It is August and (apparently) the height of the English summer. The schools have broken up for the summer holidays and many of my readers will be heading off for a well-earned break. Maybe you will be one of them.

What will you be thinking of on holiday – and will work be part (or most) of that? Will you be taking work (and your laptop) with you on holiday? Does your phone (Blackberry, iPhone) allow you to take time off or does email arrive areerbuilderontinually thoughout your ‘break’?

Come to that, will you have a holiday at all?

Statistically, a good few of us here will be workaholics. They will be the ones who are working whilst on holiday or not having a holiday at all. That got me thinking – is Workaholism acceptable and, in a CEO, is it a good example?

If you were alcoholic or addicted to gambling, you’d get help, wouldn’t you? So why is it that workaholism is an acceptable thing, almost, for some, a badge of pride. What messages does it send if the MD is a workaholic?

What is workaholism and how can you detect it? In a recent article on an Australian News site (see sources for link), workaholism is defined as an unhealthy addiction to work. They go on to say that, “it makes sense that those with addictive personalities are prime candidates”.

Workaholics can be moody, impolite and irrational. Holistic Services Group (in the same article) offers the following tips on spotting workaholics:

• They put work at the centre of their life and continue to talk and worry about it after hours with friends and family.

• Their outside interests are not as meaningful as work and they identify primarily as their occupation – for example, “I am a lawyer” not “I am a father”.

• They are perfectionists who sweat the small details more than other team members.

• They seem emotionally charged, which might manifest through anger, tears, moodiness, depression, insomnia or acting “wired’.

• They react erratically rather than responding logically.

• They are so caught up in their job they don’t notice social cues or what’s going on around them.

• Workaholics can also become manic and poor at delegating.

• They might become short-tempered or less tolerant and polite

Dr. Rudy Nydegger, chief of psychology at Ellis Hospital, described – in article in a NY based local newpaper (link at end of article) – workaholics as people who are obsessive about thinking about work. “It’s on their mind almost incessantly, and there is a compulsive quality to it as well,” said Nydegger. “If they are not working all the time, they are either annoyed or feel guilty that they should be working. And yet we know that the most productive and effective people typically don’t work like that.”

The justification that workaholics often use is to say “it is just hard work, isn’t it?” It isn’t ‘just hard work’, there is a big difference. Working hard is healthy, whereas workaholism is not. The mood swings – from depression to elation and from optimism to pessimism – that can accompany workaholism affect the workaholic’s ability and performance, not to mention his or her judgement and they affect those people close to the workaholic – family as much as work colleagues.

According to Barbara Holmes, Managing Director of Work-Life Balance International (quoted in the Australian article), smaller business owners often establish a culture of long working hours, sometimes unintentionally. “Business owners know they’ll reap the rewards of their hard work in the future,” says Holmes. “But they are setting the tone and employees might feel they also need to be seen working late.”

Few workaholics recognize themselves, said Nydegger. “Worse than that, many of them are proud of it,” he said. “I’ve heard it described as the only socially acceptable addiction.” While Nydegger said there is nothing wrong with working hard, workaholics take it to an extreme. “In terms of their personal lives, clearly if people overwork, the trade-off is that other things in their personal lives that should be important slip away,” he said. Workaholics seem to have a need for recognition and acknowledgement, he added.

Some of you reading this may recognise the signs of workaholism in yourselves. The first step in making changes is to accept that it is happening and to seek help. To do this you need to recognise that your symptoms are unhealthy and unlikely to be effective in improving your performance. Begin delegating (and give authority to those who get the work to do), prune out of your work life those elements that give little or no return (no matter how important they may seem) and include into your life some non-work interests (and make sure they don’t become obsessions).

If one of your team is workaholic, coaching is an option but they may need access to a therapist. You may find that they deny they need help and react against the suggestion. You may consider paying for the therapy as they will repay the cost by becoming a more effective employee. Help them to prioritise their work and be sensitive to removing work from them as it may cause an adverse reaction.

As a CEO, stress at work is your issue and not just because the law says that is (see Stress is costing you money, this newsletter December 2007). A workaholic employee can be close to breakdown. Avoiding that trauma (for all concerned) also makes good business sense.

Sources –

Workaholics – Hidden Time Bombs – www.news.com.au/business

Workaholics gather to find ways to a more balance life- www.dailygazette.com/news/2008/jul/02/0702_workaholics/

Resources –

Workaholics Anonymous (USA) – www.workaholics-anonymous.org

Workaholics Anonymous (UK) – www.workaholics-anonymous.org

Addicted to work – Six Tips (Career Builder) – www.careerbuilder.co.uk/UK/

By Brian Chernett
August 2008

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This article first appeared in Freshbusinessthinking.com’s Virtual Director Newsletter.
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