Workaholism: It’s Not Good For You, Your Team Or the Business

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Oct 2, 2019

“Excessive work can be viewed as an addictive behavior” with “dysfunctional behavior patterns that interfere with operations.”  — Gayle Porter, PhD, Rutgers University School of Business

Do you live to work or work to live? It’s a simple, yet critical, question. Working to live should pay the bills while bringing you satisfaction. Living to work, however, means you are likely making sacrifices in other areas of your life: marriage, family time, going out with friends, hobbies, recreation, exercise, and other aspects of healthful living.

For many of us, the term workaholic has become a badge of honor. This misguided approach places work at the top of our priority hierarchy, and then we wonder why our spouses serve us with divorce papers, our kids are alienated because we’re never home, and we’re too tired to enjoy the activities that have historically given us pleasure. Since our society places high value on work and lauds individuals for their strong work ethic, recognizing workaholism as a dangerous problem is an uphill battle.

Health implications

Studies have found that workaholics are more stressed, depressed, anxious, and angry.  They have an unrelenting fear of failure, are generally perfectionists, have an overriding sense of inferiority, and expect more of themselves than they can realistically deliver. They also tend to talk about their work obsessively, work even when they’re sick, refuse to take vacations, and lack any kind of separation or boundaries between their home and work lives.

Workaholism is positively associated with ill-health (psychological distress and physical complaints) and negatively associated with life satisfactions (job and family satisfactions) and job performance. The need to work compulsively hard also contributes to insufficient sleep and workplace sleepiness.

 A few solutions

  • Delegate and empower – Trying to do everything yourself, coupled with viewing others as not up to the task, will put you on the fast track to workaholism. Empowered people aren’t afraid to think innovatively and creatively or offer ideas because they know they have management’s support and want their ideas and contributions. Employees who feel the company values their ideas strive to devise new ways to help the company perform better. The more empowered people are, the greater the rewards the company will reap in terms of higher results. As General George S. Patton said: “Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and let them surprise you with their results.”
  • Take your allotted time Do you skip your daily lunch break or eat at your desk? Are you guilty of eating breakfast at your desk (deskfast)? If so, you’re not taking the time you need to replenish your body’s energy. It may surprise you to learn that you’ll be even more productive if you grab a healthful lunch outside your office’s four walls, followed by a 10-minute invigorating walk. Sick leave and vacation time were also invented for a reason. If you’re sick, you’re not supposed to go to work. If you break this rule, you’ll become even more run down, and you’ll selfishly risk infecting your coworkers. Trust me; they won’t appreciate your ill-advised gallantry. Vacation time is also earned, so be sure to use it. Workers who take their vacation days have a lower incidence of cardiovascular problems. Taking much-needed vacation breaks is not only good for you – it is also good for your business. So don’t feel guilty about vacation time.
  • Unplug – We need to unplug ourselves occasionally from email, cell phones, text messages, computers, etc.
  • Manage interruptions – Don’t be afraid to close your door or put your phone on voice mail when you’re busy. You can’t concentrate when a steady stream of humans enters your office or calls you.  Some offices may frown on closed doors, so you’ll need to talk to your boss about finding a happy medium.  Keeping doors closed all day sends the wrong message, but trying times call for self-protective measures.
  • Decline with gratitude – It can be difficult to say no to colleagues and bosses. But survival often depends on it. Don’t take on more responsibility than you are able to.

Making a commitment to work-life balance makes leaders more productive and better prepared to handle the daily tasks, while providing time to enjoy life.

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