Although “workaholism” is a somewhat nebulous concept, it has been estimated that up to 30% of workers today could be considered workaholics. (That number is higher if you ask people how they self-identify.) While workaholism is considered an addiction like others, it doesn’t carry the same stigma. Instead, an addiction to work can be regarded positively, as someone who is dedicated to their job and contributing to society.
There is also a great deal of confusion in our understanding between those who are workaholics and those who work long hours because they are highly engaged and love their work. The difference lies in their motivation. Engaged workers find work pleasurable, and words such as “happy,” “enthusiastic,” and “excited” are used to describe their demeanor at work. On the other hand, workaholics are described as having a compulsion to work. Words such as “hostile,” “tense,” and “irritable” are used to describe their emotional state at work.
“Loving your job and being emotionally dependent on it are two different things,” says Melody Wilding, executive coach and author of Trust Yourself: Stop Overthinking and Channel Your Emotions for Success at Work. “Fundamentally, workaholics conflate their self-worth with their professional pursuits and productivity, which is a precarious place to be.”
Anxiety, guilt, and lack of self-assurance were found to be common attributes driving workaholics. While the positive attributes that highly engaged people displayed at work transferred to their home lives, the negative ones displayed by the workaholics also played out at home. Not only did workaholism become a problem for their families; workaholics also had more health problems from neglecting their own health due to overwork.
Workaholism is something that can be treated, by finding support and making certain lifestyle changes. Here are five ways that developing emotional intelligence can help workaholics:
One of the things that has been noted by those working with workaholics is the disconnect many have from their emotions. Becoming more aware of our emotions allows us to identify why we are doing something.
Identifying that we are doing something for the wrong reasons is the first step toward changing our behaviors. Finding out what is driving our needs allows us to drill down to the roots of where they started. Who are we trying to impress? What are we trying to prove and to whom? What are we avoiding by focusing so much time and energy on our work?
The answers to these questions are crucial first steps in changing our patterns, and something I address in my book, The Other Kind of Smart.
Talk to someone you trust
If you are struggling with working too much, you need to find someone to talk to who will be supportive, who you can trust, and who will have your best interests at heart. It is best not to turn to your family but find someone outside who can be objective. Counselors are a good bet, as are friends and mentors who are not struggling with the same issues. Look for people who are successful in their work, have healthy relationships, and are happy with their lives.
“Therapy can educate people about work norms, increasing awareness of how different their patterns are from others, or how their behaviors are perceived by others,” says Dr. Melissa Boudin, clinical director at the online therapy platform Choosing Therapy. “Cognitive behavioral therapy can help a workaholic set limits and boundaries related to work, which are typically difficult for them to do.”
Look for self-help groups
One of the most successful ways of working through addictions is through self-help groups. Alcoholics Anonymous is an example of a group that has had success in helping its members remain sober. There are Workaholics Anonymous groups in a number of areas, which allow you to connect with people who share your struggles and understand what you are going through. If you’re male, the Mankind Project provides a safe environment that allows men the opportunity to be open and share their feelings.
Find a passion or renew an existing one
Have you had a passion or interest that has fallen by the wayside since work has become the dominant factor in your life? Make a determined effort to set aside time for something other than work that you have a strong interest in. It may be difficult at first. Feelings such as guilt may creep in for not spending that time working. Focus on how you feel about doing something that you love, even for a short time. Gradually increase the time you spend on an interest, and make time in your day (such as before falling asleep) to think of how good that time felt.
Take time away to unplug
If you have vacation time, make sure that you use it. Make sure that time is spent totally away from work, with no connection through any devices and no communication with the workplace. This may not be easy, but focus on being totally present in whatever you are involved in while you are away from work. Recharging yourself will not only improve your mental, physical, and emotional health but also allow you to be more effective when you return to work.