Workaholic: The Ultimate Guide to Workaholism
Have you ever wondered if you are a workaholic? You’re ambitious, driven and passionate. Some days you love what you do. Some days you want to run the other direction. You keep proving your value to the next company, boss or new teammate. It’s a rinse-and-repeat cycle that happens over and over again, leaving you burned out and exhausted. But people have noticed your talent. Your responsibilities keep growing. Your loved ones are commenting about your longer hours. You’ll find a way to make it all work. You always do.
You keep pushing toward your goals. You take pride in your strong work ethic. Until, it happens. Your body starts breaking down under the constant pressure and stress. You start to wonder if there is more to life than your dedication and the positive momentum in your career.
You try to ignore it. But the question is nagging at you. Deadlines and meetings are occupying your thoughts. You begin to realize you think about work more than anything else. Unable to ignore it anymore, you ask, “Am I workaholic?”
The truth is you may be a workaholic or you may have workaholic tendencies that, if left unchecked, could blow up in your face. Everyone has a unique story, including my own.
On the outside, everything was great. I was climbing the corporate ladder. I loved my co-workers (for the most part). I had a social life even though I would secretly make up the time by going into work early the next day or on the weekends. But I wasn’t happy, and eventually it impacted my health. I had to stop and take a long look in the mirror.
Society applauds and rewards those who work hard for the sake of the bottom line. But at some point, you have to stop and face reality. Let’s get curious and ask ourselves the tough questions. Let’s explore the possibilities and the world of workaholism together.
What Defines A Workaholic?
Dictionary.com defines a workaholic as “a person who works compulsively at the expense of other pursuits.” In a nutshell: a compulsive worker. If you look closely, you may even find my picture.
It’s about more than working long hours, though. One key differentiator is that workaholics may not actually love what they are doing, but rather they are using work as a way to avoid something else in their life.
As with any other addiction, a workaholic gets an adrenaline kick from the behavior. They are on a never-ending merry-go-round ride. They run as fast as they can from one project to the next, sometimes due to their own procrastination, jumping on any last-minute client deadlines or to crush a sales goal by the end of the month. Sound familiar?
Brain World Magazine states, “workaholism is like any other addiction — those addicted don’t know when to stop, have poor impulse control, higher health risks, worse relationships, and ultimately disappointment when they find they achieved goals that benefitted their employer, but their life remains empty.”
This was me. My five-year relationship to the man I thought I was going to marry had ended. To avoid the pain, I worked. In the process of getting over that hurt, I developed patterns that kept me going like the Energizer Bunny® for years. It wasn’t until I started having health problems that I took a serious look at my life.
Are You a Workaholic? (TAKE THIS TEST)
Here’s a quick test created by Workaholics Anonymous to help identify workaholic behavior. Read through each question. If you answer yes to three or more questions, then you may want to research workaholism further.
- Are you more drawn to your work or activity than close relationships, rest, etc.?
- Are there times when you are motivated and push through tasks when you don’t even want to and other times when you procrastinate and avoid them when you would prefer to get things done?
- Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?
- Are you more comfortable talking about your work than other topics?
- Do you pull all-nighters?
- Do you resent your work or the people at your workplace for imposing so many pressures on you?
- Do you avoid intimacy with others and/or yourself?
- Do you resist rest when tired and use stimulants to stay awake longer?
- Do you take on extra work or volunteer commitments because you are concerned that things won't otherwise get done?
- Do you regularly underestimate how long something will take and then rush to complete it?
- Do you immerse yourself in activities to change how you feel or avoid grief, anxiety, and shame?
- Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
- Are you afraid that if you don't work hard all the time, you will lose your job or be a failure?
- Do you fear success, failure, criticism, burnout, financial insecurity, or not having enough time?
- Do you try to multitask to get more done?
- Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing what you're doing in order to do something else?
- Have your long hours caused injury to your health or relationships?
- Do you think about work or other tasks while driving, conversing, falling asleep, or sleeping?
- Do you feel agitated when you are idle and/or hopeless that you'll ever find balance?
- Do you feel like a slave to your email, texts, or other technology?
What Are the Signs of a Workaholic?
There is more to workaholism than being ambitious, driven, working long hours and downing massive amounts of caffeine to stay awake. Here are additional signs from Workaholics Anonymous that you might be a workaholic.
- We find it hard to love and accept ourselves. Work has become our means of gaining approval, finding our identity and justifying our existence.
- We use work to escape our feelings. Thus, we deprive ourselves of knowing what we truly want and need.
- By overworking, we neglect our health, relationships, recreation and spirituality. Even when we are not working, we are thinking of our next task. Most of our activities are work-related. We deny ourselves the enjoyment of a balanced and varied life.
- We use work as a way to deal with the uncertainties of life. We lie awake worrying; we over-plan and over-organize. By being unwilling to surrender control, we lose our spontaneity, creativity and flexibility.
- Many of us grew up in chaotic homes. Stress and intensity feel normal to us. We seek out these conditions in the workplace. We create crises and get adrenaline highs by overworking to resolve them. Then we suffer withdrawals and become anxious and depressed. Such mood swings destroy our peace of mind.
- Work has become an addiction. We lie to ourselves and to others about the amount we do. We hoard work to insure that we will always be busy and never bored. We fear free time and vacations and find them painful instead of refreshing.
- Instead of being a haven, our home is an extension of our workplace. Our family and friends often arrange their time with us around our work, vainly hoping we will finish it and then can be with them.
- We make unreasonable demands upon ourselves. We aren't aware of any difference between job-imposed and self-imposed pressure. By over-scheduling our lives, we become driven, racing to beat the clock, fearful that we will get behind, and binge-work in order to catch up. Our attention is fragmented by trying to do several things at once. Our inability to pace ourselves leads to breakdown and burnout. We rob ourselves of the enjoyment of conclusion and rest.
- We tend to be perfectionistic. We don't accept mistakes as part of being human and find it hard to ask for help. Because we believe no one can meet our standards, we have difficulty delegating and so do more than our share of the work. Thinking ourselves indispensable often prevents our progress. Unrealistic expectations often cheat us of contentment.
- We tend to be over-serious and responsible. All activity must be purposeful. We find it hard to relax and just be; we feel guilty and restless when not working. Because we often work at our play, we rarely experience re-creation and renewal. We neglect our sense of humor and rarely enjoy the healing power of laughter.
- Waiting is hard for us. We are more interested in results than process, in quantity than quality. Our impatience often distorts our work by not allowing it proper timing.
- Many of us are concerned with image. We think that looking busy makes people think we are important and gains their admiration. By seeking others' approval of us, we lose ourselves.
What Are The Characteristics of a Workaholics?
There is more to the story beyond control freaks perfectionists. Workaholics Anonymous has outlined 20 of the most common characteristics of those who struggle with work addiction. Characteristics of a workaholic vary from person to person, so you may not relate to every single one. These serve as a guideline and a way to see if you notice similar patterns in yourself. It’s important to keep an open heart and mind when reviewing, without passing judgement on yourself or others.
- It is very difficult for us to relax. We often, if not always, feel the need to get just a few more tasks done before we can feel good about ourselves and allow ourselves to relax. When we do complete these tasks, we find just a few more that we need to complete, and then a few more.... These uncontrollable desires often result in frantic, compulsive working. We are powerless to control this pattern.
- We are so used to doing what we are expected to do that we are often unable to know what it is that we really want to do and need to do for ourselves.
- We often feel that we must complete certain tasks, even though we do not want to, yet we are too scared to stop.
- We often feel resentment about having to complete tasks when we would rather relax or play. At these times we procrastinate, usually wallowing in self-pity and self-judgment. We become absorbed by our "stinking thinking," cannot concentrate on the task at hand, and yet are too scared to give up the task for a moment and allow ourselves the space we need.
- Our sense of self-esteem is based largely on our perceptions of how others judge our performance at work and in other areas of our lives.
- We often think of ourselves as either the most intelligent, capable people we know or the most incapable and worthless people we know.
- It is hard for us to see ourselves honestly and accept who we really are.
- We often betray ourselves by giving in to the demands of people whom we perceive as being in "authority."
- We operate out of the mini-crisis mode, using this as an escape from experiencing our true emotions.
- We do not often experience true serenity.
- We have an obsessive desire to understand everything in our lives, including our every emotion. We cannot allow ourselves to experience emotions that we do not understand, fearing our loss of control.
- We have an underlying fear that if we give up control and allow our emotions to surface, we will become raving lunatics for the rest of our lives.
- We judge ourselves by our accomplishments and hence have the illusion that we must always be in the process of accomplishing something worthwhile in order to feel good about ourselves.
- We cannot sit down and just be.
- We often go on intense work binges with the illusion that we need to get the praise of our fellow workers and bosses in order to feel OK.
- We have the illusion that people will like us more if we appear more competent than we actually are.
- Often when we are praised by others we tend to discount ourselves as not worthy of their praise.
- We tend to schedule ourselves for more than we can handle, believing people will like us more if we can do more and do it faster.
- We are often dishonest about our past experiences and our present capabilities, tending to not mention our failures and to exaggerate our successes. We believe that people will not respect us or like us just as we are.
- We hurt inside.
Is Workaholism A Disease?
In today's society, burning the midnight oil is often rewarded. While workaholic tendencies leading to stress-related illnesses are on the rise, workaholism is not technically considered a mental disorder or disease. It's typically categorized as an addiction. Some people call an addiction a disease and some do not. Debating this point to me seems frivolous, as it’s all about perspective.
At the end of the day, work addiction is no different than an addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, TV or anything else that can become negative if overdone. This struggle creates an opportunity to explore the root cause and reasons behind the addiction, which creates the necessary space to discover more about yourself. Seeking support allows you to learn, grow and stretch in ways you never thought possible, so that you can actually live a life you love – not just survive.
What Causes Workaholism? (HINT: It's Not What You Think)
I believe the root cause or reason someone struggles with workaholism is different from one person to the next. While we may have similar behavior patterns, our stories are different. Each person has their own individual story. For me, I dove into workaholism when my relationship ended. Work was a coping mechanism that turned into a fifteen-year habit. It took me a long time to admit this "secret" and identify the starting place of my workaholism.
The bottom line is that we are all unique. The journey that led us to this point is not the same. A lot of our beliefs about money and work stem from our childhood. Usually we take those on and change them up based on our own experiences over time. The causes of workaholism vary and, as such, treatment needs to be highly customized to the individual as well.
How Do You Cure A Workaholic?
How do you cure a workaholic? That sounds like a start to a bad joke. The truth is there is no miracle cure for workaholism. That's life. No quick fix solutions. The only way to deal with the issue is to become aware of your patterns and move through them. Avoidance is not the answer.
If you are a workaholic or see patterns of workaholic tendencies, then you may want to come up with a game plan to address them. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the list below provides a starting point. Decide what’s best for you and take the next best step.
- Create a self-care routine and stress management plan. The best offense is a good defense, so it’s important to clearly map out a strategy that is going to support your body, mind and soul. Many workaholics push themselves relentlessly and do not take care of themselves. Instead, they put their wellbeing last on their never-ending to-do list. Take an inventory of the things you do that bring you joy and help you take care of your body, then incorporate those things into your plan. Some examples may include: I eat a healthy diet during the week, allowing myself the weekend to enjoy myself. I work out three times a week at minimum. I go to the park every weekend to play with my kids. I get a massage once a month.
- Learn your triggers so you can create healthy boundaries that work for you. One of the things, I learned through Workaholics Anonymous is that my workaholism is triggered by certain things. My go-above-and-beyond, people-pleasing nature used to be triggered by social media. I can easily feel as if I am not doing enough, which fuels me to do more (usually at the expense of my health). Therefore, one healthy boundary I set is limiting my time on social media. I use Later.com to schedule the social media posts for my business and then spend less than 15 minutes monitoring responses. Think of areas in your own life where you may need to set better boundaries, then look for solutions that might help.
- If you are ready, consider Workaholics Anonymous. I know that I am violating the anonymity of the program by saying that I went through it; however, I do believe my experiences may help someone else. Shining a light on the constant do-more society that we are living in today could possibly help others feel less alone. Check out their website or reach out to me so you can get the support you deserve as you go through the 12 steps and beyond.
- Research private coaches and therapists in your local area. Perhaps working with a coach or therapist who is trained in techniques such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming or Emotional Freedom Technique could help provide additional tools to manage day-to-day stressors. You may also find a coach who has gone through similar challenges. The beauty of technology today is you can find someone local in your area or online. An effective coach is a trained professional who will listen as well as encourage you to create an action plan for your life so that you see true and lasting change.
- Accountability is a must, no matter where you are today. Let’s be honest -- so many of us workaholics are control freaks. The idea of talking with someone, sharing our feelings and having someone give us advice on our life sounds about as fun as going to the dentist. You’re smart. You can figure it out. But having someone to hold you accountable for your recovery can help. Someone who calls you out on your BS, who can help guide you and support you along the way.
These represent only a handful of ways you can move forward, should you feel you need to address any workaholic tendencies.
This journey can certainly bring up a lot of vulnerable feelings. This quote by Brené Brown from her book Daring Greatly has helped me in those moments:
How Do You Deal With a Workaholic?
Workaholic relationship problems happen. If you know a workaholic, chances are you have formed an opinion about the subject based on your experience. That’s valid; however, try to understand that each person is different. The experience you have with one workaholic could be different than another. You have a right to speak up and tell them how your experience of their behavior has affected you and your relationship. As much as possible, be kind, loving and supportive, while maintaining healthy boundaries. If needed, get a third party involved to help you sort things out. Workaholics Anonymous has resources for family and friends of workaholics.
What Is The Treatment for Workaholics?
You can easily Google books, workaholic treatment facilities and various resources to support you when it comes to workaholism, but the best place to start is Workaholics Anonymous. Their website is a bit old school, but they have a lot of great resources and tools you can browse. In addition, you may want to consider private coaching and customized mentoring so that it fits your needs and schedule.
I chose private coaching with the Workaholics Anonymous material as a guide. My coach went through the program combining the best of both worlds. Private coaching allowed me to be more open and take my time going through each step of the program. The biggest mistakes is forcing yourself to do something you know won't work for you. Ultimately, you want to find the best solution for your needs that will allow you to be consistent.
The Life-Changing Decision
We live in a world where self-sacrifice for the sake of achievement, money, and status is a badge of honor. But what’s the cost?
You may be an ambitious, driven, loyal and passionate worker who is dedicated to their career. You work the long hours to provide for your loved ones. You may be feeling pressure and stress. You may notice small changes in your health. But it’s manageable, and you have it all under control.
You have healthy boundaries. You take vacations. You make it home in time for dinner. You spend time with your family. You know how to relax (even if all your devices are sitting within an arm’s length reach).
Perhaps you see yourself in some of the questions and statements. Perhaps you are curious to learn more. Perhaps you feel you have everything under control. It hasn’t impacted your health, relationships or other areas of your life — yet.
Am I workaholic? That is the potential life-changing question. And there is only one person who can answer it.
The key is being aware and staying curious. Keep checking in with yourself. Keep asking yourself questions. You know what to look for now. You took a few minutes out of your day to open up to the possibility that your current way of being is not serving you. That’s a big first step.
And if you know you are a workaholic, I want to acknowledge you. I commend you for your bravery. When you are ready, seek help. That could be private coaching, rehab, therapy or utilizing a support group like Workaholics Anonymous. You have to determine what’s best for you because your journey is unique. In time, you’ll find a way to remove the shackles and break free. Remember, you are not alone.