The Strategist

Why workaholism is dangerous and what to do about it


08/06/2021 - 03:54



Workaholics experience an uncontrollable urge to engage in work. They feel a conflict between their passion and other areas of life. Let's find out what the dangers of workaholism are, how to recognise it in yourself and what to do about it.



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The term 'workaholic' was coined in 1971 by psychologist Wayne Oates, who described the 'uncontrollable need for continuous work' as an addiction. Workaholics are characterised by an inner compulsion, they constantly think about work, and feel guilty and anxious when inactive. Workaholics are often inextricably linked to overtimers, but the two are different: you can work overtime and not be work-obsessed, and vice versa: you can think about work all the time, working 35 hours a week or less.

Workaholism, unlike overtime, is bad for us. A study found: workaholics, whether or not they worked overtime, were more likely to experience health problems and had an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. They also showed a higher need for recovery. They showed sleep problems, increased cynicism, greater emotional exhaustion and a greater propensity for depression - in contrast to employees who, although working late, did not have a tendency to workaholism.

Workaholics find it difficult psychologically to detach themselves from the process. And the constant fixation on anything is often accompanied by anxiety, depression and sleep problems. Stress in workaholics is often chronic, leading to ongoing wear and tear on the body. 

If you find your level of obsessive compulsion to be too high, resort to the recommendations below.

1. Plan real breaks. Help yourself to break away from your obsession with your work by scheduling other activities during the day (such as lunch with a friend or a break to go to the gym). Set aside time after work or on weekends for family, friends and your hobbies. Having a schedule will help you not neglect your commitments.

2. Don't bring work home with you. If you are able to afford it, make it absolutely impossible to access work after you leave the office. Don't bring your laptop home. Leave your papers on your desk. Keep separate email accounts for home and work, and don't check your work email when you're out of the office (set up appropriate notifications if necessary). Obsessive compulsion is just a bad habit, and habits can be broken.

3. Change your working mindset. Mimic the mindset of someone with a harmonious passion until you actually become one. For example, turn the thoughts of "should" and "need" into "want" and "desire". At first you will feel uncomfortable, but eventually the compulsive thinking will dissipate, as will the behaviour associated with it. A recent study has shown that changing clearly articulated thinking patterns can increase self-esteem and harmonious passion.

4. Find a new hobby. Often contributing too many of your own resources to one project is a sign of negative self-esteem. The more extra activities outside of work contribute to a positive sense of self-worth, the less space your ego will take up for 'over-productivity cravings' and the lower your chances of burnout.

Based on ”HBR Guide to Work-Life Balance”