Beware the Dangers of Being a Workaholic

Chances are you know a workaholic. You might even be one yourself. You know the type. They’re the first one in the office each day and the last one to leave each night. It’s not surprising to see them working from home over the weekend or cutting their holiday short to get back to the daily grind – if they allow themselves to go on holiday at all, that is.

Working hard isn’t a bad thing, but there’s a thin line between “hard worker” and “workaholic”. When you cross that line and fail to rest and recharge, you’re putting yourself at risk.

Working too much can have serious health consequences. It increases your risk of depression, heart disease and high blood pressure. All those working lunches and late-night takeaway meals when you’re too tired to cook have a big impact on your diet (and your waistline). There’s even some research that suggests workaholics may experience a decline in cognitive function or an increased risk of developing dementia.

But it’s not just the workaholic who suffers. Partners of workaholics often report feelings of estrangement and abandonment, while children of workaholics show increased rates of anxiety and depression. It takes a toll on the entire family.

I’m Julie, and I used to be a workaholic

I know more than my fair share about workaholics because I used to be one. Prior to moving five years ago, I had a lot of workaholic tendencies. With no kids, no pets and being in business for myself doing work I enjoyed, it wasn’t hard to put in a lot of hours.

However, when life threw a series of curveballs my way with personal health changes, family members getting sick and the death of two family members within weeks of one another, I quickly realised my workaholic tendencies needed to change. I didn’t have the capacity to work at that pace and take care of myself and my family members the way I needed to.

After we moved for my husband’s new job, we were living within 45 minutes of all three of my sisters and their families. I wanted to be actively involved in the lives of my little nieces and nephews, so I started scheduling my work in a way that allowed time for play dates and babysitting as well as social time with their parents. It got me away from my desk and renewed my energy.

At first, it felt like I wasn’t doing enough. What I found, however, was that I was able to get the same amount of work done in less time when I stopped overdoing it. It was a real eye-opener, and it allowed me to focus on my personal and professional well-being.

Why people become workaholics (and how to turn things around)

People become workaholics for various reasons. For me, it was a combination of growing up around workaholics and misunderstanding what it meant to have a good work ethic. Growing up on a farm in Iowa, there was always work to be done, and my father constantly reinforced the mantra “Work hard, play hard.” But the emphasis was typically on the work. Taking a break or doing something fun felt like it had to be earned. Work always came first; relaxation and fun followed…if time allowed.

Personality type is another factor. Some people naturally like to be in constant motion, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you work for (or were parented by) one of these types, however, not being in constant motion can sometimes be perceived as you’re not doing enough. For the personality types who like to think through their options, create a plan and then act, it creates a very different approach to getting things done.

The good news is I’m not afraid of a little hard work. The bad news is my workaholic tendencies will always be present. So I have come up with some techniques to address them. For instance, I colour code my calendar so I can see at a glance how much personal time (pink), work time (green or blue), client calls (orange) and training (yellow) I have scheduled each week. If I’m unable to get the optimal blend of work and personal time in one week, I try to adjust things for the next week to compensate.

Other habits I’ve developed include:

  • Being deliberate about scheduling and logging what I’m doing weekly for self-care: errands, family time, reading, journaling, cooking, cleaning, etc.

  • Establishing set work hours (especially if I’m working from home), and honouring them. For me, that means not going back to my office after supper unless it’s for something I have pre-scheduled intentionally for a specific reason.

  • Enlisting an accountability partner. I have a weekly call with my accountability partner to talk through what I was successful in accomplishing and where I missed the mark. We identify strategies for doing better in the week ahead and check in on each other to provide support. It makes a positive difference in staying the course.

  • Keeping in mind that no matter how deliberate I am about changing my workaholic tendencies, there’s always the risk of slipping back into an unhealthy pattern. Our to-do lists rarely get smaller, so it’s important to be aware of old habits resurfacing and have a strategy to combat them if they do.

It’s great to be engaged and excited about your job. And it feels validating when our colleagues commend us for our dedication. But when people start seeing their long hours in the office as a badge of honour, they risk high stress, low performance and eventual burnout. Don’t let it happen to you!

Julie Perrine, CAP-OM, is the founder and CEO of All Things Admin, providing training, mentoring and resources for administrative professionals worldwide. Julie applies her administrative expertise and passion for lifelong learning to serving as an enthusiastic mentor, speaker and author who educates admins around the world on how to be more effective every day. Learn more about Julie’s books – The Innovative Admin: Unleash the Power of Innovation in Your Administrative Career; The Organized Admin: Leverage Your Unique Organizing Style to Create Systems, Reduce Overwhelm, and Increase Productivity; and Become a Procedures Pro: The Admin’s Guide to Developing Effective Office Systems and Procedures.