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Workaholism: the good, the bad, the warning signs

There are warning signs of workaholism, but there is a grey area wherein workaholism can be good, but it can also be horribly bad. This is about finding the middle ground.

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Workaholics - positive or negative?

Workaholics - positive or negative?

Defining workaholism

The term “workaholic” gets thrown around all the time. If you work late, someone calls you a workaholic. If you decide to get a little ahead in the evening while at home, someone accuses you of being a workaholic. Even if you say no to a lunch invite because you want to finish a project, you get labeled. And in most cases, being labeled a workaholic is seen as an insult. However, its negative connotation isn’t necessarily accurate, at least it shouldn’t always be.

What a “workaholic” IS NOT

The first step to defining it is to identify what its not. Just because you’re motivated, persistent, dedicated, productive, or have a strong work ethic doesn’t mean you’re a workaholic. And when coworkers, friends, or even family members make snide comments, comments that are designed to guilt you into stopping your work so they can have your immediate attention, it’s rarely helpful and can actually put a strain on both professional and personal relationships. It can even cause you to have feelings of guilt any time you have to work late on a project or if you want to check your work email over the weekend. And let’s be honest; that’s not a healthy, productive professional mindset to foster if you’re looking to advance in your career or chosen industry.

What a “workaholic” IS

Now that we’ve established that working hard at your job and being good at it doesn’t make you a workaholic, it’s time to figure out what it really means. The basic dictionary definition states that a workaholic is “a person who works compulsively at the expense of other pursuits.”

George Watson, however, may sum it up best when he said, “In the past, people overworked, but commonly because they were forced by poverty or impelled by a sense of duty. Now work can be a neurotic addiction. ‘Workaholic’ is a 20th-century word, one suspects, because it is a 20th-century type.” These two definitions seem to agree that a workaholic can be compulsive, neurotic, and have an addictive personality. And as with everything else in life, any extreme can be dangerous, even how much you work.

Distinguishing hard work from workaholism

It’s important to make the distinction between a hard, dedicated worker and a workaholic. A workaholic never “clocks out.” They are emotionally, mentally, and physically invested twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even if they aren’t at an office, workaholics minds and thoughts revolve around work issues and responsibilities. In the mind of a workaholic, nothing will be as satisfying as working–not relationships, hobbies, or even personal relaxation time. Work is the number one priority without exception. Sometimes the motivation is having and maintaining control, even if the workaholic isn’t aware of that obsessive internal need.

A study published by three Wayne State University students explored the personality of workaholics. This study found that narcissism is closely related to workaholism, as is perfectionism and compulsion (Clark, Lelchook, and Taylor, 2010). Dr. Timothy Pychyl explored this study on the Psychology Today blog. He said, “These ‘workaholics’ are people who work to the exclusion of other life activities, are consumed with thoughts and feelings about work and often do more than is expected at work. Certainly, their lives are not models of ‘balance.’” Again, extremes in any situation have the potential to become a habitual, harmful behavior.

When workaholism is good

Being a workaholic isn’t necessarily always bad. You can use your workaholic tendencies to pull all-nighters to finish big projects on time or even before the deadline. Being known as a workaholic can actually increase your clientele and improve your professional reputation. When clients and customers know you work hard and you’re willing to work around-the-clock for them, they know you’re worth your fees.

When your business is still new and your brand development is still in its infancy, being a workaholic may be necessary and will usually be incredibly beneficial because you’ll be able to build your clientele quickly, efficiently, and consistently. And if you see money problems in your future, money problems that would halt the growth of your company, getting many clients upfront can provide you with the necessary means for professional expansion.

Having your mind always pondering work-related solutions or better ways to streamline your daily responsibilities and tasks can help you get right to work once you get to the office in the morning. You won’t have to spend valuable time within regular and accepted business hours contemplating and fixing an issue, planning your work day, and prioritizing your daily tasks. A truly dedicated workaholic can ultimately become more productive once their strong, uninterrupted focus. The truth is, you, as a workaholic, have the potential to get more done during the workday than many other business professionals, but it also can come with a steep price to pay and it can’t last forever.

When it poses a problem

While, as a workaholic, your professional life will soar, you may find your personal life in shambles. When you choose work over forming and maintaining close, important relationships—including your significant other, children, friends, and family members—these relationships can slowly crumble. Your loved ones may begin to feel bitter toward you and your profession because you show what’s most important with each dinner invitation you turn down or how many dance recitals or soccer games you miss because you’re working. Your loved ones will notice your priorities. And if they’re not one of them, those relationships will deteriorate. Even though you’re working to provide them with more life opportunities, your absence can still be hurtful.

Being a workaholic means that you leave no time for yourself to relax, rejuvenate, and recuperate. When this happens, you’ll run yourself ragged and you will eventually reach burnout. And when that happens, your productivity will crash along with it. Everyone needs some time away from the office and away from professional duties, even if it’s just for a day or two. Your health is important. Working excessively will create extreme stress in your life and that can showcase itself in many ways, including sickness, anxiety, and mental and emotional breakdowns.

Warning signs of workaholism

  • If you’re unsure if you have unhealthy work habits, take a look at the following list and see if you can relate to any of them.
  • Refusal or resistance to delegating your responsibilities; you’d rather do everything yourself without help from anyone else.
  • Inability to separate work from personal life. An example: trying a new hobby, but having an insatiable urge to start a new business while involving your new hobby.
  • Feelings of self-worth directly related to professional accomplishments.
  • The constant need to do work-related tasks and the feeling of guilt if you miss work opportunities away from the office.
  • Always looking for new ways to gain control or power.

How to find the middle ground

If you’re a workaholic, it’s important to find the middle ground. Finding the middle ground can give you the sense of professional accomplishment you desire and the personal non-work life that brings happiness and joy. First, take some time to honestly evaluate yourself and your work habits. Write out your personal and professional goals and compare them side by side. This visualization can help you remember to search for balance, as a balanced life is a happy life.

Also, set aside a few hours each day, preferably when you’re at home with your family or out with friends that you won’t do anything work-related. While you may not be able to stop your mind from working right away, changing your physical surroundings and having a goal in mind is a great place to begin finding that balance. When you go home in the evening, leave work at work. Dedicate that time to your family, yourself, and your hobbies. It will take a little time to train yourself, but you can learn how to separate those two important sides of your life.

The next thing you can do is start delegating the smaller of your responsibilities to a trusted employee. Start small and then you can give more responsibilities to others. This will help you have more time to spend with your loved ones and time for you to rest and relax every once in a while. It can also help lessen your stress levels. If you feel a dip in your self-esteem and self-worth as you try to make this major adjustment, consider visiting with a counselor. The counselor will be able to give you a new insight into your situation. With a new perspective, it can become easier to move forward and find the right equilibrium for your life.

Reference: Clark, M.A., Lelchook, A.M., & Taylor, M.L. (2010). Beyond the Big Five: How narcissism, perfectionism, and dispositional affect relate to workaholism. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 786-791.

The American Genius Staff Writer: Charlene Jimenez earned her Master's Degree in Arts and Culture with a Creative Writing concentration from the University of Denver after earning her Bachelor's Degree in English from Brigham Young University in Idaho. Jimenez's column is dedicated to business and technology tips, trends and best practices for entrepreneurs and small business professionals.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. AlexDAllison

    June 11, 2012 at 8:42 am

    @sociallyelevate 🙂 Have a good week. I know you know a bit about being a workaholic…

    • sociallyelevate

      June 11, 2012 at 8:45 am

      @AlexDAllison I think that is the pot calling the kettle black from what I have heard!;-) Have an awesome day!

      • AlexDAllison

        June 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm

        @sociallyelevate shhhh.. 🙂 Thanks. Back at ya!

  2. Pingback: Does Being A Write-A-Holic Improve Or Hinder Productivity? | Editorial Stand Blog

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Business News

Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

This story was first published in November 2020.

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Business News

How to apply to be on a Board of Directors

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Age discrimination lawsuits are coming due to the pandemic – don’t add to the mess

(BUSINESS NEWS) Age discrimination is spreading despite intentions to help, and employers need to know how to proceed in this unprecedented era.

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Ageism void

Before the pandemic, age discrimination was prevalent in workplaces. The EEOC reports that in 2018, about 6 out of 10 workers aged 45 years and older say they experience discrimination on the job.

A 2015 survey found that 75% of older workers found age an obstacle in job hunting. COVID-19 made the situation much worse.

Not only do older workers deal with discrimination, but they are at a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, older workers were hit the hardest by job loss during the pandemic, which is unusual during a recession. As offices reopen, employers need to be careful to avoid age discrimination in rehiring.

Lawyers expect age discrimination lawsuits to increase.

Last September, Harris Meyer published an article in the ABA Journal that predicted a “flood of age discrimination lawsuits” from the pandemic. Employers who have good intentions by keeping older employees out of the workplace to protect their health are still guilty of age discrimination.

What can employers do to avoid age discrimination?

It may be fine line between making sure you don’t discriminate based on age while offering ADA accommodations. The first thing employers should do is to know what laws apply based on their location. Some states exempt employees over 65 from returning to the workplace out of safety fears, meaning that those employees can still get unemployment. Other states are cutting benefits if employees don’t return to work, regardless of age.

There are some jurisdictions that have passed legislation about which workers have the right to be recalled. Next, review your own policies and agreements with laid off and terminated employees. You may want to consult legal counsel to make sure you’re covering your bases.

As you rehire, whether you’re bringing back former employees or hiring new team members, do not make hiring decisions based on age. Keep good documentation about your decisions to terminate certain employees. If you are citing poor performance, make sure to have a record of that. Don’t terminate older employees who have bigger salaries just because of lower sales. Monitor your words (and that of your hiring team) to avoid bias in hiring and firing.

Provide accommodations or not?

According to the SHRM, “Workers age 40 and older are protected from bias by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act; however, that law doesn’t require employers to make accommodations for safety concerns.”

Still, employers can provide flexibility for workers, but it largely depends on the type of job. Reaching an accommodation for an office worker will be much easier than accommodating a sanitation worker.

Employers should assume that workers aged 40 and older can return to work. When the need for help is raised by the employee, enter negotiations for accommodations. Don’t initiate the conversation, and absolutely avoid any references to age.

Know that the environment may change as the pandemic continues to affect workers.

Be thoughtful about your hiring practices moving forward to avoid costly litigation from age discrimination.

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