Thursday, May 17, 2007

Are You a Workaholic?

I recently received a reply e-mail from a colleague/friend who I use to work with and had not heard from in a long time. “I decided my 80-hour work-weeks were not good for me anymore… I quit that rat-race job and am moving back home,” she in effect said. And while I was saddened to not be able to work with my colleague anymore, I was happy that my friend was heading toward a better life. In my reply e-mail to her, I concluded with, “And remember, we work to live – not the other way around.”

When I look at what has been happening over the past few years in our society, however, I see many inividuals in similar situations. For many people, “Workaholism” has become a way of life.

According to wikipedia, “Colloquially, a workaholic is a person who is addicted to work. There is no generally accepted medical definition of such a condition, although some forms of stress and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be work-related.” And while there can be positive attributes associated with it, “a ‘workaholic’ in the negative sense is popularly characterized by a neglect of family and other social relations.”

In her excellent article, Avoiding Workaholism, Marlene Maheu, Ph.D, identifies some warning signs of workaholism:

* Your home is just another office.

* You are hard-driving, competitive, and overly committed to your work.

* You take office equipment with you wherever you go, even on vacations.

* Work makes you happier than anything else in your life.

* Sleep and playtime seem like a waste.

* You believe that if you get the chance to do it again, you'll do it right.

* You get restless on vacation (if you even take them) and sometimes cut them short.

* You frequently are "problem solving" work situations in your mind, even during your "time off."

* Friends either don't call anymore, or you can't wait to get off the phone when they do call.

* People who love you tell you that "you have a lot of energy," are "manic," or are a "workhorse."

* You are tired, irritable, socially isolated, and might even have physical stress symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, shortness of breath, racing heart, muscle tension, or ulcers.

In my latest pop-psych book, Mom and Dad’s Pearls of Wisdom… You Gotta Love ’Em, in one of the chapters tells of when my father warned me about the dangers of being overly-ego-involved in ones work and inadvertently addressed the notion of workaholism. I herewith am delighted to share that story with you:

* * * * * * * * * *


In 1980, my family and I moved to Tampa from Lexington, Kentucky, because I had accepted a job as Quality Improvement Program Research Professor at the University of South Florida. Three years later, I was asked to be the associate dean of the (then) College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. At that point in my career, it was a tremendous opportunity. While I felt extremely flattered, I felt equally scared. Thus, after hearing all of the details of the position, I asked if I could have a few days to think it over.

That evening, I called my parents to tell them about the job offer. “What do you think, Dad?” I asked. “Do you think I should take it?”

“I don’t know anything about university work, Bill,” he replied. “You’re asking the wrong guy. You’re pretty smart. You should know.”

“Dad,” I pressed, “I’ve always admired you for your hard work. You taught me the meaning of the term ‘work ethic.’ You’ve had many different jobs in the course of your life, and you’ve always loved your work. I just want to know what you think.”

Following an extended pause, my dad quipped,

When you are offered a job,

you have to be smart enough to take it

and smart enough not to take it seriously.

* * * * * * * * * *

Question: Are you a workaholic (or possibly heading in that direction)?



Unknown said...

Oh, well you know I had to come and comment! Ha ha ha, as I read the profile list, I could have checked every single one 2 months ago. Now maybe I fit just 2 or 3.

Do you know, there also seems to be a blogging movement about some people "dropping out" for farm/country living:
Fast Grow the Weeds
A Homesteading Neophyte

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Kip,
Albeit not surprised, I am delighted to hear from you. I only can imagine what life must have been for you two months ago (and what life for others around you was like as well). The important thing is that you didn't just make excuses for the craziness -- you did something about it. For example, I know some people who put in the 80-hour weeks and use their high income as one of their justifications; "Great," I think, "at least this way you and your family can suffer in luxury and comfort."
Thanks for the links... I will indeed check them out. Over the past few years, more and more people have been doing just that -- "checking out" and finding a more comfortable and meaningful lifestyle.
Thanks again, Kip - I'm happy for and with you (and your family),

Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

I am not a workaholic. I always strive for balance. I even cut my hours with a pay loss as I found there wasn't enough balance. However, I am in love with a workaholic so many of the things you wrote rang true. It is 11:46pm on a Friday night and he is still at work. He brings his laptop on vacations and even to the laundry mat. I often remind him how sad it would be if "later" he found himself all alone as he never had time to invest into his relationships. I often see it as comparable to the movie "It's a wonderful life" and wonder if it would take a loss or tragedy for him to see what is really important.

Do you have any theories on WHY people become workaholics? I would love to hear what you think :)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello MHT… nice to see you again,
You indeed raise a very intriguing and challenging question – most people who fit as a “workaholic” are so for their own individual reasons. Thus, while I will offer some general considerations as to why a person may be a workaholic, I have no idea why your significant other does what he does. (I also would offer this – why you strive for balance and actually have made strides in that direction, to what extent is being in a relationship with a workaholic an indication of balance?)
Some individuals’ workaholism is of akin to an addiction (they’re addicted to their work). Others enjoy the sense of control and the socially acceptable reason[s] for avoiding other activities in life (“Gee I’d love to take you to the movies but I have this report due…”) And let’s remember that there are many reinforcements for the workaholic – monetary, verbally and socially.
Being in a relationship with a workaholic indeed is challenging, and trying to change that person is even more so. The one question you may want to ask yourself is, “If I am not feeling special and not enjoying the kind of relationship I want and think I deserve, then why do I stay in it?”
Be well, MHT, and all best wishes with the challenges before you,

Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

Thanks for the insight Bill. There are no easy answers :)

Dr. Bill Emener said...

You're welcome! And you're right, there are no easy answers. Just try to find the right ones for you!

Anonymous said...

I think maybe we all suffer from that fear a little bit. Isn't that what being "good enough" is all about?
Lajos Egri (who writes books about writing) says, "Insecurity is the basic law of existence. All human emotions, good or evil, without exception, spring from this one eternal source." I would think the fear of abandonment falls under insecurity. Perhaps abandonment brings out this fear? Just thinking out loud.
Oh, and I have to say thank you, Bill. One of the characters in my current WIP suffers from fear of abandonment, so you've led me to some great resources and given me some true insight!

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Nienke,
Thanks for your as-usual insightful Comment. Insecurity indeed can be a major contributor to workaholism, yet there are many other phenomenon associated with it.
Thanks for the Lajos Egri quote… neat stuff! Fear of abandonment, according to such people as john Bowlby, is a rather complicated psychological consideration… you would appreciate some of his work (e.g., about one of his well-known topics: “Attachment Theory”).
Good luck with your WIP (and be careful… sometimes a WIP can become a “project”).
Thanks again,