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Life Balance

Signs of a Workaholic And How to Stop Being One

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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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 will likely destroy much of the pleasure 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 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 they must, not because they enjoy it, a workaholic is addicted to working—even when there is no rational reason.

It’s hard to judge precisely where someone might slip from being hard-working to becoming 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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Signs of a Workaholic: Match Yourself Against These Indicators

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 appears 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.

How many of these workaholic symptoms can you relate to?

1. 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.

2. Workaholics Don’t Really Have Very Close Relationships

Because workaholics devote so much time and attention to work, little or none remains for forming close relationships.

Many work addicts are loners, not always because they wish to be but because they find that their obsession with work wrecks their chances of making good relationships. They work such long hours that they cannot 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.

3. Workaholics either Don’t Take Vacations or Time off When They Are Sick or 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 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, to avoid taking sick days, many workaholics go into the office, spreading infection all around or even jeopardizing their own health.

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4. Workaholics Cannot Delegate

Workaholics 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 work.

5. Workaholics Routinely Neglect Everything Else for the Sake of Their Work

Even if they accept that they should devote 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 than a few moments.

Many workaholics, like many alcoholics, have a wrecked family life and a history of divorce and broken relationships.

Social activities become occasions for work-directed networking. For example, they may seem to be keen golfers 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.

7. 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 they would no longer have any existence without it. 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.

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When asked what a workaholic does for fun, they can’t always come up with hobbies that don’t have anything to do with their work. And “I like to work” isn’t really an answer.

8. Workaholics Tend to Work Through Lunch Every Day

If we work more hours, we get more work done, right? That is how a workaholic thinks and is how they justify working through their lunch break daily. However, intermittent breaks throughout the day can help refresh and renew us to become more productive.

9. Workaholics Are Often Perfectionists Who Can’t Find the Satisfaction They Crave

While it is good to strive for better, it doesn’t do any good when you fail to recognize any achievements for yourself or those working around you. Workaholics find little to no satisfaction, despite their hard work.

10. Workaholics Generally Don’t Feel Well

Working is similar to an addiction for a workaholic, and there are different degrees of workaholism. When you are a serious workaholic, it causes a physical response. You are at higher risk of burnout and negative health problems like a heart attack and Type 2 diabetes when you have workaholic tendencies.

Many with a work addiction also have a compromised immune system and experience constant headaches and chronic fatigue.

11. 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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The Bergen Work Addiction Scale

The Bergen Work Addiction Scale[1] was developed to assess work addiction. The items on the scale are scored on a five-point response format ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (always). A higher score on this test indicates a higher level of work addiction risk.

Now that you have indicators identifying an engaged workaholic, let’s go a bit deeper and ask yourself the following questions that may indicate you are a workaholic.

  • Do you find yourself staying late at work often?
  • Do you sacrifice free time and change your personal plans so you can finish your work tasks?
  • When you are not at work but engaged in your personal life, are you thinking about being at work?
  • When making time for family and friends, does your work schedule often conflict with your personal schedule?
  • Do you feel anxious or uneasy when you are not at work?
  • Are you often told by the people you surround yourself with that you are a workaholic?
  • Do you ever become stressed when you are prohibited from completing any work?
  • Have you been working so much that it has begun to have negative consequences on your health?
  • Do you work a lot to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, and depression?

How many of the questions above did you answer with always or often? If you did for more than four of them, you have stepped outside the realm of being a motivated and ambitious employee and may very well be a workaholic.

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How to Stop Being a Workaholic

Are you a workaholic that wants to change your ways and find the appropriate work life balance? Here are our tips on how to stop being a workaholic and commit to a healthier lifestyle.

1. Commit to Fixing Your Work Addiction Problem

The first step of any addiction is admitting you have a problem and committing yourself to finding a solution. Once you have admitted you have a work addiction, you have to want to change, and this can give you the momentum needed to succeed.

Keep the end goal in mind. You will find yourself with less stress, you will be more engaged in personal relationships, and you will be well rested.

2. Talk With Your Boss

The next step is sitting down and having an honest conversation with your boss. Let them know the bad habits you have developed and how you have failed to achieve a healthy work life balance. A good boss will understand and want you to dispel any feelings of exhaustion and frustration before it begins to affect your work performance.

Your boss can help you prioritize tasks, hold you accountable for time off and lunch breaks, and ensure that all the work is divided evenly among everyone rather than piling up on your plate alone.

3. Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries

is the next step on the road to recovery. Refrain from staying at work that extra hour and instead leave on time. When you are off work, make sure to enjoy leisure activities that do not correlate with working. It helps to have someone like a close friend or family member close by that can be your accountability partner for this step.

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4. Set Aside Time for Rest

As a workaholic, you are already used to a busy and full schedule, so this step might be difficult at first. However, it is important to intentionally set aside free time for rest. Take a few days off to rest at home or take your family on the vacation they have wanted to go on. No matter what you choose to do, rest should be your top priority.

5. Take Steps Toward a Healthier You

Since a work addiction can cause health issues, you need to take this time in your recovery to focus on other aspects of your life, including your diet, sleep schedule, hydration, and staying physically active.

6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Never be afraid to ask for help if you find these steps too overwhelming to accomplish on your own. A trained counselor or therapist can help you talk through your struggles and give you the tools you need to get better and improve your overall mental health.

Summing it up

Many personality traits and disorders are associated with workaholism, including obsessive compulsive disorder, achievement orientation, perfectionism, and conscientiousness. These are often characterized by extreme self-discipline, orderliness, an obsessive pursuit of errors, low self-esteem, and the fear of failure. This all contributes to a compulsive investment into work engagement.

There are some treatment options available to help this kind of behavioral addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, is a popular and effective treatment for many behavioral addictions.

Workaholics Anonymous is another avenue you can explore. Formed in 1983, this organization was based on the model used to create Alcoholics Anonymous. As with alcoholism, workaholism is perceived as a disease requiring treatment. With this organization, you can find valuable resources and information to help.

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Remember, you can be a hard worker while still achieving an appropriate work life balance. Eliminate your workaholic behavior and focus on your mental health and personal life more; you will become more motivated and productive in your professional life.

Featured photo credit: Power Digital Marketing via unsplash.com


[1]Scandinavian Journal of Psychology: Development of a work addiction scale
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