We’ve all heard the expression, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” However, the sad truth of the matter is that today’s society places a premium on people who work hard. This typically translates into being focused and industrious when it comes to all things work-related. Usually, this isn’t a problem as long as one’s professional life is balanced with an equally important personal life. However, when one’s work starts to take on increasingly larger portions of our time to such a degree that it leaves room for little else, than we may have a work addiction problem.
One of the problems with workaholism is that it is innocuous. Unlike drugs or gambling, it is more difficult to recognize. Nevertheless, workaholism can be just as destructive, ruining relationships in both the professional and personal spheres of one’s life, and negatively affecting health as well. While there are ways of dealing with a workaholic, getting support from family, friends and colleagues is also necessary to ensure successful recovery from this insidious addiction.
What Is Workaholism?
Workaholism can be defined as a toxic, obsessive-compulsive addiction towards work. People who struggle with work addiction generally have no social lives or hobbies, and generally have neither the time, nor desire for things other than work. This addiction may stem from low self-esteem and dysfunctional homes. As such, workaholics often use work as a coping mechanism to deal with anxiety.
However, it is also important to point out the external pressure from the workplace does not created workaholics. On the contrary, workaholics feel compelled to work unhealthily long hours because of internal needs that are typically linked with a desire to escape the anxiety associated with their personal lives. It is important to point out that such a perception may or may not be inconsistent with the reality of the situation. To a certain degree, workaholism shares similarities with other forms of addiction because of its inherent negative effects.
Just as with other forms of addiction such as alcoholism, workaholism is a disease that negatively affects a person physiologically, psychologically and socially. As such, it is all the more important to identify and treat before it creates more problems. However, one of the biggest difficulties in addressing the issue of workaholism is recognition. This is because many societies tend to encourage people to work hard, making it more difficult to identify workaholics as well as providing the infrastructure and support necessary to cure this condition. Moreover, this addiction is not limited to a particular gender or industry. Workaholism can affect men and women in various industries across the board. This makes being able to properly identify workaholics that much more important.
Symptoms of Workaholism
Forbes Magazine discusses symptoms that may indicate workaholism such as:
- Constantly thinking about and talking about work
- Physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and indigestion, possibly due to the stress of overworking
- Behavioral signs such as bipolar mood swings, forgetfulness, boredom and difficulty concentrating
- Revolving life around work to the exclusion of other things such as hobbies and balanced personal life
Of course, just because some of these symptoms may apply to you doesn’t automatically mean you are addicted to work. It is never a good idea to self-diagnose so you may want to seek advice from a professional. Before jumping the gun, however, here are some questions you should consider. Does the thought of working get you more excited than the thought of spending time with your loved ones or otherwise relaxing? Do you deliberately spend increasingly longer hours working? Do you have other interests or hobbies that take up your time when you are not working? Are you unsympathetic towards people that have other priorities besides work? Do you get anxious whenever you are not working? If your answer to most of these questions is yes, then you may be a workaholic.
Recognizing and acknowledging that you have a problem is absolutely necessary in order to break free of your addiction; however, you may not be able to deal with it alone. So after realizing that you have a problem, your next challenge is accepting help from professionals and support groups. You could try self-help techniques initially, but always be open to accepting help when necessary.
Problems of Working too Much
Contrary to popular belief, workaholics actually cause more harm than good to their companies. This is partly because they have a tendency to alienate the people around them. This is particularly difficult in today’s workplace that recognizes the importance of teamwork and interpersonal skills. Not only do workaholics have a tendency to hog all the work, they have an unabashed propensity to micromanage. Thus, workaholics generally have strained relationships with their coworkers. They also make lousy bosses. This means workaholics tend to negatively affect the overall morale of the workplace. Workaholics are also detrimental to creativity and may create high turnovers among other subordinates.
Because of their preoccupation with work, being a workaholic is devastating to one’s personal life. Indiana University points out that an unhealthy obsession with work means workaholics find little time for hobbies, family and friends.
This means workaholics have little time for hobbies and are generally distant towards people who are supposed to be closest to them. The children and spouses of workaholics are often neglected. This can negatively affect their children’s psychological development, and may result in separation or divorce in the case of spouses.
Workaholics also generally have low self-esteem and this is often the impetus for the obsessive-compulsion to “set goals and meet them”. As such it is very difficult for workaholics to relax and do nothing because doing so often generates feelings of guilt and reinforces feelings of inadequacy in people who are struggling with this condition.
According to the Mayo Clinic, workaholism also sets the stage for health problems due to factors such as:
- Too much stress
- Anxiety and depression which can lead to substance abuse
These factors may not cause serious problem in the short term, but over time their compounded and cumulative effect elevate the risk of developing health problems such as hypertension and possible hormone imbalances.
Treating and Managing Work Addiction
After correctly identifying work addiction, the next step is determining how to best manage the condition. Although the specifics of treating work addiction may vary, there are nevertheless ways in which to successfully treat and manage the condition. Most treatment plans generally involve determining the underlying causes of workaholism. What triggers the workaholic’s need to overwork despite its detrimental physical and social effects? Are the negative feelings associated with working less rooted in emotional or psychological trauma? Were the workaholic’s parents also workaholics? Understanding the roots of the problem may offer insight into how to best proceed with treating it.
Other ways of treating work addiction involve changing the way the recovering workaholic relates to their coworkers and subordinates. This means learning how to delegate, scaling back working hours to more reasonable amounts, and developing the capacity to disconnect from work when on vacation or not at the office. One way of doing this is finding a hobby and making time for that.
Reconnecting with family and friends is also an important part of the recovery process. This is because they can provide the recovering workaholic with much needed support in order to help them break free from their addiction. Moreover, some of them may be able to help the workaholic develop interests and hobbies outside of work. Of course, starting the whole process may require the intervention of family and friends. This is particularly important if the workaholic is either not aware of the problem, or unable to do anything to treat their addiction.
Is an Intervention Needed?
Generally speaking, an intervention may be defined as a meticulously planned process wherein the family, friends and possibly colleagues of the addict confront the person in question about their addiction in the hopes of compelling them to seek treatment. While the specifics may vary on a case-to-case basis, an intervention usually contains the following elements:
- Participants give specific examples of the negative (and destructive) behavior caused by, or associated with the addiction.
- Participants discuss the impact of said behavior on the addicted person as well as their family, friends and colleagues.
- Participants present a previously discussed plan for treatment that contains clear steps, objectives and particular guidelines.
- The interventionist or participants carefully outline the consequences should the addict refuse to accept the proposed treatment.
Although we typically associate intervention with other forms of addiction such as those involving substance abuse or compulsive gambling, it is potentially necessary in cases of workaholism. In fact, because being addicted to work is not generally even seen as particularly harmful (or at least not at the same level as the aforementioned other forms of addiction), it is perhaps even more important to consider intervention for workaholism. This is especially important because people who struggle with work addiction may not even be aware of their problem. The advantage of this approach is that it gives an opportunity for the people involved to present a structured means of resolving the work addiction before it becomes worse.
A typical issue that arises when considering intervention is whether or not to involve a professional interventionist such as an addiction expert, psychologist or mental health counselor or some sort. There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to this because factors such as mental health history, propensity for violence as well as anger issues, or perhaps whether or not drugs are involved, come into play. Professional involvement and the overall extent of it, depends largely on the overall severity of the situation; however, professionally run interventions tend to go more smoothly than those operated only by participants.
There Is Hope
Workaholism is an illness. Sociological, environmental and psychological factors all play a part in influencing and potentially enabling work addiction. However, because most societies encourage people to be hardworking and industrious, it is often more difficult to identify workaholics compared to people who struggle with other forms of addiction, such as substance abuse and gambling. Societal norms may not even consider workaholism to be particularly harmful, or may even make it necessary for people to be workaholics. People living in such types of societies may not be aware of their problem, and even in the unlikely event that they are, may be unable to get the help necessary to overcome it. In such cases, an intervention becomes all the more necessary.