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Work Addiction Overview

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Workaholic Intervention

Business professionals face challenging obstacles today that are otherwise coined as “life balance” choices. This dynamic has become one of great concern in assessing both the physical and mental health of today’s business professionals in the workplace. Workaholism or work addiction results from a multitude of serious problems that are neither gender nor industry specific. In short, this problem is affecting corporations, organizations, and talented individuals from every occupation and industry.

Work addiction syndrome is not a result of willpower, lack of talent, education, morals, or family values. In many instances, the business professional affected by this dysfunction is not even aware of the nature of the problem. What they are aware of is that life is not enjoyable anymore, and they are being affected both at work and at home.

In some instances, the many accomplishments resulting from addictive work patterns, unfortunately, do not satisfy. The work addict with this type of addiction is driven to perform even harder and accomplish even more due to the inability to relax, feel and smell the scent of potential success. These intense work schedules and associated behaviors can be symptomatic of underlying issues, insecurities, and a skewed self-image. In many instances, workaholic behaviors are self-imposed but not based on an accurate perception of oneself. The work addict can also use work much like the alcoholic uses liquor to self-medicate, manage, control, and avoid feelings.

Workaholic Styles

Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., one of the nation’s leading researchers on the disorder and author of Chained to the Desk and other books on workaholism, says, “Overall, workaholics tend to be less effective than other workers because it’s difficult for them to be team players, they have trouble delegating or entrusting co-workers or they take on so much that they aren’t as organized as others.”
In fact, his research indicates four distinct workaholic working styles:

  • The bulimic workaholic feels the job must be done perfectly or not at all. Bulimic workaholics often can’t get started on projects and then scramble to complete them by the deadline, often frantically working to the point of exhaustion- with sloppy results.
  • The relentless workaholic is the adrenaline junkie who often takes on more work than can possibly be done. In an attempt to juggle too many balls, they often work too fast or are too busy for careful, thorough results.
  • The attention-deficit workaholic often starts with fury but fails to finish projects — often because they lose interest in another project. They often savor the brainstorming aspects but get easily bored with the necessary details or follow-through.
  • The savoring workaholic is slow, methodical, and overly scrupulous. They often have trouble letting go of projects and don’t work well with others. These are often consummate perfectionists, frequently missing deadlines because “it’s not perfect.”

Assessing Work Addiction vs. Hard Work

It is important to differentiate between someone who has a Type A personality and is an extremely hard worker and someone who demonstrates the characteristics of the work addiction syndrome. The Type A worker appears like he/she is a workaholic, yet they always demonstrate the ability to set healthy boundaries when needed. When work addict gains insight into/unhealthy patterns, they demonstrate a loss of control or an inability to self-regulate their schedule and set healthy limits. In spite of serious negative consequences, the individual suffering from work addiction syndrome will continue to act out the negative pattern affecting their life.

Consistent with sexual addiction or eating disorders, denial can play a major factor in the work addict’s ability to reach out for help. The denial factor can prevent the impaired business professional from seeing or experiencing the reality of his/her life. They have an altered perception when it applies to this area of their life. In many instances, the workaholic possesses an overdeveloped “sense of self” as it applies to their career. The professional’s career takes on the importance of defining who they are, not what they do.

Evaluating Work Addiction

In today’s world of buyouts, mergers, takeovers, downsizing, etc., it is not unusual to find businesses and/or organizations unknowingly encouraging and supporting work addiction. In fact, it’s encouraged as many businesses and corporations are under economic downsizing pressures, with more work and fewer employees. Many large corporations are either uninformed or in denial of the serious problems incurred as a direct result of this syndrome, therefore, going untreated. These problems can range from low morale, substance abuse, excess stress, workplace harassment, various personal problems (i.e. divorce), and above-average absenteeism. This dynamic can ultimately create a state of tension and chaos in the workplace. Employees affected by this behavior will often describe feelings associated with living on the edge in the work environment of the work addict or the addicted organization.

Assessing the life balance component for any business professional can provide extremely valuable insight into his/her personal and professional life so be sure to ask the appropriate questions regarding both of these components.

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