Could you or someone you care about be a workaholic? Do one or more of these workaholic descriptions sound familiar?
- Interminable and unrealistic deadlines
- Pressure from your boss to bring in results
- Pressure from yourself to deliver
- Putting in 80+ hours a week
- Constantly thinking about work
- Impatience with others who don’t share your work priorities
- Taking work home
- Little or no personal life from which you derive pleasure
Work addiction only gets worse without treatment, so something should be done before an individual’s obsession with work leads to serious physical, emotional and social problems.
Work addiction treatment: The first steps
Compulsive work addiction takes time to develop, and it will take considerable time to overcome. Before any in-depth treatment can begin, three areas must be addressed by the patient and the therapist or counselor:
- Discover why you overwork — Why do you drive yourself so relentlessly at work, despite negative affects to your physical and mental health? What compels you to be the first in and the last to leave work? Is it fear of being overlooked, insecurity over your position, competition from others – or something else?
- Change way you relate to subordinates — Workaholics can’t let go, can’t give up control. You’ll need to stop so much micro-managing, give your subordinates more direction and encouragement, and focus more on letting them be responsible for their productivity.
- Examine roots of work addiction — Who was your role model in childhood that instilled in you the idea that you have to push yourself beyond limits to succeed? Compulsive work addiction always has its roots in childhood, often as a result of a controlling parent that the child desperately seeks to please. Growing up in impoverished circumstances can also lead to work addiction in adulthood, as the individual vows never again to be without.
Once the underlying causes are identified, the therapist can help the patient begin to learn how to change those childhood messages. One frequently observed characteristic of a workaholic is a deep distrust of others. This distrust masks a profound fear of relationships.
Techniques to help overcome work addiction
Through counseling, the workaholic begins to amass a wealth of strategies, tips and techniques with which to deal with their work addiction. Some of the most important include the following:
- Become more effective — Gone be the days of 80-hour weeks.By taking time out to relax and de-stress, the workaholic will be able to accomplish work-related tasks in much less time. Results from a southern California study of mid- and senior-level executives found that highly effective executives put in an average of 52 hours a week. Less-productive executives, on the other hand, averaged 70 hours per week. Putting in greater hours led to increased anxiety and depression among the less-productive executives, twice the level of stress-related problems such as stomach ailments, headaches, colds and lower-back pain. They also were absent from work three times as much as the highly effective executives.
- Learn how to delegate — No one person can do it all. That includes the workaholic. No matter how hard you try to be everywhere and know everything, the less likely you are to succeed. Sooner or later, with the accumulated projects, deadlines and responsibilities, things are bound to slip. That leads to even more micro-managing, pressure and stress. It’s a vicious cycle. The workaholic has to learn how to delegate responsibility to others. By giving subordinates a task and allowing them the responsibility for their productivity, the workaholic is taking huge steps to overcoming his or her work obsession.
- Reconnect with family — A workaholic’s family relationships are in desperate need of repair. How can you undo years of neglect and absence? Do you even know your spouse and children anymore? Have you bothered to think about their wants and needs instead of your next project, impressing your boss, or how to get ahead? At first, reconnecting with family may be met with skepticism. After all, they’ve gotten used to not expecting to see you on time for family meals, school activities, social outings and other events. But the fact that you start showing up and really being there will make a difference. This personal time is vital to help the workaholic realize that balance between home and work is not only a good thing, it’s essential to happiness.
- Disconnect from work — A cell phone or laptop aren’t extensions of the human body. For the workaholic to overcome their obsession to work, they need to turn off and put away these devices during times set aside for family. Of course, high-powered mid- and senior-level executives need to be available for pressing decisions and emergencies, but boundaries must be set. Take vacations, for example. Tune out, turn off and forget about work while you’re away to relax and rejuvenate. By delegating responsibility to others and letting them do their work, things will probably go much smoother than if you constantly check in with the office. The best part about disconnecting from work is that you’re creating balance in your life.
Where to get treatment
Recognizing the need for treatment for work addiction, the obvious question is where to get it.
Residential treatment, although costly, is one option. For the busy executive, however, this time away from work can result in more immediate results than therapy or counseling on a weekly basis with a psychotherapist.
Of course, there’s the factor of time as well, since an intensive residential treatment program means 24/7 attendance for some days or weeks. Depending on the residential treatment center, length of work addiction, and/or other co-occurring addictions (such as alcohol, substance abuse or others), this may be two weeks or more.
Other than residential treatment centers, there are other ways for the workaholic to get help, including psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of counseling on an individual and/or group basis.
Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, for example, can help the workaholic examine his or her rigid beliefs and attitudes that perpetuate and aggravate the compulsion to overwork.
Finding the right therapist may take some doing. A good first step may be to consult with your family physician to rule out any medical conditions that need attention, and then to obtain referrals to therapists.
Again, any of these therapeutic approaches take time. Nothing happens overnight. Expect to be in counseling for a continuing period, more frequent at first, and then on a maintenance or regular basis (say, once a week therapy or counseling sessions).
If emotional problems co-occur with the work addiction, or are aggravating the condition, medication may be prescribed. Some workaholics suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD), anxiety and/or depression. Medication can often help provide a more stable emotional condition for the workaholic to begin to address and make necessary behavioral changes.
For many workaholics, counseling and therapy in recovery also includes attendance and participation in 12 step meetings. Workaholics Anonymous (WA), is a fellowship of individuals who share their experience, hope and strength with each other in order to help solve common problems and work on recovery. The fellowship holds in-person meetings (in the U.S. and a growing list of international locations) as well as online and telephone meetings. Also consider reading, Workaholics Anonymous Book of Recovery, a 230-page soft-bound book available for order through WA’s website. Some materials from the book, such as the Characteristics of Recovery, are available for free download.
As Confucius said hundreds of years ago, “The longest journey begins with the first step.” Take the first step today and get help to overcome work addiction.
By taking action, you will be well on your way to recovery. Envision a life no longer dominated by work, a life in which you derive satisfaction and pleasure from personal relationships, playtime and/or just relaxing. You can do it. Start today to achieve balance.