If you’re working way too many hours, you might be in danger of becoming a workaholic. What started off as an admirable effort to get ahead may have become a progressively time-consuming and obsessive compulsion that veers into the area of work addiction. How do you know if you are a workaholic? Here are some warning signs to look out for. Note that the good news is that you can change them – or get help to treat them if work becomes an addiction.
Work is the Most Important Thing in Your Life
Obsession in any area of life is not a good thing. This applies equally well to work as anything else. In fact, cataloging endless hours on the job is one of the quickest ways to developing a work addiction. When you keep on working, despite fatigue, other responsibilities, even to the neglect of your own physical well-being, you are not doing yourself any favor at all. The more hours you devote to work, the more hours you will devote to work. It’s a self-perpetuating endless cycle.
How working too much becomes addiction is not hard to figure out. Addiction, in the simplest definition, is the obsessive pursuit of anything despite growing negative consequences. When you only think about work, only concern yourself with all things work-related, your life has already begun to spiral out of control. You’re not well-rounded any longer, but focused solely on work, work, and more work. This is not healthy and is a sure sign that there’s trouble either already apparent or well on its way.
Of course, you could cut down on your hours, but when you’re away from the job, if you’re constantly checking emails and voice messages and planning or strategizing or taking meetings, guess what? You’re still working. Where’s the balance in that?
When your relationships with family and friends begin to suffer and you still cling to your obsessive need to work incredibly long hours, you are showing classic signs of being a workaholic.
Social Life Disintegrates in Favor of Work
Most people go to work and also leave room in their lives for interaction with others in the form of social activities. But a workaholic gradually withdraws from most, if not all, social interaction that doesn’t have to do with work. This doesn’t occur overnight, but the excuses for not meeting up with your friends for a weekly get-together add up over time and result in a depleting of your social life to the point where everything is all about work for you.
Why do people socialize, anyway? There’s a feeling of community and good-will, sharing of conversation and experiences that helps balance our lives and make us feel complete and whole. It’s a form of relaxation to be able to converse with our family and friends in casual and non-work terms that’s healthy and contributes to our satisfaction with and overall quality of life.
If you find yourself blowing off all invitations to go out with friends, or only interact with others when it has something to do with your job, you should circle this in red pen and do something about it sooner rather than later. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy is more than just a proverb. It’s a recipe for workaholism.
Vacations are a Thing of the Past
Everyone needs time off from work. This includes extended periods of more than a day or so to rest and revitalize. Usually people take vacations in order to get back their zest for life, to feel more in balance, or just to get well-needed sleep. But the workaholic can’t seem to find the time to devote to being away. If it’s not related to work, as in a trip connected with the job, the workaholic just can’t afford the time. At least, that’s what he tells himself and others, mainly the family but also well-meaning friends.
How long has it been since you took a vacation? And don’t include trips where you piggy-backed a so-called vacation by taking the family along. If you were going on the company dime and devoted 50 to 75 percent of your time (or more) to work responsibilities, you’re just deluding yourself that it was a vacation at all. So, getting down to the nitty-gritty, when was your last real vacation? If it’s been years, you’ve definitely sold yourself – and your family – short. And you may have a problem of work addiction.
Remember that a vacation doesn’t need to involve expensive trips or really lengthy periods of time. But it does need to have your full concentration on the vacation and the people you’re with. No work during vacation – that should be your mantra. It’s tough to cut the strings that bind you to work, but it’s absolutely something you’ll need to do in order to overcome workaholism.
Suggestions You Cut Back Greatly Annoy You
Chances are that your long hours away at work have created tension at home with your spouse or partner. It is also likely that your close friends, and perhaps even your boss or co-workers, have noticed how many hours you work and have commented about it to you. Most of these conversations center around a suggestion that you cut back on the amount of time you spend on the job, thinking about the job, obsessing about the job.
And most likely these suggestions that you’re working too hard are a source of great annoyance and irritation to you. That is, they are if you’re a workaholic. If you aren’t, and have just been logging some really long hours to finish a project, then you’ll be able to laugh it off and reply that they’re right, you do need a break. For the workaholic, though, any suggestion that they’re obsessed with the job is taken as a personal affront. Instead of spurring them to cut back, such talk only increases the workaholic’s dedication to the job. Maybe he or she views it as a threat, something that they have to tackle with even more resolve in order to forestall another person gaining advantage.
In any event, if you’ve become annoyed or irritated when others mention they think you’re working too much and should take it easy, you could have a problem of work addiction.
Only Work Brings you Happiness
When self-worth is tied up in work, there’s a problem. Sure, it’s good to identify with our successes and be justifiably proud of our accomplishments, when we only find happiness – seemingly – in things related to our job or career, there’s something that’s out of balance. Life is more than just going to work and doing things related to work. If that’s all our everyday existence consists of, we’re being way too one-sided.
Do you only light up when you hear yourself – or your work – praised by others? Do you feel that who you are as a person is directly tied to how much of a work output you generate? Do you need to be the top of the sales list or the first one into work and the last one to leave to feel worthwhile and happy? Is work the only thing that brings you happiness? If so, you’re a prime candidate for being a workaholic.
Remedies for this include developing interests outside of work that generate a feeling of self-accomplishment and happiness. Whether that’s a hobby, recreational activity, going to school or taking up a class to learn something new doesn’t matter. What does matter is striving to find joy in things other than only those related to working.
Stress is a Constant Presence
Non-stop pressure, endless deadlines to meet, real or arbitrary hurdles to overcome – all are the hallmarks of stress. Workaholics are always creating their own stress, and can’t seem to exist without it. When stress continues unabated, however, the human body begins to break down. Stress takes an incredible toll on our physical condition, mental abilities, and emotional health. In short, non-stop stress can reach a point where it can kill us. Is work really worth all that built-up stress?
A workaholic doesn’t recognize stress for what it is. Stress may creep up on him or her and be attributed to a bug going around, or an inability to sleep due to a crashing deadline, or something else altogether. The workaholic will never admit to having too much stress. He or she will defend the work obsession as necessary and completely within bounds. There’s not a problem and whatever the work schedule is, it is perfectly under control.
The truth is, however, that it is anything but that. The more you work the more stress you build up. And the more stress you build up, the worse it is for your overall health and well-being.
How does someone who finds work is becoming too much find relief from stress? There are many ways to overcome the effects of stress, and to prevent it from building up. These include meditation, yoga, Pilates, deep breathing exercises, vigorous physical exercise and counseling.
Inability to Play
Do you even know what it feels like to play? Do you ever allow yourself the luxury of doing something just for you – that is wholly independent of anything work-related? If you’re a workaholic, you rarely, if ever, have any free time, and you can’t even conceive of doing anything other than work.
Furthermore, when you do have an idle hour or so away from work, you find that you don’t even know what to do. In short, you suffer from an inability to play. Out of practice for who knows how long, you simply find yourself lost. Your mind drifts right back to work. That’s your refuge. That’s where you feel at home. You know what to do, and there’s always more to do.
When you can’t play, can’t relax, can’t be yourself without it having anything to do with work, you’re on the road to being a workaholic – if you’re not already there.
What’s the solution? You’ll have to force yourself to do things that don’t have anything even remotely to do with work. Go to a play, see a comedy act, and enjoy a family outing at the circus or amusement park or a nearby lake. Be with others, and really be with them. Don’t bring your Smartphone or Blackberry. Leave the laptop at home. If you really want to rediscover the ability to play, it has to be all about play. Work can’t have any part in it.
Family Life Suffers
As with any addiction, family life suffers when one member of the family is a workaholic. No one in the family is spared from the effects of workaholism. When a family member – usually a parent – is a workaholic, the spouse or partner and children gradually see less and less of that person. Relationships become strained at best, and disintegrate at worst as the addiction becomes progressively worse.
Sure, working as hard and as long as you do may bring more financial stability to the family, but at what cost? And if you’re working because you feel more at ease and whole while working rather than being with your family, you’re using work as an excuse to feed your addiction. This is only harming you and your family.
When you’re not there – even if you’re there physically at the table or sitting in the living room – to take care of your responsibilities with the family, other negative consequences are likely to ensue. Children may start to do poorly in school, get in trouble with drugs and/or alcohol, get in fights. Your spouse may feel emotionally adrift and seek solace elsewhere. This could be anything from going to work, having an affair, getting involved outside the home in other activities, or engaging in substance abuse — and this is only a partial list.
The point is that when you abdicate your family responsibilities in favor of your obsessive compulsion to work, work, and more work, there are bound to be some serious negative consequences at home with the family.
As an old saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.” That’s where your heart should be as well, not back at work with your endless hours spent chasing an elusive and self-induced goal.
Workaholics are Driven
Many gurus talking about success mention drive as an admirable trait. In the case of a workaholic, however, drive takes on a whole new meaning. Instead of drive, the workaholic is driven. This is another symptom of being a workaholic, the compulsion to work, the drive to work. It goes far beyond being motivated to succeed. Motivation is a positive thing. Being driven is totally the opposite.
When you are driven to work, you are obsessed with work. It consumes you to the point where your entire sense of self-worth and self-esteem are wrapped up in your job, how many hours you put in, how well others perceive you, how far and how fast you can get ahead of all the others.
It’s not easy overcoming workaholism. It’s certainly not easy to step back from being driven. How do you go about it? There is help available.
Counseling Can Help Treat Workaholics
Counseling is one of the best approaches to help treat workaholics or those who have experienced a problem with workaholism. This counseling can be on an outpatient or inpatient basis. Some residential addiction treatment facilities specialize in treating workaholics and offer a well-rounded program of therapeutic modalities tailored to the individual’s needs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, or other forms of counseling or psychotherapy may prove the most beneficial in helping the workaholic to heal. Such counseling seeks to get to the underlying reasons why the person feels compelled to overwork, as well as to identify ways the individual can change his behavior to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Many times, individuals who are workaholics need help in terms of communication issues, learning how to overcome a drive for perfectionism or need to control, reconnect with their feelings, and rebuild their self-esteem.
There are also 12-step self-help groups such as Workaholics Anonymous that serve as a long-term support network as the individual gets on solid footing in recovery from workaholism.
Bottom line: If you’re a workaholic, you’ve identified with several of the signs of workaholism listed above. You can get help to overcome workaholism and learn to live a happy and more well-balanced life. There’s no need to continue on the current path of endless work. If you want to live a better life, you can have it. Recognizing the problem and seeking help to overcome it is the first step.