Leavism: What To Know About The Toxic Workplace Trend

The scene: You've been drowning at work for weeks with no sign of relief in sight. Every time you get into a groove, you're pulled off of your task to help put out a figurative fire. Every step ahead comes with two automatic steps back, and you don't see how you're ever going to complete your tasks within a reasonable amount of time. If you could only have just a day or two without new tasks or admin duties added to your plate, you could finally catch up. Sound familiar?


The next step in the above scenario is often resorting to using time designated for rest and recovery to get caught up on work. This might look like sneaking in work over the weekend or before your shift starts. Or, it could entail using your paid sick or vacation time to clear your work backlog. This phenomenon of using leave to complete works tasks is known as leavism, and it's toxic to your well-being. If you've found yourself considering or partaking in leavism, this guide is for you. 

The risk of burnout

The problem with leavism is that when you use your designated rest periods to squeeze in uninterrupted work time, you no longer have the opportunity to rest. Working for a long period of time without taking any significant amount of time to mentally, physically, and emotionally recover eventually results in burnout, which refers to a specific type of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by a state of prolonged stress.


When you've entered a state of burnout, every day feels like you're drowning. You're overwhelmed by tasks that once felt easy, and it feels like you'll never catch up on everything that needs to be done. You may start to feel intense resentment toward everyone and everything that requires your attention or care and take on a particularly negative outlook. Physically, it's common to experience symptoms such as exhaustion, tension headaches, and insomnia. Eventually, you'll find yourself avoiding tasks out of self-preservation to the point that your work performance is significantly impacted in a negative way. 

Work-life balance

The term "work-life balance" is frequently used to describe the combination of time and energy dedicated to your career versus your energy and time invested in your personal life. While most people agree that a healthy work-life balance is important, there's no real consensus on exactly what that looks like. Should you aim for 50% work and 50% personal? Should work only take up 30% of your resources? The answer probably is different for everyone because one person's priorities and tolerance levels are not the same for someone else.


There might not be a specific number or ratio to let you know if your work-life balance is in a healthy place. However, your intuition will always let you know if you allow yourself to tune into it. Pay attention to how your body feels when it's time to start each work day or task. Do you routinely feel tension and resistance? If so, it might be time to take a look at shifting the balance toward your personal life to prevent burnout.

The role of remote work

In a post-pandemic world, working remotely is more common than it ever was before COVID-19 changed the game. This is a definite win for employees and contractors who are now saving time, money, and energy on expenses such as commuting, eating out, and maintaining extensive professional wardrobes. One major negative effect of teleworking that is starting to emerge, however, is the blurred boundaries between work and home life. It seems that when your work life and home life share the same physical space, they're more likely to blend together mentally as well.


If you work from home and you're struggling with leavism or work-life balance in general, it is essential to build separation into your routine. If you have the space and resources, create a home office and set a strict rule about leaving your work within its walls. If dedicating a whole room to work isn't possible in your home, get creative. Buy a used armoire for your clothes, and set up a mini office in your walk-in closet. Use two bookcases to frame your desk, and keep it visually separate from the rest of the space. Consider regularly working at a coffee shop or library. After all, physical separation is the first step to mental separation. 

Morale and accuracy

Once you've reached the point of burnout from not allowing yourself to rest, you'll find that the motivation you once had to perform well at work seems to evaporate. When just completing your necessary tasks feels nearly impossible, you can basically forget volunteering for anything beyond your normal scope of duties. In other words, your morale becomes low. There is no more enthusiasm to draw from. This can make you appear to your employer as if you aren't invested in your career or in the company's success.


To make matters worse, a person suffering from burnout or overwhelm is more likely to procrastinate important tasks and to make errors. In the end, using your time off to work more in an effort to impress your employer can actually have the exact opposite effect when your overall work performance crashes and burns. Steady and sustainable wins the race when it comes to a job you'd like to keep long term. 

Assertive communication

There's no real way to dig yourself out of leavism and burnout without openly communicating with your supervisor or employer. If this sounds like a terrifying prospect to you, consider taking some time to learn methods of assertive communication. Communicating assertively entails expressing your needs calmly and clearly without passivity or aggression. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, this is the best way to make your concerns known and move toward setting healthy boundaries and establishing a good work-life balance, which is key for maintaining healthy relationships.


If you've been working through breaks and scheduling time off to catch up on tasks, your supervisor may have an inaccurate image of what a reasonable workload is for you. Since continuing to overwork yourself is not sustainable, communicating your actual needs is the best way to proceed. A good employer understands that completing 10 tasks per day for one year is preferable to completing 20 tasks a day for three months and then becoming too burnt out to complete more than three a day for the remainder of the year. 

How to start setting boundaries

Once you've worked beyond your capacity for a while, you may feel as if there's no going back. Your company relies on you to overwork yourself and expects you to keep up the unsustainable pace you're currently using leave to try to sustain. The only solution is to set boundaries to begin to save your own mental and physical well-being. You can start small. For example, your first step could be to no longer look at or respond to work emails during your scheduled time off. If that means turning off notifications on your phone every weekend, then so be it.


When you've seen firsthand that your place of employment continues to run without your weekend or vacation contributions, it will become easier to put more boundaries in place. Perhaps after-hours calls are next on the chopping block. Continue setting boundaries until you feel your work-life balance is at a healthy and sustainable level. If at any point your employer insists you return to your overworked state, it may be time to consider finding a new job at a company that values its employees' well-being.