A work addiction might begin innocently enough: perhaps you stay late at work a few nights a week to finish up a project with a looming deadline. Working under pressure and getting things accomplished gives you an elated, euphoric feeling, and when the next important project rolls around, you jump at the chance to take the lead. Your boss loves you for it! Your hard work and effort is seen as nothing but positive. You might even get a raise or a bonus as a result. You plan to milk this for all it’s worth. After all, who doesn’t want to retire early on a nice nest egg? That seems to be your destiny. Soon, your coworkers stop commenting on the fact that you’re always the first at the office and the last to leave. It’s the new normal. You’re on a first-name basis with the night custodial staff, in fact. Your spouse is a little irritated that you two never get a chance to hang out together anymore because you’re always working. You promise to have a date night soon, but it never comes to pass. You try to explain that you’re working hard now so that you can relax when you’re retired, but the story doesn’t seem to fly. The truth is, lately you haven’t had any projects to work on. Your boss has been quietly reeling you in out of concern for your health. But you can’t stop working and chasing that wonderful feeling of productivity and success. In fact, the idea of not being productive begins to scare you. If you have a quiet moment, you start to think about how you’ve neglected your relationships and hobbies. These aren’t pleasant thoughts, so you push them to the side and find something else to keep you busy … anything that will keep you from noticing that your world is falling down around you.
If the above paragraphs hit a little too close to home, you may be struggling with a work addiction. The main characteristics of work addiction include:
- Working even when you don’t have a reason to (working for the sake of being productive)
- Losing interest in relationships, hobbies or other aspects of life due to an obsession with work and productivity
- Failing to sleep or eat on a regular basis due to preoccupation with work
- Feeling guilty, anxious or jittery if not working
- Working despite extreme illness
- Having an inability to delegate tasks to others, because they “can’t do as good a job”
Is Your Loved One a Workaholic?
Perhaps you recognized a loved one in the previous descriptions. What can you do to help them? Unfortunately, your concern for their health may not be taken seriously right away. To a workaholic, life is actually pretty good! They are almost always able to find something to do to keep themselves busy, and they feel great when they are being productive. When you voice your concerns, you may find that they are brushed aside. In our society, we value people who can dedicate themselves to their work, who can do a great job, who can rise to the top of the corporate ladder and who can make a lot of money to boot. Many people who accomplish these things are not facing an actual work addiction. So for the person who really is putting their physical and mental health at risk, it can be hard to accept that their “work ethic” is actually a problem. In reality, overworking can end up backfiring in a big way. When we don’t take care of ourselves and find a good work-life balance, we can become stressed and inefficient. To a workaholic, the act of being productive or busy is more important than anything else. What they may not realize is that they aren’t being efficient, doing their best work or even accomplishing much of anything. Everyone needs to take breaks and recharge in order to do their best. This creates a catch-22 scenario for work addicts. Explaining this to your loved one will probably result in denial, unless they have already had suspicions about their obsession with overworking. As with any addiction, you can’t force someone to get help. Staging an intervention is possible, but is best done with professional support.
The First Step Is the Hardest, But You Can Do It
If a compulsion to work has taken over your life (or the life of a loved one) and you can’t stop to enjoy anything but work, all is not lost. You can take your life back! As with any problem in life, recognizing it is the most important step. Be honest with yourself about your behaviors and thoughts. And don’t try to fix it all yourself. You need the support of others in your life to make this happen. Hatch a plan with a loved one and/or a behavioral health professional, and make recovery from work addiction your new priority. By Cathy Habas