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Workaholism – the Addiction No One Thinks Is Bad

Workaholism – the Addiction No One Thinks Is Bad

“Workaholism is the best-addressed of all the addictions. It is enabled by our society’s dangerous immersion in overwork… Extreme work habits have become commonplace in a world characterized by the frenzied pace of life, fear of being left behind, and desperation to achieve.” Dr. Bryan E. Robinson, PhD, Chained to the Desk: a Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them In today’s technologically-driven, 24/7-access world, there is less of a division between your work life in your personal life than ever before. In theory, this should lead to a synergistic relationship resulting in improved productivity and greater job/life satisfaction. Unfortunately, this is not the case, because in practice, it is leading to higher rates of work addiction, also called “workaholism”.

What Is a Workaholic?

One of the pioneers in the field of workaholism, Dr. Barbara Killinger, defined a workaholic as “a work-obsessed individual who gradually becomes emotionally crippled and addicted to power and control in a compulsive drive to gain approval and public recognition of success.” Common traits of a workaholic include:

  • Arrives early at work and stays late
  • Works 50+ hours per week
  • Always works through lunch
  • Has no hobbies or outside interests
  • Preoccupied and stressed about work, even when not AT work
  • Extreme perfectionism
  • Neglects personal priorities
  • Rarely takes vacations, or only takes “working” vacations
  • Works even when ill
  • Always accessible – constantly in contact via cell phone, email, etc.
  • Micromanaging every detail with subordinates
  • Bringing work home and working in secret
  • Unwilling to set boundaries or tell superiors or clients “no”
  • At the same time, rarely willing to tell friends and family members “yes” – the excuse is ALWAYS “I have to work”
  • Constantly overscheduling/overbooking
  • Family members have shown concern about the number of hours worked
  • Is anxious or jittery when not working – the equivalent of withdrawal

Is There a Difference between Being a “Hard Worker” and a Workaholic?

Yes – a hard worker someone who occasionally must put extra hours or days at work, but is still emotionally available to their family. They work to live, rather than living to work. Although a hard worker may derive satisfaction from their career, there are still able to strike a healthy work-home life balance. A workaholic is virtually the exact opposite – extra hours and days are the rule, not the exception, and because they are preoccupied work, they are often disengaged with their families. Workaholics DEFINE themselves by their career success, usually to the detriment of their personal lives

What Are Some of the Negative Consequences of Workaholism?

Workaholism can create a conflict between your career and your family life, becoming a major stressor. The difficulties created can be myriad:

Workaholics are also much more likely to suffer from mental or addictive disorders, compared to individuals with a healthy work-life balance:

  • Anxiety – 3X greater risk
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – 26% versus 9%
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – 33% versus 13%
  • Depression—TRIPLE the risk
  • Alcoholism – People who work 49-54 hours per week are 13% more likely to be “risky drinkers” than those who work 35-40 hours

Dr. Schou Andreassen, a clinical psychologist with Norway’s University of Bergen, says, “Physicians should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic doesn’t have these disorders.”

Are There Any Special Challenges to Overcoming Workaholism?

Yes. Unlike other hand, substance-related addictive disorders, workaholism cannot be treated with a “complete abstinence” strategy. For most people, quitting their job or changing careers isn’t a real option. Rather than abstinence, the goal of treating workaholism is to find a work-life balance that allows you to be successful in your career AND enjoy a fulfilling personal life.

Are There Any Support Groups for Workaholics?

Since 1983, there has been a 12-Step support group, Workaholics Anonymous, based on the Steps and Traditions of Alcoholics The only requirement for membership in Work-Anon is for a person to self-identify as “powerless over compulsive work, worry, or activity”. Interestingly, the program is also designed to help unmanageable procrastinators and people who suffer from work aversion.

Is Professional Help Needed to Overcome Workaholism?

Yes. Just as is the case with other addictive or behavioral disorders, a person who suffers with workaholism will very rarely change their behavior on their own. The best first step for someone with this condition is to contact a local addiction recovery program to discuss options. Many of the protocols for substance abuse – individual psychotherapy, group counseling, behavior modification – can be applied to workaholism recovery. The American social reformer Henry Ward Beecher summed up the distressful nature of work addiction when he said, “Americans generally spend so much time on things that are urgent that they have none left to spend on those that are important.”