Every leader appreciates diligent team members who are engaged, reliable performers. However, there’s a fine line between people who take their work commitments seriously and those suffering from workaholism.
Engaged people are often highly productive, while workaholics tend to find themselves on a downward spiral. But how can you tell when someone is addicted to work? And what can you do about it?
This article looks at how to detect workaholism and how to break free from its toxic grip.
Although being a workaholic may not sound like a cause for alarm, it is a legitimate mental health condition with real and dangerous consequences. And it’s probably more common than you may think. In fact, research estimates that nearly half of U.S. employees consider themselves workaholics, and 10% are truly addicted to work.
People dealing with workaholism constantly struggle with the uncontrollable urge to work excessively for prolonged periods. In other words, these people feel compelled to work all the time and they find it very difficult to detach from work situations.
As this problem progresses, it becomes all-consuming, eventually putting individual psychological and physical wellbeing at risk.
On the other hand, it’s important to understand that working long hours doesn’t necessarily mean you or anyone else is a workaholic. Sometimes, all of us need to work longer hours to meet a tight deadline, fix an urgent problem, or support a customer in need. The trick is to avoid making this kind of situation a habit.
Is it Work — or Workaholism?
The following behaviors do not necessarily mean an individual is a workaholic:
1. Going Hard at Work
Working diligently can go a long way toward helping you achieve your professional goals and objectives. In fact, motivation, drive, and self-initiative are desirable traits among people who want to excel in the business world.
If you show up every day and strive to do your best, you’re not necessarily a workaholic. But problems start if you don’t know when to take a break or call it a day.
2. Strong Work Ethic
Your work ethic is a set of personal values that guide your professional behavior. This can determine how successful you’ll be in your career. Unfortunately, many of us mistake a strong work ethic for workaholism. They’re not the same.
For instance, punctuality and being proactive at work aren’t signs of workaholism. They’re simply principles that drive individual productivity. But if a commitment to work means neglecting other aspects of life, it’s time for a reality check.
3. Working Overtime
If you work overtime occasionally, you aren’t a workaholic. Putting in extra hours may be necessary to complete a particular project or to push through a peak work period. But it can be a slippery slope if you and your team are regularly working late or on weekends.
Using the right technology tools is one way to help reduce your work hours — even if it’s only the time you spend managing email messages. For example, you can create follow-up email templates and let automated tools handle the rest of the process.
Likewise, other digital productivity tools can help ease the burden of routine tasks like project management, note-taking, scheduling, and team communication.
4. Passion for Your Business
If you’re on a leadership path or you own your own business, you’re likely to be more invested in your work. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a workaholic. It may only mean you love what you do and you’re motivated to make an impact.
However, this kind of enthusiasm can open the door to unhealthy behavior. So it’s wise to step back periodically and assess your relationship with work.
How to Detect Workaholism
When exactly should you be concerned that hard work has taken a negative turn? Here are some common signs of workaholism:
- Refusing to take breaks, even lunch breaks
- Being the first to arrive at work and the last to leave, every day
- Taking work home each day
- Never going on vacations
- Choosing not to lose sleep in order to meet work commitments
- A lack of hobbies, activities or relationships outside of a work context
- Unwillingness to step away from a workspace when working from home
- Working when sick
- Experiencing stress symptoms when away from work
Overcoming Workaholism: 5 Tips
A hardcore obsession with work not only harms your health and your relationships. It also erodes your effectiveness on the job. That’s why it’s important to take action when warning signs appear in your behavior or in others. These tips can help:
1. Acknowledge the Problem
Most people who work compulsively find all kinds of excuses to justify their behavior. Some even expect praise for their sacrifice. But left unchecked, it will only get worse. People who suffer from workaholism need to recognize that it’s a problem and that they need help. This is where managers can assist with careful intervention.
2. Identify the Cause
Unless you understand why workaholism surfaces, it will be difficult to manage. But pinpointing the underlying problem can be easier said than done. Some researchers say workaholism is a response to stress, anxiety, or depression. Others say workaholics are driven by perfectionism or an overwhelming desire to feel competent.
Whatever the cause, the desire to work hard sometimes morphs into a counter-productive prison. And those affected often don’t recognize what’s happening until it’s too late.
3. Develop an Action Plan
Once you determine what’s behind this work compulsion, it’s important to establish guidelines that support healthier habits. Make sure this roadmap is practical and doesn’t add even more pressure. For example, consider these ideas:
- Agree to appropriate daily work “windows.”
- Establish clear break times for every work day.
- Create a list of work priorities and update it periodically.
- Allocate sufficient resources to support key projects and goals. This should include team members, budget and tools.
- Employ task management software to improve scheduling, time tracking and efficiency.
- Outsource whenever you can. For instance, a virtual assistant can free-up time for more valuable activities.
4. Practice Setting Reasonable Limits
A common trait among workaholics is the inability to say “no” to more work, even when it’s inconvenient, irrelevant, or unimportant. But recovery depends on boundaries. With healthy work hours in place, it’s essential to practice the art of saying “no.”
Remember that redirection can be an effective option. For example, turn off work-related distractions like email notifications while away from work. Also, during these times you can transfer calls to another staff member or delegate meeting attendance to a colleague.
5. Seek Professional Guidance
Even with these ideas in place, sticking to the process may be difficult. So don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional if you or a team member are struggling to break free from a work obsession.
Many people call workaholism the addiction of this century, and they are not exactly wrong. Unfortunately, remote work and flexible hours have compounded the problem. Thankfully, people are now becoming more aware of the reality of workaholism and the danger it poses. Hopefully, this article will help you recognize if you or someone in your circle is facing this problem and help you move toward recovery.