Welcome to The Globe and Mail's Your Life at Work Survey, done in conjunction with Howatt HR Consulting. Click here to take our survey, measure your stress levels, examine if you're a workaholic, find out your Quality of Work Life (QWL) score and determine whether you're able to cope.
Working long hours is generally viewed as sign of a productive and hard working individual. For these people, putting in a 50-hour work week is common.
However, when this becomes the norm and the person develops an internal compulsion to work longer hours – regardless of the consequences to themselves, their family or friends – then this person may have an addiction to work.
Work addiction is real. Statistics Canada reported that almost one-third of employed Canadians aged 19 to 64 (31 per cent) identify themselves as workaholics. In fact, this percentage has not changed since the agency first began collecting these data in 1992.
Like drug addictions, people addicted to work develop negative habits to keep their high. The work addict's high comes from the adrenaline rush they get from their work. A person with a work addiction is internally driven to focus on their work for long periods of time. It is common for the work addict to have obsessive compulsive tendencies about work, and often the person uses work to escape from the world outside of work.
In the early stages of work addiction the person starts to rationalize their need for working such long hours.
As their addiction progresses to the middle stage, their work schedule becomes all-encompassing and begins to control them. As a result, the person starts to experience consequences that hurt their personal relationships, their compulsion for work intensifies and it is their top priority for most of their waking hours.
In this stage it is common for the person to start to experience symptoms such as a decrease in fitness level, and changes in their body weight (either up or down).
If the symptoms become chronic the person will move into the late stage where there are physical changes such as the development of ulcers, increased blood pressure, and headaches. In this stage the person is also increasing their mental health risk due intense emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression and guilt that can result in feeling hopeless and trapped. This addiction cycle – like most all addictions – can end badly.
Many employers don't know how to tell the difference between a hard working employee and a work addict. As result many work addicts get rewarded. When a work addict experiences positive feedback from their employer this "badge of honour" fuels the work addict's internal dialogue to push themself harder – whatever the cost.
It is common for work addicts to be defined by employers as being a valuable and top performer. This success can lead to career advancement and pay increases – again fuelling their addiction.
What is not obvious to many employers is what many work addicts live with:
– They use work to avoid dealing with personal relationships, such as marriage issues or a death in the family.
– They live in a constant state of fear of failure.
– They have inconsistent sleep patterns, and they often stay up late to finish work.
– They are overly concerned about rejection due to a low self-esteem.
– They stay at the office for long hours even when it is not necessary – they will make up tasks in order to stay at work.
– They have high levels of anxiety when dealing with authority and they will compromise themselves to gain approval and acceptance.
– They take substances to increase their performance and decrease their need for sleep.
– They are perfectionists and often unnecessarily redo work to make it perfect.
– They only feel a sense of power and control when they are working.
– They cannot turn their mind off from work to relax and enjoy the rest of their life.
The solution for a work addict starts with awareness and recognition that there is a problem. Next, the person needs to be motivated to take control of their work addiction. Once the person is ready for change they can begin their journey toward regaining control.
To move beyond a work addiction the person must learn how to create a healthy schedule that includes both their home and work lives.
One approach is to remove the reward for working long hours. Employers can help by setting a reasonable work schedule and monitoring it. The end goal is for the person to learn how to enjoy life outside of work.
Do you potentially have a work addiction? Take our Your Life at Work Survey, which includes a quick survey on work addiction.