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A Field Guide to the Workaholic
Natural Habitat: North America
Americans will work almost 200 more hours every year than we did in 1970--that's about an extra month. According to Juliet B. Schor, an economist at Boston College in Massachusetts and author of the book The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, putting in long hours isn't necessarily problematic. After all, the rewards of hard work--a fatter paycheck, bonus points with the boss, satisfaction from your accomplishments--abound. It's only when the daily grind eclipses other areas of your life that it's time to stop and rethink your schedule.
Paying attention to how you're feeling away from work may offer the best insight, says Robinson. On a scale from one to five, with five being most satisfied, rate your satisfaction with your family life, friendships, health and hobbies. If your total is less than 10 points, it might be time to cut back on work.
Children of parents with emotional problems are often put on the path to workaholism when they must become responsible for their siblings, housework and sometimes even those checked-out parents. Kids learn that it's much easier to focus on tasks than to deal with painful feelings, a kind of avoidance that's often carried into adulthood--something Robinson is familiar with. After his father died when he was in college, he became obsessed with finishing three big papers rather than dealing with his grief. Workaholism, Robinson's research has shown, is closely correlated with an inability to be intimate, and many of his clients enter treatment because their close relationships are falling apart.
Regardless of what kind of home they grew up in, people who have certain personality traits--those who are rigid and perfectionistic or those who are born achievers--are more likely to morph into workaholics.
But while certain professions or environments may reward workaholism, a job can't turn a nonworkaholic into one, says Robinson. "That's like saying a liquor store creates alcoholics."
Varieties of the Species.
After almost two decades of research, Robinson has identified different breeds of workaholics.
The All-Or-Nothing Workaholic
He does things perfectly or not at all. He struggles to get started on projects for fear of not meeting his own impossible expectations. When he does get rolling, he binges to the point of exhaustion. Low self-esteem leads those who suffer from this style to worry compulsively about work, while blaming themselves constantly for not doing it.
The Relentless Workaholic
These types don’t have problems getting started; it's the stopping they have trouble with. They can't say "no," set priorities or delegate responsibilities. They often work so quickly that they make careless mistakes.
The Savoring Workaholic
She obsesses over details to the point of paralysis. She hates letting projects go and so will often create additional work whenever she gets close to finishing a task. She tells herself that no one could do it as well as she could. "They think, 'If I don't do it, it won't be done right or It won't have my mark, says Robinson.
The Endangered Office
Workaholics of all stripes are generally terrible team players, says Gayle Porter, a professor of management at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "They try to control other people, control information. They allow crisis situations to develop because it makes them look like a hero." The end result is that workaholics are often not getting much accomplished. That's why Porter thinks more bosses would do well to reward those who clock out at the end of the day. "The employee who wants to go home is the one who will be most efficient during the week, because she's protecting her time off."
Rein in Your Workaholism
Cut your electronic leashes
Eat lunch out of the office without answering your cell phone. No laptops in bed or at the table. No e-mail on weekends.
Learn to decide what must come first--it's a way to recognize that some things in life simply are more important than others.
Tame your to-do list
Set a cutoff for the number of tasks that can reasonably be accomplished in a day--no more than five. If a new task must be added, knock another off that demands equivalent time. And schedule in time for play.
Dire circumstances can push even the most severe workaholic off the treadmill. The top two calls for reform are:
"You’re Killing Yourself!"
Workaholism can contribute to an array of health problems; a life-threatening illness is what it takes for some to slow down.
"Dad, can I be a client?"
When a child comes home with a drawing of her family that doesn't include her father, for example, he may finally alter his schedule.
- Goodman, Brenda; A field guide to the workaholic; Psychology Today; Jun 2006; Vol. 39; Issue 3
Reflection Exercise #8
The preceding section contained information
about a field guide to the workaholic. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
According to Goodman, what personality traits are more likely to become workaholics? To select and enter your answer go to .