Am I Addicted To Work?

We may be addicted, because we like work a lot! And for good reason – it heightens our intellectual and mental capabilities. Work is exciting, challenging, and feeds our appetite to be valued and to contribute.

Research from Sarah Damaske showed that mothers in full time jobs reported better physical and mental health than mothers in part-time jobs, and that mothers in part-time jobs reported better physical and mental health than non-working mothers. The biological marker for stress is cortisol, and in her research Damaske found cortisol levels were significantly less in people at work rather than at home.

Work can be a haven. It’s interesting that in some cases, it is less “Thank Goodness It’s Friday” and more “TGIMonday!” We have less stress at work because we have more control than we do at home. NPR and the Robert Wood Foundation showed that the greatest stresses for us are the death of a loved one or juggling family schedules. No matter how urgent something is at work, there is always something more urgent at home, for example an injured child. We are more comfortable talking about problems at work, in public, than we are talking about home life problems in public. The trump card to getting out of work, is home life. And, for a growing number of us, the reverse trump card is getting out of home life because of work.

It’s a tough balancing act – home and work.

Research also shows that while we prefer more control and less stress, if we do overwork it clearly contributes to poor results at work and health issues at home that we didn’t experience before the 1950s. Does “over-working,” driven either by us or our  boss, actually provide better results? No, it doesn’t. Evidence from Boston Questrom School of Business could not differentiate workload accomplishments of those working an 80-hour week from those doing a 40-hour workweek. In the study, some managers penalized workers who admitted working only 40 hours, yet there was no actual evidence those employees accomplished less, or that the harder workers accomplished more.  

80 hour workweeks are causing health problems including impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impacted memory, and heart disease. The results are even worse – the more hours we work, the higher our level of absenteeism, irritability, turnover, and even insurance rates. Logging crazy hours of work, makes people crazy. The more our job requires planning, listening, perception, emotional intelligence, and decision-making, the bigger the impact overworking has. We begin to live in the weeds, with less awareness of the big picture. The more we work, the less capable we are at doing those tasks required for our success.  

In 1817, James Deb was the first to propose an 8 hour day instead of the 10 to 16 hour days that were required to launch the industrial revolution in Britain. His mantra was 8 hour labour, 8-hour recreation, and 8 hour rest. Productivity was expected to fall but instead it actually increased. I wonder how great productivity and our home lives would be with a 6 hour work day?

All work and no play; makes Johnny and Sally dead.

Oh, we all know what to do to stop the growing stress of workaholic activity. A few are:

  • Blend our personal, family, and business calendars – one calendar and phone, not 3.
  • Set alarms to make sure we only work a specific amount of time.
  • Calendar time for interruptions and specific time blocks to check and send emails.
  • Make social commitments to force engaging the emotional side of our personality.
  • Plan an exercise time and set personal goals for improved strength and cardio activity
  • Set up family rules like no cell phones at the dinner table.
  • Plan calendar events to forcibly drag yourself away from work.
  • Relax with a book or take up new hobby.

These are the practical steps but it all begins with our state of mind. Once we identify that we have, or are starting to develop, a problem, the first thing to do is to devote some thinking time to redefining our idea of success. Why exactly are we working so hard?

Here are 8 simple questions. If we answer yes to more than 6, we may be on our way to obsessive behavior linked to being addicted to work.

  1. Do you think about how to create more time for work?
  2. Do you stress, think, and make notes about work when you are off the clock?
  3. Are you in the bathroom during family time, knocking out a few more emails?
  4. Are you typing a quick work email when your kids or spouse go outside?
  5. Do you use work as a way to minimize other guilt or pain in your life?
  6. Have you ever had an email free vacation?
  7. If you do get vacation, do you sometimes get sick in the first few vacation days?
  8. What is your response when a loved one asks you to be more present with them? Is it something like, “I have to get this done!” or “Sorry honey, mommy has work to do.”

The formulas for success and a nervous breakdown are the same.


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