Workaholism may seem like a recent phenomenon, brought about by the relentless pace of modern civilization, but in reality, workaholics have always existed. In Roman times, Pliny the Elder, the famous writer and statesman, used to start his working day at midnight and have books read to him at mealtimes so that he didn't have to stop working.
The Impact of Workaholism
Workaholics are often surprised when friends or family ask for more attention or time. After all, they are working hard and providing so well. The work addict will say he or she has "no choice" - the time they give to work is the time required to do and keep a good job.
There is no doubt that there is great value in hard work. Work can be a source of great satisfaction, and one's employer has every right to expect efficiency and good results.
Workaholics tend to be well-organized and thorough, energetic and self-motivated. They are able to focus exclusively on what they are doing at the moment.
A point to remember is that most of the great things that have been done throughout history; have been done by people who put more effort into their work than most. There probably has not been any major reform, for example, that has not required at least one person to work 'excessively' for it.
However, what makes work abusive or addictive, as opposed to healthy or constructive is the degree to which it interferes with physical health, personal happiness, or intimate and social relationships. In some ways, overworking is harder to kick than the other addictions because it is the only one that draws applause.
Long hours, with little relief, generally lead to less productivity or inefficiency, neglected family and social life and distorted concepts of what's important and what's not. In the name of doing their job, workaholics may neglect personal relationships, parenting responsibilities, and even their own health.
Relationships require a certain amount of time and attention to keep them alive and to keep us emotionally nourished as well. The workaholic fits relationships around the work schedule, and if work takes all the time then there are no relationships, except on the most casual basis.
A national study conducted in 1999 in the United States found that women married to workaholics felt more estranged from their husbands, had less positive feelings toward them and felt in less control of their lives than a comparison group of women married to non-workaholics. In the former, marriages were also more likely to end in divorce.
This study suggests that workaholism, like alcoholism and other addictions, takes a severe toll on marriages.
Work addicts can be so busy working that they miss the process of growth and development in their children. Their children see them as strangers, resent the abandonment and frequently act out. The children may eventually find themselves in trouble, at which point one hears the parent say "Where did I go wrong? I gave them everything."
When work addiction takes over, basic needs for sleep, proper food, exercise and freedom to refresh the mind and restore the spirit are ignored. It is not uncommon for health problems to crop up.
And because the person's identity is so wrapped up in work, losing a job or even retirement becomes a major calamity. Since they have never developed a life apart from work, without a job they are faced with total emptiness - exactly what they tried so hard to avoid.
Beating the need to work all hours can be tough - in the US, Workaholics Anonymous groups have been started along the same lines as Alcoholics Anonymous!
What Can One Do About Workaholism?
Gradually cut down the number of hours you work each day or week. Avoid radical changes but take measurable steps, like making it a rule not to work on weekends. (If that means you have to cut your workload proportionally by skipping unimportant tasks or delegating some work, so be it.) Learn to focus on results rather than hours spent at the office.
Schedule time for your primary relationship. Most relationships require at least 20-30 minutes of "connect time" every day. This time is spent simply checking in with, and catching up with one another.
Plan time for recreation in your schedule; as if it is an important commitment. Set aside some time for fun, however brief, every day.
Get some physical exercise every day. Take a walk, do some stretching, or participate in some other non-stressful, non-competitive activity.
Avoid talking about work over lunch.
Select leisure activities carefully. You need at least one activity you can share with family or friends.
Refuse to feel guilty when you're not working. You can manage the guilt by reflecting on the benefits, recognise the importance of breaks, reframe your thoughts, etc.
After pursuing other activities, you'll return to work with a fresher approach.
In most cases the first step (and possibly the most difficult) is recognition. Often a workaholic is the last to realize a problem exists. One way to find out is to take the test "Are You A Workaholic?"
If you would like to discuss this further or need some help or support in this or any other area, our counsellors would be happy to help.