Are you spending more and more time at the office? Has this behavior increased over the past six months to a year? Do you think – or suspect – that you may be a workaholic? This is no joking matter, for a true workaholic is headed for some potentially serious physical and psychological problems. How do you know for sure if you are a workaholic?
Here are 20 questions adapted from Workaholics Anonymous. Answer them honestly – no holding back – and we’ll go from there. • Work is exciting – Do you find that work gets you more excited than family, friends, hobbies, entertainment, sports or anything else? • Pace may overwhelm you – Have you found that there are times when you can easily breeze through your workload and other times when you just can’t seem to make it through? • Taking work home – Do you often take your work home with you, or to bed, work on weekends or on vacation? • Like work best – Do you like to talk about work the best and enjoy work more than any other activity? • Hours per week – Do you work more than 40 hours per week? • Work and hobbies – Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures? • Responsibility – Do you take complete responsibility for all of your work output? • Never home on time – Are you often late coming home due to your workload? Has your family given up on expecting you home on time because of it? • Take on extra work – Do you take on extra assignments or projects because you’re afraid they won’t get done – or won’t get done the right way? • Underestimate timing – Do you underestimate the total amount of time your work projects or assignments – and then rush to complete it under deadline? • Justify long hours – Do you believe it is okay to work as long as you do because you love your work? • Impatience with others – Do you find yourself impatient with others who have other priorities beside work? • Fear of losing job – Do you fear that you will lose your job or be considered a failure if you don’t work at your current hard pace? • Worry about the future – Even though things may be going well for you right now, are you constantly worried about the future? • Competitiveness – Do you do everything with the same energy, intensity and competitiveness – including play? • Irritation – Do you become irritated when others – like the family, friends or others – ask you to stop working in order to do something else? • Relationships suffer – Have your close relationships – with family, friends and others – suffered as a result of your long hours at work? • Constantly thinking about work – Do you find yourself thinking about work while you are driving, when others are talking, and even when you are falling asleep? • Work during meals – Do you read or do work while you are eating? • Money solves problems – Do you believe that if you had more money, it could solve all your other problems – or that money solves just about any problems? According to Workaholics Anonymous, if you answered yes to 3 or more of these questions, you may be a workaholic. Don’t panic. There are millions of Americans out there who are in the same situation. More important than the fact that you are, or are quickly becoming, a workaholic is what you can do about it.
Characteristics of a Workaholic
Perhaps you need a bit more convincing that you may, indeed, have just a little problem with overworking. There is a big difference between a hard worker and a workaholic. Essentially, the hard worker dreams about skiing on the slopes or that island vacation while working whereas the workaholic dreams about work while supposedly on the slopes or that island vacation. Here are some classic characteristics of a workaholic. Again, these are adapted from Workaholics Anonymous. • Workaholics can’t relax. – They might say they’re relaxed. At least, that’s what they’ll tell family and friends. But they really can’t let go, finding it difficult, if not impossible, to relax. After just one more project, crossing off one more item on today’s work list, then you’ll be able to relax. But there’s always another task or project that you really should get a jump on. After all, the deadline’s close. This results in an uncontrollable urge to do more, working faster, harder. You absolutely can’t stop – to the point of feeling powerless. • Workaholics have become accustomed to doing what they’re expected. – For so long, the workaholic has been doing what the boss or others expect that he or she has no idea anymore what should be done for themselves. Workaholics can’t distinguish what they really want and need, submersing everything in their job. • Workaholics feel compelled to complete certain tasks. – You might be too scared not to finish the projection report by closing time today. Or you hate the thought of having to get it done, but you’ll do it anyway – because that’s who you are and that’s what you always do. • Workaholics often feel resentment. – Just because you have a tough assignment doesn’t mean you want to do it, or want to do it now – instead of going out to play golf or hang out with your friends. You feel resentment and maybe put it off for most of the day for one reason or another. It’s still there at the end of the day, waiting for you to get started. You hate that you let it go so long, and now you really have to dive in. So much for getting away for a while. And the resentment continues to build each day with each project… • Workaholics’ self-esteem is tied to job performance. – So much of who you are – who you think you are – is tied up in your job performance. As a workaholic, you can’t differentiate your true talents from those that others say you have, or that attributes your boss extols – “I can always count on Bob to get the job done! He’s my best worker – really puts in the hours.” Right, good old Bob, who begins to believe he’s nothing other the job he does day after day after day. • Workaholics have a distorted self image. – You either believe you are the most intelligent and capable person you know – or that you’re more worthless and incapable than anyone else. • Workaholics are unable to accept themselves. – You can’t accept who you really are, since you can’t honestly say who that is. Since you can’t see your true self, you can’t know it. • Workaholics are slaves to “authority.” – Anyone with a title has power over you, if you’re a workaholic. You feel compelled to do whatever task or assignment they throw your way – even if they’re not your direct supervisor. This is a betrayal of your own self-worth, since you constantly give in to the demands of others. • Workaholics are always in “mini-crisis” mode. – By constantly operating as if this project is a mini crisis, you stave off any true emotions. You’re always on maximum overdrive – can’t afford to let emotions surface and slow your progress. • Workaholics rarely experience serenity. – There’s no moment to just “be” for the workaholic. They cannot allow any idle moments, therefore there’s never an opportunity to experience serenity. • Workaholics have to understand the why and what of everything. Every part of their lives has to be understood by the workaholic. This extends even to feelings of emotion – such as exist, anyway. The workaholic can’t allow stray emotions to crop up. These are threatening to the workaholic, since they may presage loss of control. • Workaholics fear emotion and loss of control. – The obsessive addiction to work covers a very real fear of emotion and loss of control. To lose control and be emotional means, to the workaholic, that they may lose total control and wind up a raving maniac. • Workaholics judge themselves by their accomplishments. – A workaholic always has to be in the state of doing, of accomplishing some task or project that they deem worthwhile, in order to feel good. They are what they do, nothing more and nothing less. • Workaholics can’t be idle. – You won’t find a workaholic just sitting on a beach watching the sunset. He or she would be on the laptop, PDA, cell phone or WiFi. • Workaholics often go on excessive work binges. – To win praise from others or to achieve a certain level of recognition, workaholics often push themselves in an excess amount of workload. • Workaholics believe others will like them more if they accomplish more. – Again, the workaholic’s self-esteem is all tied up with their work output. If only they could get more done, others would like them more and want to be with them – or mention their hard work in a positive light to the boss. • Workaholics often cannot accept praise as justified. – Despite the fact that the workaholic pushes himself to overachieve, he cannot accept the praise he gets as justified. He didn’t really work that hard, or the other person is just shining him on and doesn’t mean it. • Workaholics pile up more work than they can handle. – The more jobs, projects or tasks the workaholic has on their plate, the more they look to add. Having an excessive workload and being known as one who will always perform may make others like the workaholic more. • Workaholics are dishonest about past performances. – Any mistakes or shortcomings are glossed over by the workaholic, who also tends to exaggerate successful accomplishments. Without a stellar background, others may not like us. • Workaholics feel pain. – Deep inside, sometimes not even recognized as such, the workaholic feels pain. They hurt, and it doesn’t ever get any better.
What Can Be Done
There’s no question that accomplishment and recognition are heralded in society today. It seems as though the workplace is crowded with perfectionists and overachievers – and they’re the ones who snag the promotions, the bonuses (if companies still pay them), and the best perks. Ask yourself this, however: Are they truly happy? Is this who you want to be – a shell of yourself, gray before your time, ashen in color, lifeless, chained to your desk, bereft of family and friends? Nobody in their right mind would answer yes. Yet you do have a big hurdle to overcome. How do you begin to change habits that have become so much a part of your life? There are several steps you can take, depending on your comfort level. • Seek treatment – This can take the form of a resident treatment program at a posh and exclusive enclave catering to executives. Or it can be a matter of seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist or a trained and certified mental health professional. • Check out Workaholics Anonymous – This national support group is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs. Meetings are held around the country where people can share their concerns anonymously and receive support from other members of the group. There’s no membership fee and anyone can join. Meetings can be in-person, online and by telephone. Check out W.A. Meetings to find a location or schedule a meeting that works best for you. If you’re not ready for meetings yet, the website has plenty of useful resources, links and other information that may be of help. • Give yourself time – Your workaholic habits developed over time. It’s important that you give yourself enough time to work through and overcome them.