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Workaholism: Is Your Life Out of Balance?

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Today’s post, by Pam Ruster, discusses workaholism. While many in the United States consider this a “respectable addiction”, it’s an affliction that affects both a person’s career and personal life.

Workaholism affects a person’s health, job efficiency, and interpersonal relationships. Symptoms can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Workaholism can be easily compared to other addictive vices such as smoking, drinking, and gambling and would be similar to process addictions where people at times can have a physiological release from working excessive hours.

There is some evidence that there are two types of workaholics – the naïve addict who is unaware of a time inconsistency problem and the rational one who is aware of the problem but cannot exercise self-restraint. Workaholics should not be confused with inherent characteristics of work preference, but rather the realization that the disutility of additional work is less than the worker forecasted early in his or her career. This type of worker is not seeing how they are moving into the direction of over working. The other type of workaholic will know it is not healthy to over work but continues to do so due to lack of control. There are plenty of highly educated and high income people who over work as well as less educated and lower paid workers.

train work

© Flickr user Elvert Barnes

In the present economy, it is not uncommon that people find themselves working longer hours for the same money out of the pressures to keep their job. A person in this situation will take on some of the same characteristics of someone who works excessively which may result in relationship or health problems, similar to a smoker who continues to smoke even though it is not in their best interest. Another type of person that can be identified as a workaholic is the person with a previous addiction, but has now ceased that drug of choice. They may find themselves working more and developing a workaholic profile, seeing it as less harmful compared to the previous addiction.

People with mental health problems such as those with impulse control disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder can find themselves over working too. Treatment for these individuals will be different as the mental health condition needs attention and treatment verses a behavioral disorder. Workaholics can mask anxiety, low self-esteem, and intimacy problems. Workaholism in Japan is considered a serious social problem and leading to early death. In the United States, workaholism is viewed as the so-called “respectable addiction.” They find themselves feeling the urge to be busy all the time, yet they often tend to be inefficient workers since they focus on being busy instead of focusing on being productive. The workaholic may have a hard time working as part of a team, delegating, or entrusting co-workers. They can also suffer from sleep deprivation and become addicted to the adrenaline their body produces when working in high stress jobs.

Treatment for workaholics is important for an organization and a Human Resource Department to address to make the work place more productive and efficient. There are real costs that can be measured with the workaholic behavior. Referral to an Employee Assistance Program can be the first step in helping such an individual or having the Employee Assistance Program provide education to the workforce. If the person has an underlying mental illness, a counselor can assess and help such a person in getting the correct treatment.

Pam Ruster, a licensed clinical social worker and Owner/President of Supportive Systems, LLC, which provides EAP and Corporate Development services to corporations throughout Indiana. Pam has extensive experience as a consultant and trainer, presenting numerous workshops and seminars. www.supportivesystems.com.

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  • http://www.accelawork.com/ Robby Slaughter

    Great article, Pam! It’s interesting to note that there are two varieties of workaholics. This seems important in understanding the addiction to work and how we can achieve better balance.

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