Are you a workaholic? Self-diagnosis and the path to a better lifestyle (and business)
“You’re a workaholic!” If you’ve heard this more than a few times, it may be time to stop brushing it off and think a little about what it actually means.
This is not just a light-hearted label for someone who checks their emails a little more than usual or who simply loves their job and works hard.
The term was coined in 1970 by US psychologist Wayne Oates, who described workaholism as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly“.
Since then, research on ‘workaholism’ and its drivers has revealed some worrying results and it is now categorised among the most harmful and hard to treat addictions.
Add to this the exponential rise of mobile technology and it’s not surprising that therapists and clinical research bodies are talking about a global epidemic of workaholism.
Let’s face it: if you’re prone to this disorder and can access Wi-Fi at 30,000 feet, you don’t stand a chance!
So, just what causes workaholism and what can be done about this thoroughly modern affliction?
A couple of myths about workaholism
It’s not about the money
Renowned small-business mentor and author, Sandi Krakowski, claims that workaholism is unrelated to the desire to increase prosperity.
In her regular blog, she claims that many potential business owners actually hold back from developing ideas and projects because they want to avoid becoming a workaholic: “The same wannabe people spend all day on Facebook, Twitter, Google and other web pages blocking out the fact that they are not doing the things they need to for creating wealth so by definition they already are workaholics, they’re just not making any money.
“Workaholism is linked to constant movement more than constant work.’
It’s not about the fame
Neither, according to Krakowski, is workaholism about wanting to be better at your job or creating a better business.
So what is it all about?
The real truth about workaholism
A useful comparison at this point is one made by Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology, Arnold Baker, in his recent research: that is the difference between work engagement and workaholism.
He claims that: “Work engagement is most often defined as […] a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterised by vigour, dedication, and absorption.“
Workaholism, on the other hand, is predominantly driven by negative emotions: a compulsion to work based on a feeling that this is what one should be doing, not what one wants to do.
Baker explains: “Enthusiastic employees excel in their work because they maintain the balance between the energy they give and the energy they receive.“
Not so with workaholics.
Research carried out by the American Psychological Association showed that, whereas work-engaged people tend to be “jovial, attentive and self-assured”, workaholics experience more “guilt, anxiety and anger” than is normal and often seem “irritated, hostile and tense.”
So how does someone transition from work-engaged to work-obsessed?
Krakowski is clear on this point: “The root of this epidemic is fear of loss. People won’t stop working because they fear they’ll lose the one big break.
“They press forward when they know they should be resting, because in their mind that is what successful people do and they fear not being successful.“
And in increasingly fluid and competitive industries, the notional fear of losing one’s job or business can be enough to breed a workaholic.
What is becoming clear is that working with such a negative mindset will eventually damage an employee or business-owner’s prospects, both personally and in a business sense.
The collateral damage of workaholism
Overworking can eventually lead to burn-out, strained relationships, health problems and, at worst, premature death.
Lacking the time or energy to actually enjoy the fruits of their efforts can perpetuate a cycle of guilt, resentment and negativity.
US business blogger and marketing guru, Brandon Gaille, claims that:
- 55% of relationships where at least one person is classified as a workaholic end in divorce
- 33% of workaholics have regular stress-related migraines
- People who work 11 hours a day or more are 67% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those working a standard eight-hour day
And, according to Krakowski, unless workaholics can build boundaries and learn to say “no”, they will never achieve that all-important positive work engagement. “When we are willing to take phone calls from very successful people at 11:00pm at night just because of who they are, we are lowering ourselves so that others can tear down our boundaries.
“If someone is truly respectful and successful they won’t ask you to be available at any time that they have open so they can connect with you.”
Sometimes the simple act of saying no and asserting your boundaries will inspire that other boundary-less person to reevaluate their own behaviour.
Indeed, setting your own clear boundaries and expecting your colleagues to follow suit will win respect around the office.
How to combat workaholism
The key to overcoming workaholism is understanding its causes and acknowledging the symptoms in yourself.
Workaholics will often be told repeatedly by loved ones that they are working too hard, but will always find an excuse (usually money) rather than admit to their problem.
And as with any serious addiction, admitting you have a problem is the essential first step.
Researchers at the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen have come up with a ‘work addiction scale’.
To assess whether you might be a workaholic, note down whether the following statements (1) ‘never’, (2) ‘rarely’, (3) ‘sometimes’, (4) ‘often’ or (5) ‘always’ apply to you.
- You think of how you can free up more time to work.
- You spend much more time working than initially intended.
- You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
- You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
- You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
- You de-prioritise hobbies, leisure activities and exercise because of your work.
- You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
If you answer ‘often’ or ‘always’ to a minimum of four of the seven statements, you may fit the criteria for being a workaholic.
Depending on your personality type, altering your behaviour may be possible by developing self-awareness and building boundaries by your own volition.
Others may need intervention from psychotherapists, self-help groups like Workaholics Anonymous or even residential treatment centres.
Treatment will involve learning how to disengage from work, building strategies to reconnect with family and finding ways to become more efficient.
One-on-one CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions can achieve great results too.
Of course, with any job or business, there will be times when you have to put in extra hours, but the route to success ultimately lies in what Krakowski calls “balance and budget”.
She says: “If the total sum is still going to be great for the family, it’s a small sacrifice and no one minds at all. But if it becomes the norm, it’s a sign that you might have a problem.“
By Nicky Tatley, Senior Writer at BusinessesForSale.com, the market-leading directory of business opportunities from Dynamis. Nicky writes for all titles in the Dynamis Stable including PropertySales.com and FranchiseSales.com.