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The Endless Thrill of More Work

You have heard some people proudly claiming that they are “workaholics.” If being workaholic is synonymous with being hardworking, that is, characterized by perseverance and diligence, then by all means, there is no question why they should feel proud of themselves. But when you feel compelled to work for the sake of working, and you feel panic, anxiety or a sense of loss when you aren’t working, that is totally a different story. That means, you’re a workaholic.

The difference between a workaholic and a hardworking person is that the latter knows when to stop and set boundaries. The non-workaholic knows when he or she has worked long enough. The workaholic, on the other hand, feels uneasy and not yet satisfied with his or her work even if he has been doing for hours longer than the usual. Without the constant activity, the workaholic feels incomplete.

According to Diane M. Fassel, author of ‘Working Ourselves to Death’ and Chief Executive of New Measures, which conducts employee satisfaction surveys, “the workaholic is addicted to incessant activity. The behavior continues even if the worker becomes aware that it is personally harmful – even harmful to the quality of the work.”

Unlike drug addiction and alcoholism, people who are workaholics are praised and rewarded for working excessively. “That never happens with addictions,” Ms. Fassel said.

However, an increasing number of mental health professionals now consider workaholism a condition that can cause both mental and physical damage. Certain types of people are more susceptible to workaholism than others. “Most workaholics are either perfectionists, have a need for control or a combination of both,” said Gayle Porter, an Associate Professor of Management at the Rutgers School of Business in Camden, N.J., who has studied workaholism.

Some people engage in too much work in order to escape from a bad relationship or to make up for an absence in one’s personal life. The danger of working too hard is that the stress that goes along with it has been shown to lead to substance abuse, sleep disorders, anxiety and, ultimately, to physical problems like heart disease.

The following are tell-tale signs of workaholism:

When most people close to you feel neglected by you because of your work, you should certainly take their concerns seriously.

When you regularly conceal from family members that you are working, even sneaking into the next room to work on your laptop, you may have a problem.

There is no question that advances in technology have significantly contributed to the transformation of normally hardworking people into incurable workaholics. Laptops, mobile phones, and internet shops provide easy access for people to go online while in the restaurants, on the sidewalk, at home and during vacation. It used to be that the person who spends the most time in the office is the best employee. Nowadays, however, the person most willing to be connected 24-7 has become the most valuable.

When it comes to accomplishments, workaholics may become so obsessed with the tiny details that they find it difficult to move on to the next task. Workaholics seldom look for ways to be more efficient than satisfy their hunger for more work to do.

The problem with most companies, they think that they are benefiting from a workaholic’s long hours, even if it is at the worker’s expense. What they don’t realize is that workaholism can harm the company as well as the worker. Workaholism not only discourages efficiency, it can also put immense stress on other workers. A workaholic manager, for instance, may expect longer hours from subordinates, and may force them to try to meet impossible standards, then rush in to save the day when the work is deemed substandard.

The workaholic enjoys the opportunity to look like a hero during a crisis, when it could have been avoided. Sometimes, the workaholic may have unwittingly created the problems in order to provide the endless thrill of more work.

Experts agree that the behavior can be very hard to change. People may go through withdrawal syndrome and professional help, or the active support of family members and friends, may be needed to turn the tide.

Employers should not perceive the workaholic’s reduced work hours and curtailed accessibility as a drop in performance. A change in the work environment can minimize the impact of withdrawal. It would greatly help if the individual would request a new assignment or a transfer within the company.

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