Guest Post by Carol Brown
Do you live at work? Always answering work emails and calls while at parties and dinners? Do most of your weekend plans involve work? You might just be a workaholic. While there are certainly good things that come from working hard, being a workaholic may not be the virtue that the modern working world has made it out to be. These days, it’s hard to even admit to just working a 9 to 5 day. Even Facebook’s COO was reluctant to admit that she goes home to her family at 5:30 each night, even though she’s obviously very good at what she does (you don’t get to be a COO of Facebook and a former executive at Google by doing nothing, after all) and works very hard.
While it might seem like employers have a lot to gain by getting employees to work more hours for the same salary, the opposite might be true. Employees who don’t take time off to enjoy their own pursuits or to maintain balance in their lives may end up less productive, more burnt out, and more likely to leave an employer than those who do enjoy a life outside of work. Read on to learn why employers (and workaholic employees) should take a hard look at the highly competitive and often unbalanced work environment that exists in many industries, as being a workaholic isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.
There’s more to life than work
Work can and should be an important and fulfilling part of your life. It should not be the only important and fulfilling part of your life, however. There is a lot to be said for working hard, getting ahead, and loving what you do, but if that’s all you ever do, your life lacks the balance and richness it needs to truly be fulfilling. What’s more, getting away from work to spend time with friends, family, or even just pursuing a hobby can help you return to work more creative, rested, and happier.
Being a workaholic can be very stressful
While some claim that stress helps to motivate them to work harder and get more done, the reality is that even though it may have some positive benefits, the negative effects of stress may far outweigh them. Stress is a contributing factor to numerous serious illnesses, from cancer to heart disease, and can disrupt sleep, sexual function, mental health, and a wide range of other important health issues. It also can take a toll on relationships, making you snippy, bitter, and ultimately very unhappy. While no job is ever stress-free, those operating under high-stress, workaholic situations might want to take a close look at the long-term effects their work is having on their lives.
Achievement isn’t everything
We’re taught from a very young age that achievement should be one of our main motivators in life. As kids, we work hard for good grades, praise from adults, and trophies and later on for raises, promotions, bonuses, and benefits. Many workaholics are extremely achievement driven, and while doing well and getting ahead in your career is a great thing, it isn’t everything. Other factors can be great motivators as well, like getting a chance to spend time with those you love, have new experiences, and enjoy things outside of work.
A mind that never gets a break may not be at its best
While you might think you need to be on the ball all the time, your brain could actually benefit from some time off. Numerous studies have shown that taking a break and giving yourself time to rest, whether on a daily basis or through a longer, occasional vacation, actually results in higher levels of productivity overall. When you work and work and work without a break, you’re actually making it harder to do your job and may even be pushing yourself into a mental rut that can be hard to escape. As much as the U.S. corporate culture wants employees to feel guilty for taking vacation days, even the most work obsessed can benefit from a break now and then.
If you live to work, you’re missing out on the best parts of life
Yes, work can be an amazing part of life, especially when you’ve found something you’re passionate about. But the best, most lasting parts of life aren’t often found in the boardroom. These things are found in the time we spent with friends and family, traveling, eating, drinking, and enjoying all the wonderful things there are to do in the world. Unfortunately, working too much can often take a heavy toll on relationships, as one University of North Carolina study found that marriages involving workaholics are twice as likely to end in divorce. When you look back on your life will you really be happy you spent more time at work and less time with the people you love? It’s not likely.
Working can be an addiction
Much like an alcoholic has to drink to get through the day, a workaholic can’t go more than a few hours (or minutes) without thinking about or wanting to do work. He or she may want to work at times when there’s really no rational reason to want to do so. Work, like gambling, sex, or substance abuse, can actually be an addiction, and sometimes even a destructive one. While you might make gains at work, your personal life, health, and emotional state may suffer. Workaholics often deny that they have a problem, hiding behind their technology and a myriad of excuses to justify their inability to cut ties with work, even while on vacation. Like any other kind of addictive behavior, this doesn’t make for a healthy life.
Working too much can take away from the benefits so much work brings
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, right? This old saying actually holds some truth. If you’re working so hard that you don’t have time to enjoy fruits of your labor, then, really, what’s the point? Are you working simply for work’s sake? Cultivating interests outside of work is essential for a balanced, healthy life, as is actually being able to enjoy the things you can buy with all of that bonus pay. Take vacations, pursue hobbies, and give yourself something to talk about around the water cooler besides work.
Work shouldn’t be a prison sentence
A study by a management professor at the Rouen Business School found that many workaholics are often perfectly happy logging long days. Yet the study also revealed that this was only the case when people wanted to put that much time into their jobs. Those forced into working by a competitive workplace, an unrealistically demanding boss, or because they felt they needed the money experienced incredibly negative effects from time at work, reporting chronic stress, trouble with relationships, and less fulfillment on the job. Workaholics who operate under these conditions aren’t helping themselves in their careers or personal lives, and are headed for burnout, mental issues, and potentially even serious health problems.
Burning out won’t help the bottom line
While most businesses are appreciative of the long hours and dedication employees put in, working yourself to the point of burnout isn’t really helping anyone. It will drain you both mentally and physically, and can make it so that you dread having to go into work every day, especially if you work in a high-stress environment. There is only so much the human mind can take, and while we each have our own thresholds for burnout, pushing yourself beyond your breaking point and working your hands to the bone isn’t necessarily a positive thing. In fact, it could lead you to hate something you once loved and could carry over negatively into other aspects of your life.
Work is about quality, not quantity.
Someone who puts more hours into his or her work isn’t necessarily better at his or her job than someone who works less. Time spent at work is about quality, not quantity and there are many cases where being a workaholic can actually lower the quality of your work. Think about it, if you’ve already put in 10 hours in a day, how great is the report that you’re writing when you get home really going to be? You’d probably be able to finish it in less time and do a better job if you had a break from work and a good night’s rest, rather than trying to push through a ridiculous 14-hour day. Staying late at work may buy you brownie points with the boss, but at the end of the day, results are what really count.
You’re not participating in your own life
While 70 to 80 years might sound like a long time, in the grand scheme of things, the human life is brutally short and goes by in the blink of an eye. Work is a part of life, often a big part of life, but it isn’t the crux of what makes us human or even what makes us happy. Watching your life go by while you toil away in an office is a tragedy, really, when there are so many other amazing ways to use your time. Volunteer, visit family, find romance (even fleeting), and just take part in determining the course of your life rather than just watching from the sidelines. Yes, it’s hard to break away from work, but it’s so worth it.
Excess is rarely a good thing
Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. Just like eating too much cake will give you a stomachache, spending too much time at work can make you feel, well, not so good. Working hard and pushing yourself to get ahead is a positive, surely, but working to excess isn’t. Any obsessive, compulsive behavior will have some pretty big negative consequences, even when something is largely positive in moderation. Think about it, having a puppy is great, but having an excess of puppies? Eh, not so much. Being able to set boundaries and restrict yourself from overdoing it is just a part of life, and something that even a self-avowed workaholic needs to be able to do to have a balanced, and ultimately happy life.
Links and Sources:
- Are you addicted to work? New survey claims to know the answer (theglobeandmail.com)
- Reclaiming Time (samvaknin.wordpress.com)
- New test to prove whether you are a ‘workaholic’ (telegraph.co.uk)
- Overcome Your Work Addiction (blogs.hbr.org)
- Workaholic? Maybe You’re Really a Successaholic (inc.com)
- The Importance of Vacations (thehrstrategiesblog.wordpress.com)
- Vacation is Stressful When Workers are Constantly Checking In (themarlincompany.com)