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Yes, You Can Work Yourself to Death

Gen Y gets beat up a lot (fairly or unfairly) for not being willing to work 1,000 hours a week to get ahead, as Boomers and Xers are reputed to. Last night, as I logged on to check my e-mail and edit some stories (after having worked several hours on Saturday) I saw the story about the Japanese engineer who worked himself to death. What did I do after reading that? I didn’t do any work Sunday night, and I baked a cake I have been promising some friends for months.

I don't think I'm ready to keel over from overwork, yet I know I am not alone in thinking "there's always something I could/should be doing" and acting on it. A friend of mine just got back from what should have been a dream vacation -- a two-week cruise of the Mediterranean with her husband and kids -- and she told me she spent two days dealing with work crises. Something is amiss, and what to do?

It's a bad economy and job market, and it's not the time to seem less than 100% committed to one's job. But what is 100%?

I think it's up to managers to lead by example: That means setting realistic expectations for oneself and one's team, communicating those expectations, and honoring them. And managers don't want to look like slackers, either. But the lines have to be drawn. Yes, the borders are different than they were even 10 years ago, but there should be some.

Have you ever checked in to the office (e-mail, voice mail, whatever) when you were on vacation--even though you swore you wouldn't? Have you ever contacted anyone while they were on vacation--even though you swore you wouldn't. Have you ever been brave/foolish enough to just say, "I'm outta here. You can't get in touch with me. See you in a week"? I have been guilty of all of the above. What about you?

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