The New Workaholism

Workaholic

By Anna McKenzie

The nature of work has changed in recent years, but workaholism is still as prevalent as ever. Why is this the case? Advances in technology promised us the ability to work less; but now that we can work from anywhere — and more people are working from home — our devices have made it more difficult to “turn off” work.

The nature of work has changed in recent years, but workaholism is still as prevalent as ever.

In fact, in the digital age, it may be easier to be a workaholic without even knowing it. This new era of work has its advantages as well as its challenges. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of workaholism as we adjust to a world where the lines between home life and work life have blurred considerably.

What Is Workaholism (or Work Addiction)?

Workaholism (or work addiction) is characterized by a compulsive need to work. It’s similar to drug addiction in that a person is using a drug to relieve pain or stress, but they feel a lack of control in their substance use. People often become workaholics out of an intense desire to succeed or achieve their goals, but they may also be escaping other areas of their life where they feel deeply distressed or inadequate.

Culture, Technology, COVID, and the Pressure to Work More

Because we live in an achievement-oriented culture, we have spent centuries lauding the ambition of those who push limits and break boundaries. In the corporate world, this has translated to praising the practices of now-successful CEOs and billionaires who lived to work and achieve their goals at all costs. Many organizations still tend to equate the number of hours spent working with the amount of value created. But this is a false metric, especially since technological innovations have reduced the time it takes to achieve certain tasks.

In spite of this, people in the workforce still feel pressure to put in longer hours in order to be noticed and acquire more rewards. In some respect, the capacity to complete more tasks in a shorter period has increased the demand for 24/7 availability, inventory, services, and delivery.

In some respect, the capacity to complete more tasks in a shorter period has increased the demand for 24/7 availability, inventory, services, and delivery.

The great problem we face in the digital age is that our devices are always with us. Their capacity pushes into our capacity, because the ability to work is now ever-present. We never really “leave the office” unless we make a concerted effort to do so, and this is especially difficult for those who are tempted to overwork, and others who are pressured into overworking for fear of losing their jobs or the good opinion of their leaders.

Further complicating this situation, the COVID pandemic has ushered in a new era of working from home. Prior to this point, the formal boundary of being in the office versus being at home helped many professionals switch gears between their work life and home life. Now, those boundaries must be both newly created and resilient enough to last through tough seasons.

Workaholism Symptoms: Are You a Workaholic?

Do you wonder if you or a loved one is a workaholic? Norway’s University of Bergen introduced the Bergen Work Addiction Scale as a reliable test to help professionals recognize whether they meet the criteria for workaholism. To take the test, you must review the following statements and rate them on a scale of 1 to 5: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always:

woman working late

  • You think of ways you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

If you answered (4) Often or (5) Always on at least four out of the seven statements, you may be a workaholic. Fortunately, this is a condition that can be overcome with guidance and support. You can correct your workaholic tendencies and develop a healthy work-life balance if you choose.

How to Detach from Work and Create a Work-Life Balance

We tend to talk about “achieving” work-life balance (another nod to our cultural desire for reaching goals), but we might be better off speaking of work-life balance as a cycle we can create. Here are some useful steps from Harvard Business Review for developing a work-life balance cycle:

  • Observation

The first step in detaching from work is developing an awareness of how much you’re working and when. Notice your work patterns without judging yourself.

  • Examination

Think about your priorities. What do you want out of life? What do you want for yourself and your family?

  • Adjustment

How can you restructure your work around those priorities instead of structuring your priorities around your work? This may require communicating with your peers and employer.

Help for Work Addiction and Mental Health Conditions

A CBSNews.com report featured a study suggesting that workaholics may struggle with more mental health conditions than others do. The study’s author Cecilie Schou Andreassen found that taking work to the extreme may be a sign of deeper psychiatric issues such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression. She also emphasized the importance of distinguishing between hard workers and those who overwork, as they are not the same.

If you find yourself compulsively working in order to escape negative feelings or cope, you can get back on track. Helping you find a healthy balance is just one of the many areas we can help you with at The Meadows Malibu. Get in touch with our team today to get on a path to healing and living a more fulfilling life.