Being a workaholic is seen by some as a source of pride and by others as something of a joke – a harmless trait that makes for fewer appearances at family gatherings or nights out on the town. But what is a workaholic? Workaholism is no laughing matter; it’s a condition that can have negative consequences for your health, productivity, and personal relationships. To become a recovering workaholic, the first step, as with any addiction, is to recognize that you are one. Once you’ve determined that you are a workaholic, there are steps you can take to help cure yourself to avoid the deleterious long-term health and productivity effects of such behavior.
Are You a Workaholic?
If you exhibit any of the five signs below it may indicate that you are, or are in danger of becoming, a workaholic:
- You are constantly trying to find more time for work.
- You use work as a way to make up for deficiencies in other areas of your life
- Your work habits have taken a toll on your health
- Taking time away from work is stressful for you
- You consistently spend more time working than you thought you would
While the concept of workaholism has been bandied about for decades, in recent years it has been the subject of increased attention as researchers have linked the phenomenon to increased stress levels and impaired health. Modern technological advances have also played a part in what some call the “workaholic epidemic” – smartphones and other portable electronic devices allow people to take work with them almost anywhere they go, making it difficult to disconnect from the job even when you aren’t physically at the office.
Exhibiting one or more of the signs above doesn’t necessarily make you a workaholic. However, if you see your quality of life suffering as a result of one or more of these indicators, or if they occur in conjunction with a deterioration in your health or physical fitness, seriously considering changes to your lifestyle in order to maintain a healthy work/life balance is warranted.
The Costs of Being a Workaholic
Instead of being a boon to companies, present day human resources professionals increasingly consider hiring a workaholic to be detrimental, both to the company and to the individual exhibiting the behavior. Studies have found that a person who consistently works greater than 50 hours each week is likely to suffer adverse physical or mental health consequences as a result.
While a workaholic may initially appear to be an excellent employee by putting in long hours, in the long run the employee’s productivity is likely to decline while his or her interaction with other employees suffers as well. To paraphrase an old saying, all work and no play can make Johnny a bad employee. In addition to productivity issues, if continued over a long-enough period of time, excessive dedication to work can lead to serious health issues and, in extreme cases, premature death.
As a result of this dynamic, many companies now stress work-life balance in their operations, with some including fitness facilities or place where employees can take a break and relax, play games, or otherwise unwind. Time away from work is also increasingly a focus, given the mental and physical benefits taking a vacation or socializing offer.
Some companies have policies designed to encourage employees to take time off or to approach work in a way that generates less stress. These include:
- Cancelling vacation time if it is not used within a reasonable period of time, for instance on a yearly basis.
- Holding offsite meetings or conferences for employees. These get-togethers are typically held at locales that differ markedly from the usual workplace environment, such as a luxury resort or rustic campsite in a picturesque natural setting.
- Allowing a certain amount of work-at-home days per week or month. While working at home is still work, it can be less stressful than going into the office in some cases, for instance when it allows employees to avoid long, stressful trips to the office.
- Non-traditional schedules such as 4 days on, 3 days off. While such an approach doesn’t necessarily reduce the amount of time worked overall, some employees prefer it as it gives them a more extensive block of non-work time to rest and recuperate.
How to Treat Workaholism
Treating workaholism can be difficult because it is not at this time an officially designated psychological condition. While the issue has gained more attention in recent years, it is still not universally acknowledged to be dangerous to a person’s health. Nevertheless, there are groups that specialize in helping individuals get therapy to deal with the condition.
These groups may involve outpatient sessions with others facing similar challenges or checking in to a residence where treatment is offered. Similarly, individual outpatient counseling from a trained workplace psychologist can provide assistance in overcoming the issues associated with workaholism.
Therapeutic efforts for the condition typically focus on teaching methods by which the workaholic can separate themselves from work. These can include strategies for refocusing on family, as well as stressing the importance of leisure time and the concept of living a balanced life. With the presence of portable electronic devices blurring the line between work time and play time, it is important to take steps to draw boundaries between the two when trying to recover from the condition.
One way to do this is to take some time away from your communications devices, or to specify a period of time during which such devices will be turned off, even if they are still physically present. Some individuals may find this difficult, given how integrated these devices have become in so many areas of our life.
In these cases, one solution is to take a vacation “off the grid,” where smartphones and similar electronics lack the connectivity to cause work to intrude on your leisure time. However it is done, taking steps to demarcate leisure time activities from work activities can greatly assist you if you are suffering from workaholism.
Developing mindfulness is another method that can help you avoid the temptation to work excessively. This discipline helps an individual focus on the impact of their actions as they make them. Thus, an employee who is working excessively would be taught to take a step back and consider the long-term implications of doing so as opposed to pursuing a more moderate approach which is healthier in the long-term.
The self-awareness engendered by the concept of mindfulness allows an individual to develop coping strategies for situations where they find themselves working excessive hours – or are tempted to do so, including:
- Tracking their work hours daily, weekly, or monthly and ceasing work once a pre-set limit is reached
- Scheduling non-work-related activities in advance on a daily or weekly basis
- Practicing mindfulness to allow you to disengage from work when necessary
- Going on vacations or getting away from it all on a regular basis
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