June 14, 2007 -- It's a frequently asked question: Do we live to work, or work to live?
A growing number of Americans are finding that they live for work, and some of them are popping up at Workaholics Anonymous meetings nationwide.
Unlike people who simply work very hard, which quite frankly is most of us, workaholics never punch out. They always feel like they are on the clock, 24/7, physically, mentally and emotionally working.
They are more genuinely enthusiastic about work than anything else in their lives, even family and friends. There's nothing that person would rather be doing than working.
And we're not just talking about Fortune 500 executives; nurses and construction workers, among others, attend Workaholics Anonymous meetings to try to kick the habit.
What Are the Trouble Signs?
If you're a workaholic, you can't stop thinking about work. Work issues distract you from relationships and those thoughts speed through your mind as you lie in bed at night. A part of you is always longing to get back to work. Nothing — not eating, socializing, sleeping — is as satisfying.
Here's a good way to think of it: An ordinary hard worker will be on the job, thinking about shopping with friends. A workaholic will be out shopping with friends, but will be thinking nonstop about work.
Workaholics are very controlling. They can't delegate and are not usually interested in being team players. They are perfectionists and nothing is ever good enough for them. Workaholics would rather handle everything themselves, which doesn't always produce the necessary results because often we need the input and help of others.
A workaholic also has a troubled personal life. Typically workaholics don't have many friends or hobbies. Their personal relationships are in disarray. They have difficulty with intimacy because work is always on their minds. And of course, there is a ripple effect in the families of workaholics.
Research done by the University of North Carolina found that couples in a workaholic marriage tended to have twice the divorce rate as those who were in nonworkaholic marriages. We know that all marriages take work, but that's not the type of work that a workaholic wants to focus on.
Further, there is the effect on the children. Research has also found that children of workaholics have a higher rate of depression and anxiety mainly because that workaholic parent has placed severely high expectations on his or her kids, which links back to that desire for perfection.
And there are health concerns for workaholics, caused by the extreme levels of stress they suffer. They often eat poorly, don't exercise, and in short, they take poor care of their physical and emotional well being.
Solutions to Kick the Habit
Like any addiction, it's challenging to kick and the person needs a support system to help. First, a workaholic must recognize and admit the problem.
Take this quick personal survey: Ask yourself, on a scale of one to five — five being truly satisfied — how you'd rate your satisfaction and happiness in each of these key areas of your personal life: Your family? Your friendships? Your health? Your hobbies? Your spirituality?
If your total is not 12 or more points, you have to take a hard look at yourself. It's probably time to reconsider your priorities and to replace some of your work time with life time.
On its Web site, Workaholics Anonymous suggests 20 questions to ask yourself to determine whether you may be a workaholic. Among them:
Do you take work with you to bed, on weekends and/or on vacation?
Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?
Have your family or friends given up expecting you on time?
Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?
Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?
Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?
Answering yes to one or two might not be the sign of an addiction, but a pattern of yes to three or more of these questions might mean it's time to make changes. But of course, with all addiction, making those changes is easier said than done.
Make time to relax. Since workaholics are so detail oriented and focused, they should schedule time off to relax and play. Use this time to find new ways to find happiness and approval and satisfaction outside of work. Look for other benchmarks to measure your overall well-being such as achieving fulfilling personal relationships -- being a terrific, reliable partner, parent, and/or friend -- or even trying a new hobby that offers a complete diversion from work.
Learn to delegate. Recognize that none of us can be successful or productive at work on our own. This is hard for these perfectionists, so they can start small, such as sharing small tasks with co-workers to start whether it's folding shirts in a retail store or managing the office staff. Slowly, the workaholic can see that he or she can begin to let go and still get the job done.
"Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them," by therapist Bryan Robinson
Workaholics Anonymous Web site: www.workaholics-anonymous.org
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the CEO of Women for Hire. Connect with her at www.womenforhire.com.