Do you work over 50 hours a week? Do you feel a need to constantly stay busy? Do you have difficulty relaxing and having fun? Are you a perfectionist? Are you unable to delegate work to others? Are you so preoccupied with “to-do” lists that you have trouble being emotionally available to others? Does your partner, spouse or children complain about how much you work? Do you forget conversations or events because you are so preoccupied with planning and work? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you could be a workaholic.
Workaholism Is a Disease
Workaholism is a family disease often passed down from parent to child. Workaholics use work to cope with emotional discomfort and feelings of inadequacy. They get adrenaline highs from work binges and then crash from exhaustion, resulting in periods of irritability, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. To cope with these feelings, workaholics then begin another cycle of excessive devotion to work. Workaholics are so immersed in work they have little time to invest in family life and child-rearing. In the time they do spend with their children they pass down their unrealistic and unattainable perfectionistic standards: “A ‘B’ is okay, but you really should be getting ‘A’s.” As a result, their children feel like failures. They grow-up convinced they are inadequate, and may attempt to compensate for these feelings by losing themselves in work or some other type of compulsive behavior.
Workaholism is one of the few addictions that society values and people are quick to claim. “You think you work a lot, I spent 12 hours at the office yesterday!” While your boss may love your workaholic ways, in the end, your boss might be the only one around to love you. Understandably, children of workaholics become resentful of their parent’s emotional and physical unavailability. Promises are broken and important activities like teacher conferences, sporting events and music recitals are missed. The workaholic’s primary relationship also suffers. Research shows that husbands and wives of workaholics report less positive feelings towards their spouse and a greater sense of marital estrangement. In the end, workaholics experience more marital discord, anxiety, depression, job stress, job dissatisfaction and health problems than non-workaholics.
More Money Probably Won’t Make You Happy
A common drive behind workaholics’ obsession with work is the belief that more money is going to make them and their family happier. This belief sets someone on an endless treadmill of working harder and harder to make more and more money to achieve happiness. However, this is a fool’s errand. Decades of social science research has demonstrated beyond a doubt that for most of us, this is just not the case. Above household incomes of $75,000 a year, there is no correlation between money and happiness. So, those families who make $5 million a year are no happier than those who make $75,000 a year. If you sacrifice your relationships, your emotional well-being and your health by working obsessively, you will not achieve happiness but might succeed in becoming lonely and miserable.
Four Tips for Achieving a Healthy Work-Life Balance
If you are a workaholic, consider the following suggestions for achieving a healthy work-life balance:
1. Take what I call the “rocking chair test.” Picture yourself at retirement age sitting on your front porch rocking in your chair. Looking back on your life, where do you wish you had spent more time? At the office? On the golf course? On vacation with your family?
2. Challenge your automatic thinking around work. The fact is, as important as we think our work is, when we are dead and gone, the world will keep rotating around the sun. When you are feeling anxious about a “to-do” list, take some time to root out and correct some errors in thinking. What would be the worst thing that would happen if you gave yourself a day off of work? Could you live with that? Would the world survive?
3. Check in with others regarding your work-life balance. Ask your friends and family if they think you work too much. Workaholics are often unaware of how immersed they are in work and are not necessarily conscious of the negative emotional and physical consequences of workaholism. Opening our hearts and minds to the feedback of those around us is an important step in getting honest with ourselves.
4. Examine your family history around work. When I heard my 100-hour-a-week-working father talk about how lazy he felt compared to his father, my feelings of guilt for only putting in a 70-hour work week suddenly made a lot of sense. Seeing this family pattern around work and becoming conscious of the consequences opened my eyes and helped me change my relationship with work.
Don’t Miss Out on Life
In his popular 1970’s folk song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Harry Chapin sang about a conversation between a workaholic father and son:
"When you comin’ home dad?”
“I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son, you know we’ll have a good time then.”
By the end of the song, Chapin’s protagonist deeply regrets missing out on his son’s life. In his old age he realizes he has passed down this too-busy-ways to his son who is now not available to him in his aging years.
If you are a workaholic, turn off the computer and iPad this weekend, leave the office, and spend some quality time with those you love. It might be difficult at first to disengage from work, but it will get easier with practice. When you are rocking on the porch looking back on how you spent your life someday, you won’t regret you did.
Brad Klontz, Psy.D., CFP®, is a financial psychologist, an Associate Professor and Founder of the Financial Psychology Institute at Creighton University Heider College of Business, a Managing Principal of Occidental Asset Management (OCCAM). and co-author of five books on financial psychology, including Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health.
You can follow Dr. Klontz on Twitter at @DrBradKlontz.