Workaholism: a well-defined addiction

I wrote recently about an article from the Christian Science Monitor, in which a reporter interviewed me about "Extreme Jobs," people who work 80+ hour workweeks. I received an email from someone who read my post, miffed that I could judge someone, as "I did not know her." Of course I don’t know her and can’t judge her personally…I’m sure she’s a very nice person, gives to the poor, and rescues puppies…and the only thing I (and anyone else for that matter) can observe is behavior. Working seven days a week, 11 hours a day (not including time at home working) is workaholism, pure and simple (heck, even God rested on the seventh day). It’s been studied, researched, and rehashed, and just because it’s been re-titled an “extreme job” doesn’t mean it’s anything new. It’s not my research, but a very well-documented body of facts on the addiction. If you have any doubts as to whether you exhibit workaholic tendencies, a good place to start is reading Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat them“by psychotherapist Bryan Robinson. Workaholism, Robinson says, is “an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an over-indulgence in work, to the exclusion of most other life activities.” Just like alcohol consumes the alcoholic, work consumes the workaholic. Robert J. Filewich, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director for the Center for Behavior Therapy in White Plains, N.Y., puts it this way: “Workaholics get their sense of worth, value, and importance from work. The clearest indication of workaholism, he argues, is simply the inability to turn work off (in this case, being on call 24-hours a day for the rest of your life). The ironic thing is the note I received talked about how successful this person was because she is so *rich* and *successful.* To recover from workaholism, you have to challenge the social acceptance – even society’s encouragement – of these common phrases: “Look how productive you’re being. You are accomplishing great things.” “You need to earn a living, after all, to clothe your children.” “The economy is bad, and it sure isn’t easy in competitive times like these.” “After all, you possess that strong work ethic your father instilled in you. Hard work is good for you, and you’re not about to become a slacker.” “You just love your work; it is your hobby, in fact, and you’re doing great things for people. You’re having so much fun that it just doesn’t feel like work.” Yeah, yeah, the rationalizations abound. Is there incongruence in these words or simply denial? This workaholic syndrome is socially sanctioned, and in many cases, it’s revered and rewarded. Robinson calls workaholism “the best-dressed problem of the 20th century.” Tony Schwartz, author of What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America (Bantam Books, 1995), said, “Any culture inevitably pulls people toward its norms. Ours elevates those who work relentlessly and disdains those who are more laid-back. Those who embrace long hours and devotion to the workplace not only earn a special place in the ranks of the company, but they also frequently earn more money, which translates into even more approval in our culture.” Here are a few of the common workaholic traits from research: Perfectionism: one who never feels like the work is “good enough,” and labors long and hard to create optimal results. Time commitment: the amount of time one devotes to work; workaholics are so time-committed to their jobs that they tend to put less effort into spouse and family, friend, and leisure activities. Job involvement: one who devotes himself or herself wholeheartedly to productive projects and prefers to make constructive uses of time; may even define job-unrelated tasks as working activities because workaholics often blur the distinction between business and pleasure. Stress: workaholics experience higher levels of stress than other individuals and can experience (but successfully ignore) continual physical effects of stress on their bodies. Unfortunately, workaholism has severe consequences; to name just a few: When studying the children of self-described workaholics, researchers found significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety for these children than those of non-workaholic parents. A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers cited preoccupation with work as one of the top four causes of divorce. Workaholics evidence more destructive behavior: more alcohol abuse, more extramarital affairs, and more stress-related illnesses. Start by admitting you have a problem and join a local chapter of Workaholics Anonymous. WA is “a fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other that they may solve their common problems and recover from workaholism.” To find a support group in your area, contact Workaholics Anonymous, World Service Organization, P.O. Box 289, Menlo Park, CA 94026-0289 or call (510) 273-9253. But hey, the positive news is if you need an emergency gift basket for a client at 3:00 a.m., just call LeGourmet Gift Baskets in Castle Rock, CO, because they answer the phone 24 hours a day and will take your call.



  1. Excellent post, Laura – thanks very much.