Workaholism is a psychological condition manifested in the individual's compulsive obsession to work. This is often done at the expense of other aspects of his life, like family, friends and personal health.
Given their proclivity to work, workaholics often appear as ambitious, intelligent and succesful people. However, this superficial appearance masks a deep affliction, which if left untreated can sow the seeds of trouble in the future.
1. Psychological basis behind workaholism
The workaholic is usually a perfectionist, who believes that only he is capable of accomplishing the work. There is an innate need inside him for tasks to be completed so that he can have a sense of achievement. (While this is a normal sentiment, the workaholic takes it to extremes.) Given such a mentality, the workaholic is often unable to relax and continues to yearn to finish as much work (which is never-ending) as possible. As his self-worth is tied to his work achievements, the workaholic needs to continue to generate work in order to feel good about himself. This is also why workaholics like to consider the condition as a badge of honour or a respectable vice.
2. Signs of workaholism
Both the individual and his loved ones can help to keep a lookout for such signs.
- No clear separation between work and home (family, social, leisure)
- Work matters constantly on the mind.
- The individual clearly relishes talking about his work all the time, with no self-awareness that his life is just revolving around his work.
- Sense of achievement and self-worth is closely tied to work-related matters (i.e. projects, work titles, work responsibilities)
- Sense of guilt when not working
- Inability to relax during vacation or non-working moments
- Strong belief that others are incompetent, while only he can "save the day"
- Experience burnout due to overwork or increased stress
Workaholics Anonymous also provides a 20-question self-assessment test, of which 3 affirmatives mean that you might have a workaholic problem
(1) Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?
(2) Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can’t get anything done?
(3) Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
(4) Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?
(5) Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
(6) Do you turn your hobbies into moneymaking ventures?
(7) Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?
(8) Have your family or friends given up expecting you on time?
(9) Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?
(10.) Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?
(11) Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?
(12) Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
(13) Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?
(14) Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?
(15) Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?
(16) Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?
(17) Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
(18) Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep, or when others are talking?
(19) Do you work or read during meals?
(20) Do you believe that more money will solve the other problems in your life?
3. Effects of workaholism
The effects of workaholism are often felt after a prolonged period when the individual's work-life balance has long been upset, even though he might not be aware of it himself.
- Strains family and social relationships
- Brings about health problems, due to the individual's neglect of his own health (e.g. infrequent meals, not enough water consumption, prolonged sitting posture, neglect of personal hygiene)
- Prolonged workaholic habits can result in gastric and health problems.
4. Prevention / Treatment
A common misconception among workaholics is that they misunderstand the purpose and nature of work. While it is good both in terms of physical and mental health for people to work, workaholics over-prioritise work in their lives and place undue emphasis on it. They often forget to stop and ask themselves, "Is it worth it?" or "What has my work cost me?".
If workaholics are willing to acknowledge their own conditions and the toll it has taken on themselves and the people around them, they can consider some options to get back to a more healthy lifestyle.
- Acknowledge that the work ethic requires one to be responsible for one's work, but not at the expense of the other aspects of one's life.
- Learn to say no to yourself and be able to walk away from work.
- Remind yourself that your self-identity and self-worth should not be tied to your work.
- Spend more time with your family. You can always change your work. You can't change your family. Your family is all you have in this life.
- Take small steps to clear your mind from work matters. Do something else you like (even though it is just work that you like for now).
- Do not rationalise these steps as "doing it for your family or others". The main beneficiary of weaning off workaholism is yourself.
It is unfortunate that in today's corporate culture, the perception of not working hard enough is considered detrimental to one's career. Alternatively, having to profess that one would like to keep a healthy attitude towards work can lead to doubts about the individual's ability for higher responsibilities.
However, what the corporate culture and workaholics themselves do not realise is that workaholism is not working hard. Contrary to what their superiors might say, workaholism means spending a totally inappropriate (if not obscene) amount of time on a piece of work, while the time and efforts could have been spent more efficiently and productively. Hence, workaholics can actually be seen as inefficient workers, with poor time management skills.
No matter how "enjoyable" your work is or how much satisfaction you derive from it now, life is more than just work. After all, like a saying goes, “Nobody ever laid on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office.”
At the end of the day, it is a personal choice. The individual has to think through his priorities in life and weigh the pros and cons of his working habits. Having made a considered decision will he be able to live with the consequences of his own choices.