Drug abuse and addiction / Category / Emile Du Toit / May 5th 2014
A workaholic is someone who is obsessively addicted to work and devotes an excessive amount of time to work at the expense of other pursuits.
In Japan, it’s called karoshi – ‘death by overwork’ – and it’s estimated to cause 1 000 deaths per year, nearly 5% of that country’s stroke and heart attack deaths in employees under age 60. In the Netherlands, it’s resulted in a new condition known as ‘leisure illness’, estimated to affect 3% of its entire population, according to one study. Workers actually get physically sick on weekends and vacations as they stop working and try in vain to relax.
Workaholism, or compulsive working, is an addiction that based on a powerlessness to reduce working hours to reasonable levels.
A kind of adrenaline ‘high’ is experienced during working (even though some of this is experienced as high stress), and this sets up a pattern of behavioural reinforcement just like any other behavioural or chemical addiction. Discomforts in life and work, or feelings of emptiness, cause the sufferer to seek relief from those discomforts. The person uses work accomplishment as a way of feeling good about themselves. However, as the workaholic attends increasingly to getting things done at work, their personal life begins to suffer from lack of attention.
As their personal life suffers, it causes more discomfort for the workaholic, so the workaholic works even harder at getting more things done at work, causing their personal lives to suffer even more – and the vicious cycle, or compulsive work syndrome, goes on and on.
Unlike drug addiction, society often reinforces and rewards work addiction. Workaholism is fast becoming a socially acceptable modern-day addiction.
Balancing of personal and professional life is one of the major dilemmas being faced by today’s professionals. The intense levels of competition in the corporate sector are taking a heavy toll on family life.
A recent study by Oxford Health Plans showed the following:
One of the most difficult problems in recovering from workaholism is that the workaholic’s hard work is often viewed by their superiors (supervisors and upper management) as superior performance, so they are rewarded for their hard work. Fortunately, many people in organisations are learning to recognise the signs of workaholism and to realise that ultimately, the addiction hurts the person’s performance.
As a workaholic, a person is encouraged by his task or project-based accomplishments and moves quickly to the next task. This leads to a state of burnout. There is no breathing space in between. Workaholism impels us to labour for longer hours, leaving us with no quality time to be physically and emotionally available to our loved ones. What happens in the process is that intimacy soon dies, and it takes us away from our families.
Various studies have suggested that workaholism, like alcoholism and other addictions, takes a severe toll on marriages. Women married to workaholics tend to feel estranged from their husbands and have less warm feeling towards them. Eventually it leads to apathy and indifference between husband and wife. Children can also feel lonely and neglected. As the personal life begins to suffer more, it becomes the major bone of contention and causes more discomfort; so the workaholic works even harder, causing their personal life to suffer even more.
Workaholics tend overall to be less effective than other workers because it’s difficult for them to be team players, they have trouble delegating or entrusting co-workers, or they take on so much that they aren’t as organised as others.
Research indicates four distinct workaholic ‘working styles’:
The difference between drug dependence and drug abuse is that drug abuse tends to be situational, and when the situation passes the person is able to resume control. A man’s wife leaves him and he hits the bottle for a few months while dealing with his grief and trying to rekindle a misspent youth. Then he gets a warning at work, or has a car accident, or meets a new woman or begins playing over-40s soccer with the lads, and his drinking reduces to controlled proportions. The drug-dependent individual is unable to reduce his using, or he can reduce temporarily but cannot maintain this control.
Workaholism is to temporarily overworking as what drug dependence is to drug abuse. Many of us go through phases where we find that we are working in an out-of-control manner, and that our lives are suffering as a result. We may be emotionally distant from our partners, becoming couch potatoes, and developing stress-related conditions. Often it takes a bit of a wake-up call for us to begin to look for balance again, and sometimes we require some level of professional help to confront particular problems in out lives and get us back on track. Others of us find that although we attempt to ‘slow down’, we just cannot maintain this, and no matter what we try that the damages in areas of our lives keep piling up.
Clearly then workaholism is about more than just working long hours. If you are working long hours then you might want to read through and consider these potential signs of workaholism. You might be becoming a workaholic if you tick one or more of these boxes:
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