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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

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(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

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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Business News

Australia vs Facebook: A conflict of news distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following a contentious battle for news aggregation, Australia works to find agreement with Facebook.

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News open on laptop, which Australia argues Facebook is taking away from.

Australia has been locked in a legal war against technology giants Google and Facebook with regard to how news content can be consumed by either entity’s platforms.

At its core, the law states that news content being posted on social media is – in effect – stealing away the ability for news outlets to monetize their delivery and aggregate systems. A news organization may see their content shared on Facebook, which means users no longer have to visit their site to access that information. This harms the ability for news production companies – especially smaller ones – from being able to maintain revenue and profit, while also giving power to corporations such as Facebook by allowing them to capitalize on their substantial infrastructure.

This is a complex subject that can be viewed from a number of angles, but it essentially asks the question of who should be in control of information on a potentially global scale, and how the ability to share such data should be handled when it passes through a variety of mediums and avenues. Put shortly: Australia thinks royalties should be paid to those who supply the news.

Australia has maintained that under the proposed laws, corporations must reach content distribution deals in order to allow news to be spread through – as one example – posts on Facebook. In retaliation, Facebook completely removed the ability for users to post news articles and stories. This in turn led to a proliferation of false and misleading information to fill the void, magnifying the considerable confusion that Australian citizens were confronted with once the change had been made.

“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”

Facebook’s stance is that it provides value to the publishers because shared news content will drive users to their sites, thereby allowing them to provide advertising and thus leading to revenue.

Australia has been working on this bill since last year, and has said that it is meant to equalize the potential imbalance of content and who can display and benefit from it. This is meant to try and create conditions between publishers and the large technology platforms so that there is a clearer understanding of how payment should be done in exchange for news and information.

Google was initially defiant (threatening to go as far as to shut off their service entirely), but began to make deals recently in order to restore its own access. Facebook has been the strongest holdout, and has shown that it can leverage its considerable audience and reach to force a more amenable deal. Australia has since provided some amendments to give Facebook time to seek similar deals obtained by Google.

One large portion of the law is that Australia is reserving the right to allow final arbitration, which it says would allow a mediator to set prices if no deal could be reached. This might be considered the strongest piece of the law, as it means that Facebook cannot freely exercise its considerable weight with impunity. Facebook’s position is that this allows government interference between private companies.

In the last week – with the new agreements on the table – it’s difficult to say who blinked first. There is also the question of how this might have a ripple effect through the tech industry and between governments who might try to follow suit.

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