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Are you in danger of becoming a workaholic?

Are you in danger of becoming a workaholic?

I don’t think that anyone sets out with the intention of becoming a workaholic. Nor does it seem likely that most people allow it to happen willingly. Of course, for some, being a workaholic is seen simply as an unfortunate by-product of being successful and wealthy. Yet, even for them, workaholism is likely to destroy much of the pleasure that their wealth and success brings. After all, if you’re working all the time, you aren’t going to be in any position to make good use of whatever benefits your success has brought you.

It’s important to distinguish between a workaholic and someone who is simply wrapped up in their work—either because they enjoy it so much, or because, for a while, they have decided to make it a priority in order to win a promotion or get the kind of lifestyle that they want. For a workaholic, work is an end in itself. While it may bring wealth or power, what matters most is simply working. Just as an alcoholic drinks because he or she must, not because they enjoy it, so a workaholic is addicted to working—even when there is no rational reason for doing so.

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it’s hard to judge precisely where someone might slip from being hard-working, to become increasingly obsessed with work, to becoming a fully-fledged workaholic. I suspect it happens quite slowly, with no real consciousness on the part of the person involved that some boundary had been crossed between a voluntary immersion in work and a state of addiction.

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Match yourself against these indicators
That’s why I’m offering some indicators of potential workaholism: pointers that might help you notice when you may be getting close to the point where hard work has ceased being a means to an end, and has become an end in itself. None of these actions on their own indicate workaholism. But the more that appear to be present in your life, the more likely it may be that the role of work in your life is getting out of hand.

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  • Workaholics are totally preoccupied with work. It dominates their thinking nearly all the time. They talk about it, even when the subject is inappropriate. They find themselves dwelling on it, when it should be the furthest thing from their minds: when they are supposedly relaxing at home, talking with their family, enjoying a leisurely meal, or making love.
  • Because workaholics devote so much time an attention to work, little or none remains for forming close relationships. Many workaholics are loners; not always because they wish to be, but because they find that their obsession with work wrecks their chances to make good relationships. They work such long hours that they aren’t able to socialize or meet people outside of work. If all of your friends and acquaintances work where you do, or have some other close connection to your job, it’s worth asking yourself why that is.
  • Workaholics either don’t take vacations, or time off when they are sick, or they take their work with them. Going on vacation makes them uncomfortable. They dwell on visions of work piling up. They convince themselves that other people will mess up without them. The most paranoid come to believe that someone will deliberately steal their work, or spoil their projects, if they aren’t there to keep an eye on things. If they do take a vacation, they take along work too, or keep checking back obsessively with their office. The same happens if they are sick. In fact, too avoid taking sick days, many workaholics go into the office, spreading infection all around, or even jeopardize their own health.
  • Workaholics cannot delegate. They are obsessed with staying in direct control of everything linked to their work. They usually justify the amount of time they spend working by convincing themselves that only they can handle whatever it is that they do. If the pressures pile up, they simply work harder or longer hours. the subordinates of workaholics often find themselves virtually redundant, or reduced to the most mundane kinds of work.
  • Workaholics routinely neglect everything else for the sake of their work. Even if they accept that they should be devoting time to other things, they will find some reason to justify not doing so if it would clash with work. The families of workaholics become all too well aware of the countless excuses for missing family occasions, school meetings, birthday parties, or any other activity that might require the person to set aside work for more that a few moments. Many workaholics, like many alcoholics, have a wrecked family life and a history of divorce and broken relationships.
  • If they have to undertake non-work activities, they try to link them to work. Social activities become occasions for work-directed networking. They may seem to be keen golfers, for example, until you discover that they habitually use golfing occasions to conduct business. Every supposed social gathering becomes another opportunity to make new business contacts or try to interest others in something connected with their work.
  • A workaholic’s identity is totally submerged in their work. It’s as if the person is their work, and has no independent existence. This is very close to the truth. For a workaholic, the boundaries between their work and their personality and existence have broken down. Their work not only defines them, they feel that, without it, they would no longer have any existence. Take away their work and there is nothing left. They cannot face the emptiness that would remain, so they rush back to the only thing that offers them security: their work.
  • Many, many workaholics are permanently in denial. Like alcoholics, workaholics often deny their problem. They become extremely clever at hiding the truth from themselves. They think up elaborate justifications and excuses for their lifestyle. They use modern technology to hide their activities from others. Today’s cell phones, laptops, and ease of Internet access mean that the old image of the workaholic as someone sitting at home, or on the beach, surrounded by papers and files is rare. All it takes is a BlackBerry, or one of the new cell-phone PDAs, to have instant access to all the files you might need.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest, and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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