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Recovering from Workaholism


"Hi. My name is Wayne and I am a workaholic." About ten years ago, had I gone to an addiction support group of one kind or another, I might have introduced myself with those words.

My wife would tell you that I have been a borderline workaholic all the years she has known me. But from my own experience, I have seen both sides of this tendency to spend too much time and get too great a reward at work at the expense of family and personal life.

The Honorable Addiction

Clearly, most of us when we think about addictive behaviors, the connotations are negative. Alcohol and drug addiction come to mind immediately. Perhaps a pornography addiction or compulsive overeating might also be readily identifiable. And the consequences of these addictive behaviors are almost always harmful.

But being a compulsive worker tends to be seen in most circles as being a positive. After all, who gets the bonuses, the promotions and the glory in the workplace? Those who are committed to the employer at the expense of most everything else reap the rewards of that behavior. It is not only honorable, it is recommended to others at most workplaces. And the praise and recognition simply reinforces this approach to life.

Perhaps that praise and recognition make it one of the most difficult addictive behaviors to overcome. Many addictions take place in secret-this one is praised openly and regularly.

But the perceived successes at work come with a price. After all, there is no free lunch. What are some of the very expensive prices involved in workaholism?

Strain on Relationships. The workaholic tends to be so task focused that he loses focus on the important relationships in his life. Workaholism puts a strain on a marriage, on relationships with children, with extended family and with friends. None of these relationships gets the attention that work does.

Damaged Health. In its advanced stages, workaholism tends to bring with it headaches, sleep disorders, gastric problems and chronic fatigue. We who are workaholics tend to pay the price with our health over time.

Obsession with Control. Most workaholics tend to be successful at work because they have control and power. There is often in their mind one right way to do things, and very little if any flexibility. This may work in some settings, but it clearly suffers when applied to relationships at work, at home and in other less formal settings.

Overall Productivity Suffers. Because the workaholic tends to do so many things well, he or she has the tendency to not delegate or try to develop subordinates. By not having the leverage available to those who do work well with others, the workaholic does not build organizational capacity for success. In the long run, the employer suffers from this approach.

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