Workaholism is an Illness

Addiction is a human weakness.  The more obvious addictions such as alcohol, smoking and harder drugs have an addictive quality because of the initial high or release that they give.  The follow-up is an endless search to re-experience that release.  Workaholism is altogether more mysterious.  It seems to be driven by self-image, fear and technology.

The self-image element of workaholism is driven by the way society defines success.  For the main part, success in 21st century developed countries is defined in terms of financial and material worth.  To achieve a better income and to be able to afford the bling generally demands working longer hours; working harder not smarter.  Smart workers who achieve the status without the long hours are often looked upon with suspicion as if they have not really earned their money.

Fear of being downsized out of a job drives many ordinary workers to put in extraordinary numbers of working hours.  The stock markets use a measure of productivity called turnover per head which causes organizations to find creative ways of making the permanent workforce look small.  Consolidation, restructuring and downsizing are all synonyms for improving that ratio.  Smaller workforces are being asked to produce the same and better results than the previous large workforce.  It is not uncommon for people to leave their vacation allowance untouched for fear that they will not have a job to return to.

Add to this the pace of technological advance.  Twenty-five years ago only the elite possessed a cell phone. Now we are all contactable 24 hours a day, we can access all of our work over the internet and instant messaging means that we can interact with co-workers anywhere in the world at any time of the day or night.  It has become almost impossible to draw a line where the working day ends and where the personal day begins.  In Germany they have one word for this, "Feierabend", which literally means "evening celebration" and it is interesting that one can still observe a strong tradition, in some German professions, of finishing work punctually.

Unfortunately, in countries where we don't celebrate finishing work every day, there is no simple remedy for workaholism.  We can't book ourselves into a clinic and detox.  There are, however, support groups around the world who recognize this debilitating illness.  They have a depth of experience in dealing with stress, mental and physical breakdown as well as burnout.  Their advice is predominantly "Change your behavior!"

  • Give yourself a strict non-work regime to follow; make personal time as tightly scheduled as you would work.

  • Contact home more frequently than you call your colleagues

  • Learn to delegate and say no

  • Take more long weekends and longer vacations

  • Build up your fitness

  • Volunteer for charity work

  • Just sit and relax

  • Take up a couple of absorbing hobbies

  • Don't try to be perfect

  • Sleep for 8 hours every night

If you find all this too difficult, you may wish to consider professional psychological assistance.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.