When the suffix “-holic” appears in a word, it usually means an addiction to something.

We are familiar with the term “alcoholic”. But in recent times, all kinds of additional “holics” have made an appearance. We now have chocoholics, foodaholics and shopaholics! I guess we can describe these people as those who love chocolate, food and shopping so much that they are “addicted” to them.

So who are workaholics? People who love work so much that they are addicted to it?

Aha! Here’s where a workaholic probably differs from a chocoholic or a shopaholic.

You see, the workaholic rarely “loves” work. There are a few very fortunate exceptions to this of course – there are people out there who truly do love their work and are very passionate about it, to the point where working is actually fun for them.

But for the average wage earner, which is most of us, we are “forced” to become workaholics. It’s not by choice. Most companies and organisations today are solely focused on generating profit. The welfare of employees is not really very important to them. There is a constant pressure to do more with less and for employees to take on more and more with fewer and fewer resources.

The result is a fertile ground for workaholic tendencies to flourish. Before one assignment can be finished, another is dumped upon us. And so on and so forth until we find ourselves staying at work later and later and coming in to work earlier and earlier, just to stay on top of the increasing workload.

And in the few precious hours that we are at home, what happens? Yes, emails and texts and watsapp messages coming in non-stop from our subordinates, colleagues, bosses, customers and clients. We feel the pressure to respond immediately. Surely we will look bad if we delay until morning? We might be thought of as lazy and unproductive.

Thus …we end up working almost 24 hours a day. There is also the expectation (some companies actually make it a policy) that people will be available during weekends and even on public holidays and vacations.

The workaholism epidemic is by no means confined to full-time employees. In fact, it affects entrepreneurs and business owners far more. In many cases, saying “no” to a customer or potential customer’s request, equates to a lost opportunity to earn revenue. Thus many entrepreneurs and business owners push themselves to constantly be available 24/7 and 7 days a week. After a while, this becomes a habit and their family life and health suffer.

There is also another group of individuals who work in order to avoid dealing with things they are unhappy about or would prefer not to face. This could range from an unhappy marriage to a psychiatric disorder such as depression. There are also others who use work as an excuse to avoid doing tedious things they prefer not to do, such as deal with difficult family members. Such persons try to work as much as possible so that they can respond “Sorry I can’t, I’m working” when faced with a request they do not want to comply with.

Still others fall into the category of “Yes-Men” workaholics. A common workaholic trait is the inability to say “no”. Instead of being to politely but firmly reject attempts by people around you to give you more and more work and projects, you find yourself saying “Er, yes, OK, sure” to every single request, assignment and instruction. Before long, you’ve taken on so much that you’re feeling stressed and panicked as to how you’re going to get it all done. The only way you can cope is to become a workaholic, working at all hours of the day desperately trying to clear your to-do list.

Do the above signs and symptoms of workaholism sound familiar to you? If so, you may be a workaholic!

Why is this not a good thing? Surely there is nothing wrong with hard work. But, the reality is that while hard work is good, “workaholism” is not healthy in the long and short term, not just for individuals but for companies as a whole. Studies have shown that people working more than 8 hours a day per work week are susceptible to health issues both mental and physical. While it may be assumed that workaholics are highly productive, they can’t sustain their blistering pace and eventually burn out. Productivity drops and health issues set in. No job is worth sacrificing our health over. Truly, health is wealth. Nothing else (not even wealth) matters as much at the end of the day.

So what can we do about our workaholic tendencies to protect our health and relationships with important people in our lives? Here are some suggestions.

Take some time to analyse how you spend your time at work and how you interact with your customers, colleagues and superiors. Are you making the most strategic use of your time? If you are working hard, is there a clear career path that is opening up before you that makes it worth your effort? Is there a monetary or equivalent reward that is within your grasp?

If the answer is yes, go for it, but be mindful of how much you are putting in. Know your limits. Make sure that the work you put in, leads you further towards your goals. Keep yourself balanced.

If the answer is no, then you must actively find ways to curb your workaholic tendencies. Pay special attention to your day-to-day activities and try to block off “me-time” on your calendar, during which you will not think about or attend to work-related matters. Other strategies include practicing meditation, taking regular time off (even if it is to just be at home).

Like all habits and addictions, workaholism can be controlled and some sort of work-life balance can be attained.


Personal finance author and trainer

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