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.