You work hard, put in extra hours and make sure every task is completed to perfection. So what if you skip lunch, miss dinner with family, sleep on occasion?
You may be a workaholic.
According to Statistics Canada, one third of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 44, about three million people, identified themselves as workaholics in 1998. More than half, about 4.9 million, admitted that they worried about not having enough time for family and friends.
In a society where job dedication is praised, workaholism is an invisible addiction.
"It's easy to miss the signs in our society," says Ronald Burke, professor of organizational behaviour at the Schulich School of Business, York University, in Toronto. "Work addicts are rewarded, valued members of an organization. But what's going on in their deepest souls, the signs of pain are not visible."
What are the signs?
A workaholic is preoccupied with work, whether at the workplace or not. Unlike someone who simply works hard, an addict is driven to work, feels compelled to work, is unable to delegate to others, has a lot more stress, is a perfectionist, and may be using work as an escape. "It's why you work those hours and how you work those hours that defines the workaholic," says Burke.
Other signs include working overtime, neglecting meals, leisure, and relationships, refusing to take days off, and taking on more that one person can handle.
In a darker stage, "A workaholic is someone who has become emotionally crippled and is addicted to power and control," says Barbara Killinger, a clinical psychologist and author of Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts (Key Porter Books, 2004). "They become more obsessed with work, they get on the gerbil wheel and don't feel alive unless they're pumping adrenaline." They usually come from a workaholic family, a breeding ground for perfectionism.
As the fears of failure, boredom, laziness, discovery (such as inefficiency) and paranoia increase, so do fatigue and erratic behavior, like projecting blame on others. Then comes loss of feeling, ability to communicate clearly, intimacy, independence, integrity, respect, spirituality and sense of humour, which spiral towards heart attack, stroke and even suicide, explains Killinger. "The more obsessive you get, the more chaotic you get inside."
Meanwhile, in trying to prove worth, in attempting to bolster shaky self-esteem and self-concept, technology may be the workaholic's worst enemy. With cell phones, laptops, fax machines and pagers, "You can work 24/7," says Burke. "For those people who are addicted, man, this is golden."
Tips to recovery
So, how does a workaholic recover? "It's a long, slow journey," says Killinger. Early recognition and prevention are key. Clinical therapy for the individual and organizational change, such as not rewarding addictive behaviour, for the company, may be solutions. In the end, the goal is to balance work and life -- and in doing so decreasing family tension, abating health problems and actually increasing the quality of work.