Work ethic has become a value that runs deep, and in recent times, people work nights and weekends. It has become a way of life. While many workers would love more time off, job insecurity and technology that keeps them constantly plugged in can often get in the way. Some people manage to make things work. They carve out time for their personal lives, they find ways to work more efficiently, they know when to let go.
But for others, it can be a slippery slope from a busy work month to an endlessly busy work life. Working hard without letting go may be acceptable in certain work cultures, but such a lifestyle can lead to detrimental long-term consequences. Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, who is also professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and author of the book Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them says close to a quarter of Americans are workaholics.
There are strategies for scaling back and building healthier life habits. But the first and sometimes most difficult step, is simply recognizing the problem. Read on to see if you have symptoms of a workaholic.
1. You work longer than your colleagues
Workaholics are typically the first to arrive in the office and the last to leave, or they log in after hours and work into the night. Do extra hours equal productive hours? Not often, studies say. Instead, experts say that breaks, time off and self-care enable more productivity in fewer hours.
2. You can’t turn off
Workaholism isn’t simply defined by working long hours. True workaholism, is the inability to turn off thoughts of work. “A workaholic is someone on the ski slopes who is dreaming about being back in the office,” explains Robinson. “A healthy worker is in the office dreaming about being on the ski slopes.” And there are benefits to daydreaming. The more you can turn off outside the office and stay calm during work hours, the more you activate your parasympathetic nervous system and disarm your body’s stress response. “It doesn’t matter where you are, it matters what’s going on inside of you. That’s the key,” says Robinson.
3. Your body feels unwell
Workaholics have a lot of bad habits that can hamper health. Constrained for time, some turn to junk food, some inhale lunch at their desks and others skip meals altogether. Exercise is often abandoned and sleep habits get thrown off schedule. Mental health experts who specifically treat work addicts consistently see the same ailments among the overworked: gastrointestinal problems, headaches and migraines, weight gain or loss due to poor diets, increased irritability and tiredness, heavier drinking as a form of stress relief.
“When your stress response is trumping your rest and digest response, what happens is our body secretes cortisol, adrenaline and a lot of other hormones that are really detrimental physically. “We know for a fact these things lower our immune system. They clog our arteries. So they create all kinds of physical illnesses.”
4. Your relationships are strained
Workaholics need to look no further than to their loved ones for signs of their work addiction. Family members and close friends are often the first to feel their absence. “When people who love us tell us, ‘I never see you’ or ‘you’re never around,’” it’s time to reevaluate our work-life balance, says Robinson. Workaholics tend to miss important life milestones like anniversaries and birthdays because of work. They have a hard time saying “no” to the boss and an even harder time saying “yes” to the family. Eventually, Robinson says, marital issues tend to surface. His research reveals that for people in marriages with one or more workaholic, the divorce rate is 40 percent higher. And the damage doesn’t stop there. Children of workaholics tend to have more anxiety or depression.
5. You tie your worth to your work success
“Workaholics define their self and self-esteem by achievement only,” says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD. Author of the book The Office Survival Guide, Puder-York has worked with many work addicts who routinely tie their value and identity to their work and feel destroyed by less-than stellar results. The culprit, she says, is perfectionism. With these unrealistic expectations, a worker will rarely feel satisfied with themselves. Puder-York recommends letting go of perfectionism and unhinging self-worth from performance.
There are many other red flags for workaholism. To find out if you exhibit other signs of workaholism, take Robinson’s Work Addiction Risk Test.
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