A recent report came out on NBC titled, “Are you ‘binge working’? The question is deadly serious.” According to Wikepedia, the definition of workaholic is a person who is addicted to work. While the term can be used to mean that a person enjoys their work and is devoted to his or her career; it is generally used to imply a person feels compelled to excessive work-related activity.
The NBC article cites actual cases of people dying from working too hard, but admits those are extremely rare cases. I’m not a doctor or psychologist and there is no generally accepted medical definition of a condition called “workaholism.” But it is something we have all been touched by; whether we realize we are afflicted or know someone who is.
After reading the article, I interviewed some of my peers and thought long and hard about my past 30 years of working for multiple companies. As a result, here are my top recommendations to avoid workaholism, and to concentrate on healthy – and productive – hard work:
1. Choose to Stay… or Move On. If you are in a workaholic-driven company or division, and don’t want to perform at the expected level, get out. I hear so many people say, “My company makes me work so hard that it’s wrecking my life.” or “I have no life outside work.” One thing for sure: you’re not going to change the company culture or environment you came into.
Managing your career is all about choices. If you don’t have choices, then you become the victim and you’re stuck. So it’s up to you to build choices while employed.
2. Know Your Success Metrics. Too many employees are overwhelmed and, therefore, spend too many hours on the wrong priorities. When was the last time you asked your boss, “What are my top priorities?” or “I have so much on my plate; can you help me prioritize them?” I’ve had a number of great bosses, but one in particular did a very good job of defining my priorities and the metrics of success for me. It made a direct impact on my productivity, how I scheduled my time, and how I could avoid falling into workaholic mode. Minimize work which gives relatively little or no benefit for the time invested.
Knowing what your success looks like will also help you avoid excessive perfectionism in everything you do. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, to paraphrase Voltaire.
3. Use your own calendar to prevent working ridiculous hours. Robert was out of control. He wasn’t seeing his kids often enough, his marriage was in trouble, and he was gaining weight. Finally, a friend recommended a great tactic to manage his schedule. Robert blocked his morning work-out on Mondays and Fridays, he blocked lunch time to run home and have lunch with his wife, then he made an appointment with himself to leave at 6pm to have dinner with his family.
4. Allow yourself to be a workaholic for a brief time… then consciously stop. We all have “crunch times” at work that require extra hours. It’s important to know when you are in that situation, and then be deliberate in getting out of it! If you are a manager, you can set a great example for your direct reports and peers.
If you are new to an organization, be careful that you do not start with a work tempo that encourages others to assume you are a workaholic. I made that mistake and was branded as, “that person who works really hard and can get anything done.” So what happened? I kept getting assigned more and more; I didn’t learn how to say, “I’m maxed out,” and just worked harder and harder to keep up. Not good!
Watch yourself! Are you a current workaholic or a workaholic in training? Only you can make the appropriate changes or the big decisions to get out of the environment you’re in.