The high cost of being a workaholic

Being the office workaholic can cost you promotions, hurt your home life, and turn friends into enemies. Evaluate yourself with these five questions.

The high cost of being a workaholic

Workaholism takes a toll on your physical and mental health.

Feel like you’re working yourself to the bone? Unfortunately, you’re in good company. You can find workaholics in every industry and on every rung of the ladder. Today’s workplace culture is a hotbed of overworking to the point where it seems normalized.

A whopping 66% of Millennials—the largest population in the US workforce—identify as workaholics, according to the Millennial Workaholics Index, a survey by FreshBooks. Even more unsettling: 32% of Millennials say they’ve invoiced a customer while in the bathroom—another 27% have invoiced a customer while on a date!

Aside from turning you into a complete killjoy, workaholism can have detrimental effects on your health and wellbeing, not to mention the quality of your work itself.

What is a workaholic?

A workaholic is a compulsive worker, someone who has an irresistible urge to work all the time, regardless of how exhausted they are. 

Workaholism can take a heavy toll on your physical and mental health. Workers putting in 55 hours or more a week, compared with 35 or 40, had a 33% increased risk of having a stroke, according to a large study led by scientists at University College London. Also, a Norwegian study of more than 16,000 adults found that, compared with non-workaholics, workaholics were more likely to exhibit symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and depression.

But simply putting in long hours doesn’t make you a workaholic, says Denise Dudley, a behavioural psychologist and author of Work It! Get in, Get Noticed, Get Promoted: “There’s a big difference between being a workaholic and being passionate about what you do.”

Indeed, one study had 763 employees complete a survey about their work behaviours and receive a health screening by medical staff. It found that work hours were not related to any health issues, but workaholism was. Specifically, employees who worked more than 40 hours a week, but who did not obsess about work, did not have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Meanwhile, the self-described workaholics had more health complaints and reported a “higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more cynicism, more emotional exhaustion, and more depressive feelings than employees who merely worked long hours but did not have workaholic tendencies,” the study says.

Not sure whether you’re a workaholic or just working a lot? Ask yourself these five questions.

Does my job make me happy?

You should derive pleasure from your work overall (even when you’re working long hours). “If you’re putting a ton of time into your work and you feel good about what you do, you’re probably just doing a job you love,” says workplace-burnout expert Geri Puleo. “However, if you’re putting in a lot of hours and you’re miserable, you might be a workaholic.”

Does work invade my personal life?

Thanks to smartphones, you can check your work e-mail anytime, anywhere. 30% of workers say they always have their e-mail open, according to a recent survey of 1,000 people titled America’s Relationship with Work E-mail.

Having trouble unplugging is a sure sign of workaholism. “When you can’t stop thinking about work, you can’t shut your brain off, and you can’t take your mind off work when you’re with your family or friends, you’re in trouble,” Dudley says.

Maria Matarelli, author of Workaholic? A 12-Step Guide to Having a Life AND Getting Things Done, experienced this firsthand. “When I was a workaholic, I found myself feeling guilty about not working all the time,” she says. “I would say no to plans that should have been reasonable. I was working around the clock. I was missing out on life experiences because I was working all the time.”

Am I hoarding work and not delegating?

Workaholics tend to hoard job tasks to the point where their plate is overflowing. Why? “A lot of people don’t delegate because they think, ‘No one can do the work as well as I can,’” Dudley explains. But that kind of mentality can hurt your job performance if you stretch yourself too thin, says Puleo.

Another reason workaholics don’t delegate: They’re work martyrs. “Some feel like if they do everything and they’re the only one who knows how to do it, they’re making themselves irreplaceable,” said Dave Cheng, an executive coach at Athena Coaching. “However, sharing information and teaching others around you is a valued skill, as far as management is concerned.”

Am I showing signs of burnout?

If you’re experiencing any health problems, such as difficulty sleeping, depression, or physical exhaustion, you might be severely overworked. Besides, “a lot of people who become addicted to their work attach their self-worth to their work output, so low self-esteem issues can crop up,” Dudley says.

Doing a self-assessment of your health, or meeting with a doctor for a checkup, can help you identify and treat physical and mental markers of a workaholic.

Is my job my identity?

Though this question is more abstract, answering it honestly shines a light on whether you’re a workaholic. When your job is your identity, “you feel that you have nothing else in your life,” says Puleo.

Another way to frame this question is by asking yourself who you are. “If you have to describe who you are as a person, your work shouldn’t be the sole focus,” Dudley says.

Three ways to cut back

If you’re a workaholic, there are steps you can take to get a handle on your addiction:

  • Get to the source of the issue. Could anxiety or a lack of confidence be driving you to work long hours to prove something to yourself or others? “You need to find the root cause of your addiction,” Matarelli says.
  • Set boundaries. To stop being a workaholic, you’re going to have to change your work behaviours. This means setting boundaries, such as not checking work e-mails when you’re off the clock.
  • Get the support you need. Connecting with like-minded people through a support group like Workaholics Anonymous can help you gain perspective and learn skills that will enable you to unplug from work.

Free yourself

When your job is running roughshod over your life, and you are running yourself into the ground, it’s time to level with yourself. If this job isn’t fulfilling you and helping you develop as a person, there’s no reason to keep pouring your energy into it. Need a fresh start but not sure where to look? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top positions with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Monster can help you find a job that inspires you to give it all you’ve got—without crushing your soul.