Are You A Workaholic?
Know The Signs!
By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer
The number of hours Canadians spend at work is increasing. We have about 60 minutes less for after work activities than we did in 1982. But this doesn’t mean we’re a nation of actual workaholics.
That’s because true workaholism is an addiction. Workaholics crave immersion in their labour. They undergo withdrawal symptoms when not practicing their vocation.
Still, many more of us are staying late and taking work home with us. We’re behaving like workaholics for reasons other than work addiction.
We interviewed David Posen, MD, about this serious yet often socially accepted condition. Dr. Posen is a leading Stress Specialist, professional speaker, and bestselling author of Is Work Killing You, and Always Change A Losing Game.
Monster.ca: In your book Always Change A Losing Game, you identify nine categories of workaholics. Yet you consider there to be one true type of workaholism. Could you elaborate?
David Posen, MD: Most people who are putting in longer hours, and who are unable to disconnect from work when at home, are not actually addicted to their work. There may be other, possibly compelling reasons for them to log these extra hours.
A true workaholic lives and breathes their employment. Think of a Steven Jobs or someone equally driven. When they aren’t involved in their labour – whether they are on vacation, injured or retired – they exhibit withdrawal symptoms. You see them becoming irritable and restless. They may feel lost or fall prey to depression.
Monster.ca: Who are these non-addicted workaholics then?
David Posen, MD: The remainder are people who spend many extra hours working, but are doing so for specific reasons. They are not addicted to work.
For instance, “turtle” workaholics surround themselves in a shell of labour. They may be hiding from problems at home or avoiding other unpleasantries. The “pushover” workaholic has problems saying no. They accept crushing workloads to avoid confronting their boss or co-workers.
There are other types as well. The “seasonal” variety includes accountants at tax time, or retailers during the holidays. “Robots” are the kind who develop workaholic tendencies, then fall into a pattern of repetitive behaviour.
Monster.ca: Is workaholic behaviour more likely to strike people in higher level jobs?
David Posen, MD: Today anyone can fall into the trap out of necessity. You may feel that you have no choice if your supervisor stays late and arrives early. There may be peer pressure or fear of job loss.
In addition, career advancement may require added hours, to prove yourself and move up the promotion ladder. Long hours may be seen as a measure of devotion and commitment.
There is also our 24/7 culture and the increased expectation of availability. Technology has made us readily accessible regardless of where we are.
Monster.ca: Aren’t there upsides though to workaholic behaviour?
David Posen, MD: Certainly there are, at least in the short term. That in part is why it can become addictive. People seen as workaholics tend to get recognized for their over and above contributions. They may be chosen for promotion over others. Their pay could increase, especially if they receive overtime.
Monster.ca: Tell us about some of the downsides too. Occupational burnout is a risk, of course. What else?
David Posen, MD: Workaholism leaves less time for sleep, socializing or exercising. There is a danger that you focus so slavishly on your job that you begin to neglect your health. In any case relationships are almost always adversely affected. Loved ones get neglected. Your social life suffers and loneliness may result.
Furthermore you may no longer have time to develop other facets of yourself. Perhaps you give up doing things you used to love. Like reading for pleasure, music, art, hobbies…these pursuits nurture you emotionally. When you lack these outlets, your career turns into the only asset you have. That can be an overly narrow focus because you have little else to fall back on.
Monster.ca: If someone is working too hard and is experiencing negative effects, how can they start to restore more balance?
David Posen, MD: Awareness is the first stage. A person has to perceive their behaviour as a problem. This can be tricky if they are getting rewarded at work, and believe they are contributing to society more than they are impacting it harmfully.
Sometimes the truth has to be painfully pointed out to them. A spouse may leave or threaten to. The workaholic’s ignored children refuse contact. Or health issues force the workaholic to confront the implications of their habits.
It may take an intervention or personal counseling to break through the person’s defenses. Otherwise, like the “robot” described above, they may continue doing damage to themselves and those who care for them.
Monster.ca: Thank you so much Dr. Posen for your helpful insights. For readers who would like additional resources on workaholism and its possible unfavorable effects (e.g. burnout, stress, depression), we recommend the following of our articles:
Is Work Taking Over Your Life?Identify the warning signs that work is taking over, and some practical tips to help you get your life back.
Beat Job Burnout. Has your bad day lasted several weeks? You may be experiencing work burnout. Learn to identify the signs.
Depression at Work. Don't let depression disrupt your life and work; it pays to get help.
The Essence Of Career Plateauing. Do promotions and raises mean less to you now than having a more balanced life? If so you may be a candidate for career plateauing!