Battling workaholism

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Did you know workaholism is a recognised addiction? We often use the term flippantly, but there is a more serious meaning. A workaholic is someone who is addicted to work and who defines themselves by their work. 

Interestingly, someone battling alcoholism will receive support from society, but the cultures of many companies promote behaviours that are symptomatic of workaholism.

How do you know if you are a workaholic? Read through these statements and note your level of agreement.

  1. I frequently work outside ‘office/ normal hours’
  2. I’m always checking email in the evening and at weekends
  3. My blackberry/ mobile phone is rarely switched off (and never far from my side)
  4. I will cancel arrangements with loved ones to get more work done
  5. I will postpone personal activities until deadlines are met
  6. I will take work home at weekends
  7. I will take work with me on holidays
  8. I rarely use my full holiday entitlement
  9. Even when I’m not working, I’m often thinking about work
  10. I believe that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’
  11. I find it difficult to switch off
  12. I don’t have time for hobbies or outside work interests
  13. Clients/ colleagues can contact me more or less at any time
  14. I believe that if I want something done well, I’ll need to do it myself
  15. There is always something that needs to be done

Workaholism is a symptom – what’s the cause?

From my experience, an underlying cause of workaholism is a feeling of insecurity or lack of worthiness. We try to prove our worth through our work, our sense of identity is welded to our work. If we make a mistake or experience a setback, we take it very personally; we feel it reflects on us as a person.

Six strategies for tackling Workaholism

1. Admitting there is an issue

This is step one in dealing with any ‘aholism.’ You acknowledge that your approach to work has to change, not just for your own benefit, but for the benefit of your loved ones. Think about what your life will be like 2 years, 5 years, 10 years into the future if you don’t make changes. Workaholics focus on the short term, the current tasks, the next deadline (‘dead – line’ being an interesting term!) but what’s the bigger picture, what are the long-term consequences of your habitual behaviour?

2. Ask for assistance

It is very difficult to battle any ‘aholism’ in isolation. Speak with your family, share your concerns, ask for their input. At work, can you have a conversation with your manager/ director, HR, a colleague, an external professional? From my experience, if framed positively, most managers will be supportive, especially if in the long-term adjustments will help you be more productive. If you feel your organisation would not be supportive, or indeed if it actively promotes the traits of workaholism, you have to ask yourself is this a price I’m willing to pay.

3. Identify what you can stop doing

We’ve all heard of the phrase ‘working smarter.’ Working smarter is always about identifying tasks you need to stop doing. Workaholics have lengthy ‘to do’ lists, it’s time now for a ‘not to do’ list. Think back over the last two weeks, with the benefit of hindsight what could you have dropped? Start with baby steps - what one task could you remove from next week’s ‘to do’ list that perhaps is just habit or no longer adds value?

4. Draw more distinct boundaries

You start to define boundaries by being more conscious of the choices you are making – what you are saying ‘yes’ to and what you are saying ‘no’ to. For example, if you are saying ‘yes’ to working until 7.30pm, what are you saying ‘no’ to? Having dinner with you family perhaps. Another great question for redefining boundaries is – where have I compromised too much?

Again we can start with baby steps. For example, you make the commitment that at least twice a week you leave the office by 6pm. For one evening a week you leave the blackberry at work! Once a week you arrange to meet someone for lunch, so at least on that one day you won’t have lunch at your desk.

5. Define a healthier work life balance?

You need to get curious about how things can be different? What would a healthier work life balance look like to you? Unless we can imagine something different, it will be difficult to create it.

Identifying desired results, writing tasks lists, scheduling activities and making use of a diary are all tools we use at work. Redefining work life balance means using some of these tools and mindsets in a personal life context. What are some of the personal life ‘results’ you want to achieve over the next 6 months? What are the actions you need to schedule for next weekend? What fun activity could you plan for the family? Personal life cannot just be what’s left when work is done!

6. Get clear on the really long –term goals

The longer the time frame, the more personal our objectives. Anyone who has worked with me in the areas of time management or work/life balance knows that I prefer the term ‘musts’ rather than ‘priorities’ (the word ‘must’ packs more of an emotional punch.) If you think of your 5 ‘musts’ for the next week, for most people at least 4 of their 5 ‘musts’ will be work related. But extend the timeframe – what are your 5 ‘musts’ for the next 10 years, 20 years, 40 years? Now we are into personal life territory and the bigger life priorities. These are often the ‘one day’ goals. One day I’d love to live in the country, one day I’d love to write a book, one day I’d love to travel to Asia. As we know ‘one day’ is not a day of the week!

Bringing the really long-term goals into awareness reminds us of what is really important in the bigger scheme of things.

We have to remember that workaholism is not the same as working hard. There are times when working longer hours or being contactable at weekends is required, but these should be the exception rather than the rule.

As I stated at the outset, a workaholic is someone who is addicted to work and defines themselves by their work. A final question to reflect on is - leaving your work to one side, how would you define yourself? Now that’s a deep one!

We are always more than our work. Work is something we do, but it is not who we are.

James Sweetman is a Business & Personal Coach specialising in assisting businesses and individuals realise their potential. He works both on a one-2-one basis with clients as well as delivering workshops on a range of topics including Communication Skills and Motivation. For more information on all his services

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