Workaholics Need a Break

  By Dr. Frank Burtnett  |    Monday July 30, 2019

Category: Columns, Expert Advice, Productivity

Search and staffing professionals often encounter individuals who are anxious and stressed by their current employment situation and seeking a position that is consistent with their talents, one that is less demanding of their time. To be certain, being overworked is frequently cited by individuals attempting to change occupational environments, but what if the condition is self-induced?  

In such cases---sometimes referred to as workaholism---defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as “a compulsion to work excessively long and hard hours”---it is unlikely that a change in work environments will remedy the situation. When this behavior spreads and gets out of hand, the result is a “culture where materialism and workaholism are rampant.” 

Recognizing Workaholism

The candidate who cannot pinpoint the cause of their employment discomfort may have to look at both themselves and their work to discover the origin of the difficulty. When the culprit can be identified, behavior modification strategies may be the best (or only) path to a more acceptable employment situation. Workaholism manifests itself in multiple ways, including:  

· 24/7 syndrome – Once upon a time the individual cleared her/his desk, put away their tools and left the work station at the end of the day and every Friday at the close of business. Today, the demands of the job, facilitated by new technology and communication devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.,), have connected many to their work 24/7 and make separation difficult---if not impossible. The ability to work from virtually anywhere blurs the line between time on and off the clock.

· Personal satisfaction challenge – Some individuals have difficulty recognizing when their work has resulted in an acceptable product. These perfectionists are never satisfied. In their quest for more or better, they become entrenched and remain connected to their work. In reality, they simply need to know when and how to push back from the keyboard or move away from their workspace.

· Inability to manage time and arrest personal time bandits – Poor time management skills often result in wasted clock and calendar experiences. Positive time management, on the other hand, can lead to an efficiency that will allow for assumption of new and expanded responsibilities, as well as time release for leisure and recreational experiences.  Whether procrastination or one of any number of time gobbling thieves, wasteful behaviors must be replaced by efficient ones.

· Pressure to perform – Fast-paced, competitive and demanding workplaces are known to generate anxieties, both real and imagined, to perform. How the individual responds to those pressures may lead to workaholic behaviors. A change in work environments may be the most constructive alternative.

· The evils associated with telecommuting – The individual who works from home or a close-in remote location is always near their work, a condition that for some makes it all the more difficult to break away. A leisurely walk around the block may offer an appropriate escape.

· Work addiction – Yes, there are some individuals who love what they do, live vicariously through their work and are in constant search of new and more challenging opportunities. This type of behavior becomes problematic, however, when work becomes an obsession and the individual is never satisfied with his/her circumstances.

Self-awareness of the symptoms of workaholism can be a positive first step for those who are affected negatively by this condition. Such recognition may also lead to the corrective actions needed to reduce or eliminate it. 

Addressing Workaholic Behavior 

The problems associated with workaholic behavior may be minimized if the employee masters the following 11 habits: 

· Understand role expectations (What are you expected to do?)

· Determine priorities (What order is required?)

· Observe how peers and colleagues performing similar roles and emulate practices that maximize efficiency. (How do others do it?)

· Develop a task completion plan. (What is a reasonable time frame for doing the work?)

· Develop a personal style or modus operandi that ensures efficiency and productivity in the completion of work responsibilities. (How will you approach and perform the work?)

· Work in concert with others in task fulfillment (How might a workplace team function?) 

· Practice the art of “intelligent neglect.” (What may be delayed or not needed at all?)

· Monitor task completion and time expended. (How will you and others measure your performance?)

· Cultivate disengagement in the form non-work activities and projects (i.e., personal, cultural, social, and recreational, etc.) and make each a part of your calendar. (How will you achieve life-work balance?)

· Take corrective action when required. (What new behaviors will you need to learn?)

· Engage in practices that promote and result in growth, development and mobility. (How will you ensure your personal career development?) 

Two Pronged Effect of Workaholism

Unattended workaholism can be problematic for both the individual and the employer. A Kansas State University study from a few years ago, published in The Economic Times, found a preliminary link between workaholics (individuals working 50 hours a week or more) and reduced physical and mental well-being.  On the flipside, employers need to recognize that creativity, productivity and efficiency are put at jeopardy when their employees don’t function capably and fail to include a sufficient portion of non-work activity balance in their lives. 

Life-work balance will pay significant dividends for both.

You can reach Frank at

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