Six signs you’re a workaholic – and how to deal with it

Team of young coworkers working together at night office.Young woman using mobile laptop at the table, workaholic

Article provided by Anne Taylor, an Executive Coach & Author

Working from home, pervasive of late, has caused many people to struggle with blurred boundaries between work and home. 

Many people work long hours especially business leaders whose hearts and souls are invested in their businesses.

Workaholism is different than working hard or working long hours.  It is an addiction, a mental health issue like alcoholism and drug addiction.  Psychologist Wayne E. Oates created the term “workaholic” in 1968 as someone with “an uncontrollable need to work incessantly.”  Like an alcoholic, it’s the compulsion, you must, not because the excess is good or enjoyable.  It isn’t the quantity of work, it’s about how you engage with your work and predominately your inability to disengage from it.

Symptoms of Being a Workaholic

Workaholism is typically long-term, it’s not related to a short-term burst as you strive for a promotion or deal with the initial crisis of a pandemic.  The key indicator is the amount of head space, thought, energy and in some cases time you dedicate to work.

Common signs are:

  • Work late and/or take work home often and unnecessarily
  • Checking messages at home, maybe even in the middle of the night
  • Working or continually checking messages on holidays
  • Time and relationships with others are compromised
  • Lack of sleep or poor sleep
  • You’re defined by your work

Health Risk of Workaholism

Research by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard of 3,500 employees identified the differences between the behaviours of those who worked long hours and the mindset of workaholics and the effect on health.  They also conducted medical checks on 763 of these employees to ascertain the health impact.

Among people who worked long hours this research found they suffered no adverse physical effects (of note, separate research shows continuous, stressful hours of prolonged work is harmful to cognitive ability especially in those over 40 years of age).  Whereas, those who were workaholics, whether they worked long hours or not, had more health complaints and increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Five Actions to Deal with Workaholism

Admit you might have an issue.  That’s the first step of any recovery programme.  If those closest to you, especially if it’s multiple people, have commented on your work preoccupation consider that you might be workaholic.  You can’t address what you don’t acknowledge.

Contemplate the potential source of the issue.  What might be the underlying reason(s)?  One might be because you don’t feel good enough so you’re chasing ‘approval’ by achieving the next goal, doing the next task or being recognized for your ‘passion and commitment.’  Another might be perfectionism.  Trying to live up to a self-imposed standard to prove you are competent or live up to an unrealistic expectation from a boss or society.  Another could be to avoid other aspects of your life.

Visualize a well-adjusted, profitable life.  The first step to any goal is knowing where you’re going.  As an entrepreneur you have an idea and strive to bring that to life.  You create.  Do this with your own life.  Imagine what a balanced, successful life looks like for you.  What do you want people to say about you 50 years from now?  What values, relationships and impact do you want to be known for?  Once you have the vision, start working towards it.

Define your limits.  Success at work is impossible if you are tired and risk sickness and ill health.  Put boundaries in place in terms of amount of time working and mental rejuvenation.  Commit and schedule other activities that you can get lost in.  What are your dormant passions?  Learn mindfulness to be less obsessive about work thoughts and worries.  Put reminders in your diary throughout the day to breath down to your belly, to walk around, to leave at a certain time.

Seek assistance at work, home, friends and specialists if needed.  Professional help might be needed if you feel you are a workaholic, and/or you identified an underlying cause of the problem that isn’t healthy.  Also, ask for support from friends, family and colleagues to disengage from work and be fully present with them and in other activities.

Know a Potential Workaholic?

If you know someone who is potentially a workaholic, or maybe you manage one, here are some suggestions:

  • Help the person find their intrinsic motivation for working that’s healthy. What makes the work meaningful?  What enjoyment do they derive from work?  What’s their purpose?  Leaders need to know why they get out of bed, and it usually isn’t to hit a target or make money.
  • Point them to time management tools for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Foster a culture of appropriate boundaries, work/life balance and engagement as this will help everyone be productive, energized and creative.
  • Communicate clearly about what’s acceptable and expected for after-hours communication and work.
  • Show them this article.

To re-iterate, if you feel you might be heading to workaholism consult with a professional.

What benefit would you experience by addressing workaholic tendencies?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore any tendencies you have for working excessive hours and/or workaholism tendencies.

Anne Taylor About the author

Anne Taylor is an Executive Coach & Author, helping successful, results-driven leaders improve their people skills to be more effective and satisfied. Her website www.directions-coaching.com offers a range of materials, a sign-up for a complimentary session and a download of the first chapter of her book, “Soft Skills Hard Results.”


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