Many addictions feel like a badge of shame, but for workaholics it can feel like a source of pride. After all, our work culture prizes people who can put in the hours.
But our jobs are a marathon, not a sprint: in the long run, overwork takes its toll on our health and our productivity, so workaholics increasingly find it impossible to live up to their own high standards.
The good news is that tackling compulsive overwork can both improve your wellbeing and your job performance. Here’s how to identify if you might have a problem.
Obsessing over work is worse than long hours
It isn’t just about how much you work. Research shows that employees who worked more than 40 hours a week but who switched-off when the day was done didn’t have an increased risk of health problems.
Meanwhile workaholics tended to struggle to psychologically detach from work, had greater risk of heart problems, reported more need for recovery and experienced more depressive feelings.
Look out for these health problems
So, if you’re worried that your high-pressure job is making you a workaholic, watch for symptoms rather than counting hours.
According to Forbes, mental health professionals treating workaholics often find sufferers reporting headaches and migraines, gastrointestinal issues, increased irritability and tiredness and heavier drinking to manage stress. Anxiety and depression are also common.
Regain control by setting clear rules
One former workaholic told the BBC that he had conquered his compulsions with the help of Workaholics Anonymous, which enabled him to set firm boundaries.
“It’s having a plan and following a plan, versus compulsively diving-in to whatever pops up,” says the ex-workaholic, who gave his name as Bob. That meant scheduling work hours and breaks, focusing on one task at a time, and carefully prioritising if unexpected events arose, rather than trying to do everything.
Get external support
Workaholic behaviour is all about taking on too much responsibility. So when it comes to breaking the cycle, “you can’t do it alone,” says Stewart Friedman, Professor of Management at the Wharton School.
Enlist friends and family to help keep you accountable to your new work-life boundaries. Armed with the evidence that your work compulsions might actually be reducing your productivity, you may also be able to involve your boss and co-workers in setting sensible limits on your responsibilities.
Loving your work can protect you from some harms
If you love your work, is it really that stressful? Everyone has their limit on how much they can work, but there is some evidence that job satisfaction can protect against the health risks of workaholism. So, retraining for a more fulfilling career path can be one route to lowering stress.
“Workaholics who love their jobs are somewhat protected from the most severe health risks,” says Lieke ten Brummelhuis, Assistant Professor at the Beedie School of Business in Simon Fraser University. “This may be because they feel that their work is worth all the hard work they put in.”