“Workaholism is a soul-destroying addiction that changes people’s personalities and the values they live by. It distorts the reality of each family member, threatens family security and often leads to family break-up. Tragically, workaholics eventually suffer the loss of personal and professional integrity.” (Psychology Today)
People who struggle with obsessing over work are often described as workaholics. Rather than being able to enjoy a variety of different aspects of their lives, they maintain a complete focus on their professional lives.
“In reality, workaholism is considered a psychological disorder. It’s typical symptoms include an addiction to work, dependence on work, as well as guilt, anxiety, and shame.” (ref.)
While being interested in your career or job can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience, it shouldn’t define your entire life and existence. If you struggle with separating yourself from your working life in order to enjoy everything else your life has to offer, you may be a workaholic.
What It Means To Be Labeled A “Workaholic”
It is estimated that about 10% of the U.S. population may be workaholics.
A workaholic is a person who cannot stop working. Their professional life is nearly their entire life – they struggle to separate their careers or jobs apart from who they really, truly are. Rather than having distinct separations between their work life and personal life, the workaholic blurs the two because they cannot create any kind of distinction between who they are personally and professionally.
According to Wikipedia, “A workaholic is a person who works compulsively. A workaholic experiences an inability to limit the amount of time they spend on work despite negative consequences such as damage to their relationships or health.”
According to Psychology Today, a workaholic may also struggle to define or describe themselves outside of their professional roles. For example, rather than describing themselves in a variety of ways, they may describe themselves as a teacher, firefighter, doctor, or whatever other professional role they assume.
“Research generally shows that workaholism is related to impaired health and well-being as well as to conflicts between work and family life. Workaholism is probably caused and maintained by a range of factors, although solid empirical underpinnings for suggested antecedents are currently sparse”
Sometimes, workaholics can be challenging to talk to because most (if not all) of their conversation revolves around their profession. They always manage to turn conversations back toward whatever their professional interests are and struggle to maintain a discussion about any other topic.
According to the AARP, “…workaholism has been defined as an addiction to work, a pathology, a behavior pattern that persists across multiple organizational settings and a syndrome comprised of high drive, high work involvement and low work enjoyment.”
The American Psychological Association quotes minister and psychologist Wayne Oates as describing workaholics as having the “compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” Rather than taking breaks from work to enjoy their time off, they tend to bring work home with them. They do not “turn off” their professional selves – instead, they only act as their professional selves.
Workaholism Should Not Be Confused With Work Engagement
The key differences is what motivates each of these behaviors. An engaged worker’s drive to work stems from the fact that they find work enjoyable, while workaholics are driven to work by an inner compulsion, similar to alcohols who are driven to drink (Graves, Ruderman, Ohlott & Weber, 2012).
According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, “We found that work hours were not related to any health issues, while workaholism was. Specifically, employees who worked long hours (typically more than 40 hours a week), but who did not obsess about work, did not have increased levels of Risk for Metabolic Syndrome(RMS) and reported fewer health complaints than employees who demonstrated workaholism. We found that workaholics, whether or not they worked long hours, reported more health complaints and had increased risk for metabolic syndrome; they also reported a higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more cynicism, more emotional exhaustion, and more depressive feelings than employees who merely worked long hours but did not have workaholic tendencies.”
8 Causes Of Workaholism
“Unlike people who merely work long hours, workaholics struggle to psychologically detach from work. And we know that ongoing rumination often goes together with stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems, and it impedes recovery from work. Stress levels in workaholics are therefore often chronic, which leads to ongoing wear and tear on the body.” (Harvard Business Review)
There are a variety of reasons why a person might develop workaholism.
1| Psychological Issues
Psychology plays a critical role in workaholism. According to specialists narcissists, perfectionists, and people who suffer from low self-esteem are at risk for workaholism.
2| Childhood Causes
A dysfunctional or stressful upbringing can cause a multitude of compulsive behaviors and workaholism is one of those. Often, adult children of dysfunctional families are not whole, they are damaged and to fill these internal deficits, or holes an addiction can form, addiction to drugs, alcohol or work, all of which are compulsive disorders. Workaholics may also use work to ignore inner issues, trauma and emotional problems.
Also, the requirement to assume adult responsibilities at a young age, and/or having parents who were workaholics can play role in an adult child becoming one as well.
3| Anxiety, Low Self-Esteem And Intimacy Problems
According to Wikipedia, “causes of it are thought to be anxiety, low self-esteem, and intimacy problems. Furthermore, workaholics tend to have an inability to delegate work tasks to others and tend to obtain high scores on personality traits such as neuroticism, perfectionism, and conscientiousness.”
4| Internal Pressures From Supervisors, Managers, Or Coworkers
If other people at work are pressuring you to produce your very best results, you may feel inclined to completely focus on work by sacrificing your focus on other parts of your life. In order to keep up, you force yourself to constantly work nonstop.
5| Feeling Extreme Anxiety About Job Performance
If the idea of not doing your very best at work sends you into an anxious tailspin, you may lean into workaholic tendencies. Rather than risk something bad happening due to a lack of professional performance, you may become a workaholic instead, ensuring that you’re always working and on top of your game…even if it means ignoring other important parts of your life in the process.
6| Compensating For Other Less Appealing Parts Of Life
Some people become workaholics because their professional lives shine better than other parts. For example, a person going through a difficult divorce may focus their attention on their work to distract themselves from their marriage ending.
Though their romantic life may be in shambles, they can work hard to make their professional lives super strong to compensate for the loss, causing them to develop workaholic tendencies.
7| Embracing Naturally Existing Personality Traits
Some people are simply more anxious or eager to please than others. Some people tend to be highly extroverted. Others like to be recognized as hard, high-performing workers. Regardless, many people have these naturally existing personality traits that makes developing workaholic tendencies easy for them.
According to Fast Company, “Some of the strongest personality correlations around workaholism are traits like having a Type A personality, being motivated by achievements, or being a perfectionist. And although research on the topic is limited, there’s also evidence that narcissism is related to workaholism.”
8| The Need For Competence
It is possible that workaholism may stem from the need to fulfill a psychological need, for example competence. In this case the workaholic may devote too much time and excessive mental energy to work in order to feel competent and this is especially true if that person is compensating for the lack of feelings of competence in other areas of their lives.
Signs And Symptoms Of A Workaholic
1| Relationship And Family Problems
Most workaholics know they are because the people in their lives point it out or it is the star of constant fights are home with spouses and families. The father or mother who rarely spends time with his or her kids, the spouse who sits alone at dinner most or all nights of the week or the boyfriend who forgets her birthday and calls off dates regularly because of work are all typical signs of workaholism.
2| Lack Of Work-Life Balance
Having almost none or zero work-life balance is a sure sign of workaholism. Life balance is a term often used to describe the concept of finding harmony between all aspects of your life, including work, relationships, family, health, and leisure activities.
Lack of life balance includes:
- No time for leisure
- No time devoted to yourself
- Little or no time devoted to family, social time or relationships
- No harmony between other parts of your life aside from work
Sometimes work can be a priority with intermittent long hours, but eventually life balance should return to normal.
3| You Just Can’t Say No
Ironically while workaholics can easily ignore, say no to and dismiss family and friends, they lack the ability to say no at work.
4| You Are Always Available For Work
Your employer and co-workers know you are the one who never says no to any tasks or assignments. You can be reached at all hours day and night. You are always accessible. You live and breathe work. You may put in long hours at work even when you don’t have to, or not asked to.
5| Loss Of Interest In Life’s Activities
You have no hobbies. You never do anything but work. You have lost interest in any leisure activities you may have once enjoyed. You generally lack personal priorities and your main priority is work.
6| You Are Chronically Stressed
Workaholics experience chronic stress. According to Yale Medicine chronic stress is “a consistent sense of feeling pressured and overwhelmed over a long period of time. Symptoms include aches and pains, insomnia or weakness, less socialization, unfocused thinking.”
Within the realm of chronic stress workaholics may experience a state of perpetual overdrive, where they are unable to take their focus off work and just unable to relax.
7| You Never Take Breaks And You Don’t Sleep Much
All you do is work. It’s been 3 years since you took a vacation. You work long hours and long weeks without taking regular breaks. You also likely sleep little because most of your time is spent working or obsessing over work and deadlines.
8| Other Signs
- You are obsessed with work-related success
- Extreme fear of failure at work
- Using work to avoid life, and especially relationships
- Using work to cope with unaddressed depression
- Working to avoid dealing with problems, including but not limited to grief and loss, divorce, financial issues or personal issues withing yourself.
How Workaholism Affects Life Balance
Workaholism creates a catastrophic misalignment of life priorities. If you are a workaholic, you are likely extremely imbalanced in other important areas of your life.
For example, if you are a compulsive workaholic who spends the majority of their time completing work tasks, going to meetings, reading more about your profession, securing clients, creating presentations, or whatever else is required of you to do your job, you do not have any time for other important aspects of your life, such as…
- Maintaining healthy romantic relationships
- Maintaining healthy relationships with family members and friends
- Enjoying hobbies and activities you enjoy
- Learning about new, unfamiliar things or going on new experiences
- Relaxing and unwinding from the stress brought on by the workplace
- Completing other important tasks and responsibilities that aren’t related to work, such as attending medical checkups, running errands, or completing housework tasks
When work totally consumes your life, you do not get to experience any other aspect of living, such as nurturing healthy relationships or exploring your hobbies. Without these other important aspects of your life intact, you are living an incomplete existence. Rather than allowing yourself to enjoy the full spectrum of human life, you are limiting yourself to one small slice.
10 Strategies To Help You Stop Being A Workaholic
If you struggle to let go of your work life when it’s time to focus on other aspects of yourself, consider implementing these strategies to help yourself stop being a workaholic.
1| Create an “end of workday” ritual to signal the end of your working time.
Many people struggle with leaving their work at the workplace. If this sounds familiar, creating an end-of-workday ritual can help you transition from work time to private time with minimal fuss.
Your end-of-workday ritual can be extremely simple. For example, consider this end-of-workday ritual you can use to create an official end to your workday:
- Tidy your workspace and put things back where they belong
- Pack your personal items that are coming back home with you
- Prepare a short to-do list for when you return the next day
- Say out loud: “It is time to end the workday.”
Following along with this ritual creates a definite end to your workday. While saying that it is time to end the workday out loud may seem silly and excessive, it reinforces the notion that work time is over in your mind, making it less likely that you’ll try to stay later or bring any work home with you.
2| Make specific areas of your personal spaces no-working zones – this is especially important for folks working from home.
Make specific areas of your personal spaces no-working zones. This is most crucial for people who work from home.
For example, if you have a home office, limit your working activities to that home office. Once you leave your home office space, your work tasks do not follow you to your bed, couch, or dining room table. If you need to do something for work, you make a point to only do the task inside your home office because it is your designated work space.
Creating boundaries between work zones and no-working zones is an excellent way to limit workaholism – if you do not associate working with other areas of your personal space, you’re less likely to think about work when you’re enjoying other activities such as relaxing in bed or watching a movie in your living room.
3| Talk to your manager or supervisor about your current workload.
Consider talking to your manager or supervisor about your current workload. According to Forbes magazine, high workloads are often one of the leading causes of workaholism. When faced with a massive amount of work today, people can struggle to let it go at the end of the work day.
While having a serious discussion with your manager or supervisor may feel awkward or uncomfortable, it is the clearest way to express your concerns about workaholism with them. Once they are aware of your experiences, they will hopefully be able to help you delegate work elsewhere or lighten your workload, making it easier for you to get tasks accomplished within reason.
4| Set some small boundaries to keep your work life and personal life separated from each other.
Boundaries are an excellent way to keep your work life and home life separate. For example, you can set some small and basic boundaries such as these to keep workaholism at bay and protect your personal time:
- Do not answer texts, emails, or calls from coworkers after a certain time of the evening
- Decline opportunities to accept extra work or shifts on your days off
- Request vacation or personal days in advance and take them when the time comes to do so
- Leave your work items at work so you aren’t tempted to look at them at home
5| Be honest when determining what “balance” means for you and honor it.
A sense of life balance is quite subjective. What constitutes a good balance for a young, single working professional may differ greatly for a married-with-a-family working professional in the same position. These two people have quite different life priorities to consider when determining what “balance” means for them.
Be honest with yourself when you determine what balance means for you and then make a point to honor it. Being honest with yourself is the best way to ensure that you’re creating a good, manageable balance between all the different aspects of your life rather than sliding straight into workaholism.
6| Remove any communication or work-related apps/programs from your personal devices.
Is your work email currently logged in on your personal smartphone? Do you have your coworkers’ group chat open on your laptop? If so, it’s time to take these apps and programs off your personal devices for good. Log out of those accounts and delete the apps.
Having these programs and apps so easily accessible during your private time makes it easy and tempting to quickly scroll through, respond to messages, or deep dive into requests during your home time.
The best protocol for these apps and programs after-hours is “out of sight, out of mind.” Remove them from your personal devices – the harder it is to check these messages at home, the harder it will be to fall down a workaholic rabbit hole during your non-working hours.
7| Plan fun trips, activities, and outings you can look forward to on your weekends or days off.
Having exciting and fun plans to look forward to is an excellent way to combat workaholism. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune on expensive, huge vacations all the time; your outings can be as simple as enjoying a day in the park, visiting an unfamiliar city, or making fun weekend plans with friends.
Regardless of what you want your outings to be, having these fun personal events to look forward to helps you maintain a good sense of work-life balance – your focus can look forward to other aspects of your life this way, according to Forbes magazine.
Rather than allowing all-consuming work thoughts to control your life, you can also look forward to (and eventually enjoy!) these fun outings as representatives of your personal life.
8| Practice letting go of your professional identity whenever you introduce yourself to new people.
One of the most common icebreaker questions people use when they are meeting a new person is “so, what do you do for a living?” – The question is innocent enough; people often place a large portion of their identity on their profession. However, learning how to describe yourself less by your professional status and more by other features of your life and personality is an excellent way to combat workaholism.
Rather than describing yourself as a banker, teacher, manager, lawyer, nurse, or whatever other profession you may do for a living, challenge yourself to choose other descriptors.
For example, focusing on favorite hobbies and activities is an excellent way to describe yourself without making the entire focus on your job. Over time, this strategy will help you remove your profession from your personality.
9| Get comfortable with delegating tasks to other people whenever possible.
Workaholics often become the way they are because of immense pressure to perform well. They may feel incredibly stressed with a high workload, causing them to feel pressure to get everything done in a quick and efficient manner.
Rather than trying to do everything yourself, practice delegating smaller tasks out to other coworkers or employees who can easily oversee and execute them for you. Sometimes, this is a matter of letting go of your control – you may believe doing the tasks yourself is the best option because you’ll have full control over what is happening.
While this may be true, it’s a terrible way to manage your workload. If you are trying to do everything, you’ll be far too weighted down to actually accomplish the tasks.
10| Do whatever you can to take full advantage of your private time.
Maximize your enjoyment during your private time. Forbes magazine suggests indulging in self-care activities you enjoy, making fun plans for yourself, enjoying some of your favorite foods, and spending time with your favorite hobbies.
When you have a block of time to be alone and decompress, do whatever you can to make it as relaxing, enjoyable, and rejuvenating as possible. Taking time to really take full advantage of your personal time makes disconnecting from your professional life much easier.
Seeking Professional Help
The Bergen Work Addiction Scale was developed by the University of Bergen and is the accepted evaluation and assessment test for workaholism.
Work addiction can be a serious condition. Like alcoholism and drug addiction it can destroy your life and lead to broken relationships. Addiction to work can be the result of a coexisting mental health disorder including but not limited to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or bipolar disorder. Workaholism can also cause mental health issues such as depression and chronic shame and guilt.
Some workaholics require professional intervention and treatment just as alcoholics and drug addicts to.
If you work addiction is destroying your life help is available:
- Mental health professionals can provide you with a mental health assessment and a treatment plan. The plan may include, therapy, and even medication to help you recover.
- 12 Step programs such as Workaholics Anonymous
- Outpatient Treatment Options
- Inpatient Treatment Options
Talk to your doctor today to get a referral to the right professional so you can start the road to recovery and a healthy and happy life.