Overcoming Workaholism

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Do you have difficult switching off from work? I know I do. I’m blessed in that I love my work, it is an expression of who I am, not just what I do. If I won the lottery tomorrow I’d still do what I do (after a big holiday of course!) But I struggle to switch off. Technology doesn’t help, my phone is both a mobile office and a set of worry beads.

In a chat with a friend recently I heard myself saying that if I’m doing nothing I’m being lazy. (Limiting belief duly noted.) I’m fortunate that I’m busier than I’ve ever been work wise, and that my challenges with work life balance are quality issues, first world problems.

When I become aware of an issue where I’m struggling I will delve into the books and the web for answers and insights. I discovered that workaholism is a recognised addiction. A workaholic is someone who is addicted to work and who defines themselves by their work.

What’s interesting is that someone battling alcoholism will receive support from society, but the cultures of many companies and industries 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 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

I can say yes to at least 10 which is worrying!

 

Workaholism is a symptom – what’s the cause?

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. As Louise Hay says ‘all stress is fear-based.’ So what am I afraid of? Letting others down, being seen as less than professional, not reaching my potential….

Strategies for overcoming Workaholism

Here’s the medicine I’m currently swallowing.

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. I’m thinking about what my life will be like 2 years, 5 years, 10 years into the future if I 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 my 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.

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 I’m saying ‘yes’ to working on a Sunday afternoon to get ahead for the week, what am I saying ‘no’ to? Another great question for redefining boundaries is – where have I compromised too much?

5. Define a healthier work life balance?

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

What are some of the personal life ‘results’ I want to achieve over the next 6 months? What fun activity could I plan? Personal life cannot just be what’s left when work is done!

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 and something I’m revisiting myself.

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

This originally appeared on jamessweetman.com. James Sweetman is a Business and Personal Coach, specialising in assisting individuals and firms to be more effective at what they do. He works both on a one-2-one basis with individual clients as well as delivering tailored training workshops on a range of topics including Confidence Building and Presentation Skills.