Many people struggle with long working hours and a lack of boundaries between work and home, especially when working from home is now widespread. As entrepreneurs it’s normal for you to work hard and for long hours to innovate and create something that has never existed before.
Workaholism is different than working hard or working long hours. It is an addiction, a mental health issue like alcoholism and drug addiction. Psychologist Wayne E. Oates created the term workaholic in 1968 as someone with an uncontrollable need to work incessantly. Like an alcoholic, it’s the compulsion, you must, not because the excess is good or enjoyable. It isn’t the quantity of work, it’s about how you engage with your work and predominately your inability to disengage from it.
Workaholics ‘ Common Indicators
Workaholism is typically long-term, it’s not related to a short-term burst as you strive for a promotion or deal with the initial crisis of a pandemic. The key indicator is the amount of head space, thought, energy and in some cases time you dedicate to work.
Some indicators are:
- Work late and/or take work home often and unnecessarily
- Checking messages at home, maybe even in the middle of the night
- Working or continually checking messages on holidays
- Time and relationships with others are compromised
- Lack of sleep or poor sleep
- You’re defined by your work
A notable ‘test’ for workaholism is The Bergen Work Addiction Scale. It was developed at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen (UiB) in collaboration with Bergen Clinic Foundation and Nottingham Trent University and outlines 7 criteria for identifying work addiction. Score each criterion on the scale of: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always:
You think of how you can free up more time to work.
You spend much more time working than initially intended.
You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
Health Impact of Being a Workaholic
Research by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard of 3,500 employees identified the differences between the behaviours of those who worked long hours and the mindset of workaholics and the effect on health. They also conducted medical checks on 763 of these employees to ascertain the health impact.
Among people who worked long hours this research found they suffered no adverse physical effects (of note, separate research shows continuous, stressful hours of prolonged work is harmful to cognitive ability especially in those over 40 years of age). Whereas, those who were workaholics, whether they worked long hours or not, had more health complaints and increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.2
5 Steps to Address Workaholism
Acknowledge you might have a problem. That’s the first step of any recovery programme. If those closest to you, especially if it’s multiple people, have commented on your work preoccupation consider that you might be workaholic. You can’t address what you don’t acknowledge.
Reflect on what might be the root of the problem. What might be the underlying reason(s)? One might be because you don’t feel good enough so you’re chasing ‘approval’ by achieving the next goal, doing the next task or being recognized for your ‘passion and commitment.’ Another might be perfectionism. Trying to live up to a self-imposed standard to prove you are competent or live up to an unrealistic expectation from a boss or society. Another could be to avoid other aspects of your life.
Imagine a balanced, successful life. The first step to any goal is knowing where you’re going. As an entrepreneur you have an idea and strive to bring that to life. You create. Do this with your own life. Imagine what a balanced, successful life looks like for you. What do you want people to say about you 50 years from now? What values, relationships and impact do you want to be known for? Once you have the vision, start working towards it.
Create boundaries. Success at work is impossible if you are tired and risk sickness and ill health. Put boundaries in place in terms of amount of time working and mental rejuvenation. Commit and schedule other activities that you can get lost in. What are your dormant passions? Learn mindfulness to be less obsessive about work thoughts and worries. Put reminders in your diary throughout the day to breath down to your belly, to walk around, to leave at a certain time.
Get support at work, from family, friends and professionals if needed. Professional help might be needed if you feel you are a workaholic, and/or you identified an underlying cause of the problem that isn’t healthy. Also, ask for support from friends, family and colleagues to disengage from work and be fully present with them and in other activities.
Manager of a Workaholic?
Whether you manage a workaholic or know someone who might be a workaholic, here are some ideas:
Help the person find their intrinsic motivation for working that’s healthy. What makes the work meaningful? What enjoyment do they derive from work? As author, Simon Sinek, says great leaders inspire action by starting from the WHY, what’s the purpose? Leaders need to know why they get out of bed, and it usually isn’t to hit a target or make money.
Point them to time management tools for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
Foster a culture of appropriate boundaries, work/life balance and engagement as this will help everyone be productive, energized and creative.
Communicate clearly about what’s acceptable and expected for after-hours communication and work.
Show them this article.
To re-iterate, if you answered always or often on 4 of the Bergen Work Addiction criteria consult with a health professional.
What would improve with better boundaries at work?