Toxic productivity is workaholism on steroids
You’ve probably heard of someone being described as a workaholic – someone who compulsively works to excess. Toxic productivity takes that to the next level, says licensed clinical psychologist Elena Welsh, PhD.
Someone dealing with toxic productivity feels extremely driven to be productive at all times, not just at work but in all areas of their lives.
“Toxic productivity is the inability to do something just for the sake of doing it,” adds Erika Ferszt, an organisational psychologist in London who specialises in toxic productivity and the founder of Moodally, a workplace mood-management program. “All actions must always have a goal or an objective that leads to a sense of personal improvement or achievement.”
People suffering from this push themselves to unhealthy extremes and focus on productivity to the exclusion of everything else in their lives.
For something so extreme, it can be tricky to recognise
“Toxic productivity can be hard to identify because of the high value society places on being productive professionally, socially and culturally, and because people are often externally rewarded for productivity,” says Dr Welsh.
When everyone around you is trying to be extra productive and encouraging you to do so, it can feel normal or even expected. But the consequences of toxic productivity can be devastating.
Productivity is addictive
Toxic productivity can be difficult to spot, and you may be resistant to recognising it in yourself. That’s because the rush you get from achieving things is psychologically addictive, says Ferszt, who has a postgraduate degree in the neuroscience of mental health.
When you accomplish something, your body provides you with a hit of dopamine, which brings you pleasure. When you’re constantly focused on accomplishing things, it causes you to be in a state of “always on,” with elevated levels of adrenaline.
Over time, your body develops a tolerance and needs more dopamine and adrenaline to deliver the initial rush.
“As a result of the way the brain works, toxic productivity can behave like an addiction,” says Ferszt. “You can forget how to live without the sensations that accomplishment and productivity are expected to provide.”