As he sat at his computer on a recent Sunday afternoon preparing for the workweek ahead, Jonathan Frostick, a program manager at an investment bank in London, said he could not breathe. His chest tightened and his ears started to pop. He was having a heart attack.
His first thoughts were of how this would disrupt his work life.
“I needed to meet with my manager tomorrow,” Mr. Frostick, who works for HSBC, wrote in a post on LinkedIn. “This isn’t convenient.”
Later, as he convalesced in a hospital bed, Mr. Frostick began to examine his life, he wrote. Beneath a photo of himself in his hospital bed, he posted new vows for his life going forward:
“I’m not spending all day on Zoom anymore.”
“I’m restructuring my approach to work.”
He would no longer put up with workplace drama. “Life is too short,” he wrote.
Lastly: “I want to spend more time with my family.”
Since he described his epiphany a week ago, his post has been liked over 200,000 times. It has received more than 10,000 comments from readers describing how their own brushes with death had led them to step back from work and take stock of the way they had been living their lives.
Even those who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs have questioned their purpose in life as they spend long hours on Zoom calls and answer emails into the night.
At the same time, employees who have managed to strike a better balance between their jobs and their personal lives during the pandemic are now reckoning with a return to the office, causing them to re-evaluate how much time they want to dedicate to work.
“I know countless people in the last few years who have suffered life-threatening illnesses just simply because there is no downtime — always on call,” a management consultant from Alberta, Canada, wrote in reply to Mr. Frostick’s post. “It’s absolutely detrimental to our health, but we’re built on the existence that we always have to keep pushing.”
Another person described how she had became so burned out at work that she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
“I relate, bro,” wrote a self-described entrepreneur from Nigeria who said he had sold his multiple cars and homes to lead a happier, more “Spartan” life. “Bro, welcome to the real life. Now you’ll truly, truly live.”
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Others offered him tips on how to lose weight — Mr. Frostick also vowed to drop 15 kilograms — or asked him to appear on their podcasts so he might share his story with their listeners.
Beyond compensation and professional status, a job provides social rewards, like praise from colleagues and supervisors, that can become addictive, said Glen Kreiner, a professor of management at the University of Utah.
People become so protective of the identity a job creates for them that they will work long, arduous hours, without pausing to consider if they are happy or fulfilled, to protect it, Professor Kreiner said.
“We as humans tend to be mindless instead of mindful,” he said. “When we’re in a mindless state, we’re on autopilot.”
Professor Kreiner added: “Sometimes, that’s why it takes a catastrophe like this to break us out of autopilot.”
Mr. Frostick did not immediately respond to a message for comment.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Mr. Frostick, a father of three young children, said that during the pandemic he and his colleagues had spent a “disproportionate amount of time on Zoom calls.”
Before the heart attack, Mr. Frostick had been working 12-hour days, he said, missing his colleagues and suffering from the isolation of working from home.
“We’re not able to have those other conversations off the side of a desk or by the coffee machine, or take a walk and go and have that chat,” Mr. Frostick told Bloomberg. “That has been quite profound, not just in my work, but across the professional-services industry.”
Robert A. Sherman, a spokesman for HSBC, said the company had communicated to employees the importance of balancing work with healthy lifestyles.
“We all wish Jonathan a full and speedy recovery,” he said in an email. “We also recognize the importance of personal health and well-being and a good work-life balance. The response to this topic shows how much this is on people’s minds, and we are encouraging everyone to make their health and well-being a top priority.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Frostick thanked the thousands of people who had written him and wrote that he was now able to move around his house for two to three hours at a time.
Later, he wrote another post that indicated he had moved from soul-searching to trying to answer profound philosophical questions.
“Who am I? It’s like a riddle my mind cannot solve,” he wrote. “I have no idea who I am anymore. This is going to take some time … Can you answer who you are?”