How do you extricate yourself from an unhealthy work situation? Is it more difficult to do when you relish a challenge? Can you tell the difference between being a workaholic and a hard worker? If you are an employer, are you treating your best people with respect, or are you rewarding hard work with more work?
Wearing a Workaholic “Badge Of Honor”
Understanding work habits today has become increasingly complex due to economic volatility. Many people are working harder out of financial necessity. However, obligation should not be confused with compulsion or addiction. Research indicates that Canadians and Americans are working longer hours and taking less vacation time than we did 20 years ago. Statistics Canada’s General Social Survey on time use found that just over one third of Canadians consider themselves workaholics. In the United States, studies reveal approximately 10% of people fall into this category.
Being a “dedicated slave” has affected me on a personal level. During my career as a manager and employee, my work dependency became as harmful as an alcoholic or drug dependency, because work took priority over everything else. In addition, I became aware of the fact that I was avoiding the truth – work was filling a void and I didn’t know how else to fill it. It is difficult to know when you are crossing the line; there are times when work demands your attention and you may need to dedicate a significant amount of time to a project.
The most important thing is that you recognize whether this is an ongoing pattern where you are neglecting yourself and your family, or whether it a period of time in your life where the short-term sacrifice has an end date. Only you can answer the question and even so, you may still not be ready to accept the answer.
I remember hearing an alcoholic describe his reaction to being pulled over by the police one night. As he was told to produce his license, his first thought was “Boy, I just have to stop driving!” I could identify with his story because I was always able to find a way to justify my behavior at work. I desired approval from my manager more than I desired spending time with friends and family. I recognized in time that something was wrong with this picture.
As a society, we respect hard work and see sacrifice as a hallmark of success. At the opposite end of the spectrum is laziness. Many people feel the pressure to resist being viewed as if they are at the lower end of the continuum for fear of being judged. Or, perhaps there is a sense of having something to prove. However, when work takes over your life, medical evidence strongly suggests that you are at far greater risk of coronary and stress-related illness.
If you do identify with the behavior of a workaholic, a “lightbulb moment” can transform the way you approach your career or your business. You may need to experience several such moments before the penny drops. The best approach is to establish boundaries that you are comfortable with.
For example, if you know that it would be better to leave work at 7:00 p.m. instead of 8:00 p.m., it may mean breaking the cycle slowly by scheduling an activity for yourself that requires you to leave. Otherwise, leaving “early” may seem overwhelming. Taking incremental steps to improve work habits can prove more effective than expecting drastic change in a hurry. Professional guidance or support groups such as workaholics anonymous are another option.
Rewarding Hard Work with More Work
Many leaders inadvertently encourage hard workers to work even more demanding schedules by rewarding their efforts with more work. This badge of honor is worn proudly, although there may be several unintended consequences, such as driving a workaholic to do more damage to themselves; leaving them unable to break the vicious cycle.
Celebrating high levels of achievement is one thing, but overloading an employee with too many tasks is another. By consistently recognizing the individuals who “contribute more,” an employer may inadvertently create a tension in the workplace where other employees now perceive themselves as “not being good enough.” This is an unhealthy practice for any organization.
Although many business sectors condone workaholism, it is important for you to step back and establish balance in your life. The inevitable consequence of overwork is burnout. Workplaces need to recognize that encouraging employees to become workaholics (unintentionally or otherwise) can ultimately put productivity and morale at risk. You need to acknowledge that if you are working too much and not taking care of yourself enough, you risk not only the future of your career, but the future of your own wellbeing.
This blog post is an extract from “Dedicated Slaves” chapter in Michelle Ray’s Book: Lead Yourself First! Indispensable Lessons In Business And In Life