because we’re able to control the most important aspects of our lives,  from health, and relationships to personal fulfilment. We become far more whole, rather than just feeling like a part. 

The proof is out there that flexible working works. Streams of data are available on the benefits of flexible working, both on productivity and creativity if you want the hardcore evidence. We know it works, we’ve seen it work and we really want it. But the hardest part to change, the one that has the biggest sticking point, is our mindset towards working in new ways. 

The beliefs we’ve been conditioned with don’t just fall down like the Berlin Wall, you have to dismantle them brick by brick. 

Any of us can choose to work in a new way. Whether you’re a person or a company, we can adopt it with operational ease. But where the real change gets stuck, is inside of us. We have to have the courage to do things differently and to step out of an archaic societal norm that has kept us depressed, uninspired and unhealthy for decades. 

If this experience of new ways of working resonates with you, I have a few ideas to share that helped me recover from being unplugged from the 9-5. 

Things That Helped

  • In the beginning, your boundaries can be wobbly, so create physical boundaries to begin with that will force you to end your work day. Book in hobbies or activities in your diary that will make you finish at a certain time.
  • Find others who work in new ways and buddy up. It can feel lonely when you’re trying something that isn’t seen as ‘normal’. Having someone to discuss your challenges with will really help ease the change pains.

  • Get more efficient. There are bad habits we’ve got into that drain away our deep focus time. For example, always having emails open and responding to them instantly. Instead, learn how to time bucket your day and be strict about what your priorities are for your week or day. If you don’t learn to be efficient and prioritise you will default to overworking.

  • Adopt a coach or mentor. I found that having a coach has enabled me to detach my worth from my hours worked. If you find your inner critic particularly difficult, getting this outside help can make all the difference. 

  • If you’re a team or company, come together to discover how you may be reinforcing overwork in your culture. Having an open team discussion is a powerful way to shift the working climate and unveil any hidden assumptions you may be making. 

Journal Prompts

I find journaling an incredibly useful tool to shut down that inner critic. I feel it allows you to step back from your thoughts and look at them from an objective perspective. Here are the ones I would recommend for when the voice in your head is loud; 

  • Who told me I have to work 9-5? Where does that story come from? 
  • What would happen if I did work long hours? How would I feel? 
  • How do I want to work, if I could work in any way with no limitations? What would that look like? 
  • How would working this way make me feel? 
  • What story or affirmation do I need to rewrite to help release the old ways of working? 
  • What can I do today to make this my reality? 

Letting go of our old ways of working isn’t easy. You’re unravelling centuries of archaic beliefs and still fighting against outdated systems that see humans as resources rather than people with lives. But when we can learn to change our ways, even on an individual scale and realise that work is a part of us rather than all of us, we may just have a chance at collectively changing things for the better.


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.