I continue to be amazed by the sheer volume of reports, studies and research that focus on stress and the related health effects excessive stress can cause. In particular the stress our jobs can cause us and what to do about it.
Do you ever feel married to your job? I know at times in my career I have. In fact, at one point I had to make a choice of staying in my career path or sacrificing my family life. To me there was no choice: hands down I chose my family.
That is not right for everyone, however, and to be straight about it my decision caused a whole different kind of stress, along with some very significant adjustments to a new path. Yet I have never looked back and that decision made all the difference.
Don’t get me wrong, hard work is not a bad thing. And some level of stress is actually a good thing. The fulfillment we feel being part of a team that successfully develops and grows an enterprise is one of the best feelings ever.
Yet where is that line between working hard and becoming a ‘workaholic’? What can we do about it when it gets to be too much?
I found some answers in an article published by the Harvard Business Review, “How Being a Workaholic Differs from Working Long Hours — and Why That Matters for Your Health” by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard (read it here).
First, what defines a workaholic? “The term ‘workaholic’ was coined in 1971 by the psychologist Wayne E. Oates, who referred to ‘an uncontrollable need to work incessantly’ as an addiction. Workaholics are characterized by having an inner compulsive drive to work hard, thinking about work constantly, and feeling guilty and restless when they are not working.”
Do hard work and workaholism go hand in hand? “Workaholism often goes hand in hand with working long hours, but the two are distinct: it’s possible to work long hours without being obsessed with work, and it is possible to be obsessed with work but only work 35 hours a week or less.”
Their research went on to show that workaholics experienced a whole array of significant, sometimes severe, physical and mental health problems. “We found that work hours were not related to any health issues, while workaholism was.”
“Specifically, employees who worked long hours (typically more than 40 hours a week), but who did not obsess about work, …reported fewer health complaints than employees who demonstrated workaholism. We found that workaholics, whether or not they worked long hours, reported more health complaints and had increased risk for metabolic syndrome; they also reported a higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more cynicism, more emotional exhaustion, and more depressive feelings than employees who merely worked long hours but did not have workaholic tendencies.”
Not fun being a workaholic. And it can be very difficult to change that behavior, but it can be changed.
- “[A]cknowledge when a relationship to work is unhealthy — when it feels out of control and is undermining outside relationships.” In other words, the first step is to acknowledge one has a problem and become willing to take steps to fix it.
- “[R]egain control over your work behavior. One way to do this is by setting clear rules for how many hours you will work each day.” Basically, develop good habits to know when to shut off work and then engage in activities completely detached from work. For example, spending time with family, friends, reading. Anything unrelated to your work.
- Take time to “…reflect on the reasons why you work excessively and compulsively. We found a striking difference in work motivation between engaged and non-engaged workaholics. Whereas engaged workaholics worked because they enjoyed their work or found their work meaningful (these are intrinsic motivators), non-engaged workaholics were more likely to work for extrinsic motivators such as money and status. Intrinsic motivation is associated with more optimism, effort, and persistence, whereas extrinsic motivation often instigates anxiety and undermines persistence, making failure more likely.” So, liking what you do can help the situation.
- Finally, one point I would add is that self-medicating to treat workaholism is not a good choice. It may feel good in the short term to decompress after a hard day by using alcohol or pills, but be real about the reasons you do this. The regularity of medicating the problem can often only make it worse, like adding gasoline to a fire.
So, you may ask why a debt collection agency would publish a blog on workplace stress and workaholism? Well, the fact is that this is a systemic and endemic problem in our work culture throughout the country. We do our best to help our own staff members stay on the healthy side of the work load. That helps them, but also you, our valued clients, as we always endeavor to provide the best possible service we can. Of course, if by passing this information along to you, it may help you or someone else you are close to, then even better.
A. Alliance Collection Agency, Inc. is a full service, licensed accounts receivable management and debt collection agency providing highly effective, customized one on one management and recovery solutions for our business partners. Founded in northern Illinois in 2005, we have been proudly improving the bottom-line on behalf of our business partners in and around Chicagoland for over 15 years.