Plenty of us describe ourselves as a workaholic, and why not? We are passionate, committed and willing to go the extra mile for our employer. We’re leaders who drive performance and set benchmarks. We are the ultimate employee…a romanticised workplace status. Many young professionals often aspire to be recognised by their superiors as such. Yet the reality of being a workaholic is actually a recipe for disaster.

Not to be confused with a hard worker, psychotherapist Bryan Robinson states that workaholism by definition is “an obsessive compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an overindulgence in work to the exclusion of most other activities.” The ‘disorder’ brings heightened risk of stress, burnout, more errors in our work, increased absenteeism due to health issues, less productivity and a decline in job satisfaction. Sounding idyllic now? So why would we want our bosses and co-workers to define us as a workaholic? It makes no sense.

Presenting as a complex challenge for employers, the negative effects of workaholism can be minimised with the right management techniques. And it may begin with management setting the example. A boss who works back every day is establishing an expectation, making others feel guilty for leaving on time. If this sounds like you, make an effort to leave the office on time at least twice a week. Work boundaries prohibiting staff from attending to work matters while on vacation can also be communicated. Which brings attention to another matter – workaholics may be loath to take a holiday. A good manager will encourage their workers to pursue their interests, including supporting a better work life balance. When a member of staff wants to attend their child’s sports day, support their desire to take time off and delegate their workload for the day. Typically a workaholic functions better when they are provided with resources to achieve their work goals. This includes additional personnel, the opportunity to rest, equipment and social support.

Do not assume that a workaholic wants everyone to get out of their way. In reality they want to contribute to team goals, the organisation’s achievements as well as their own personal success and witness how their efforts affect the bottom line. When well resourced, goals are more attainable and achieved with reduced tension. Some workplace cultures can glorify hard work thus enable the negative consequences of being a workaholic. Organisations and managers who turn a blind eye to the downfalls of being a work martyr are supporting a negligent culture.
To assist a workaholic to prioritise their work, set clear tasks with defined schedules and outcomes. Ensure they are working effectively rather than extraordinary hours. Frequent conversations to discuss productivity can help to manage their pace and schedule and those they are directing. A workaholic can unbalance team members with additional timelines and burdens if not controlled. Rewarding efficiency and quality workmanship over quantity of work is recommended.

Some people label themselves as workaholics for simply putting in a few extra hours each week when in actual fact it is a disorder that can consume us if not managed. Remembering that effort does not always equate to desired results will allow us to identify our ‘sweet spot’ and maximise productivity as well as personal time. The astute manager will connect with their workaholics and regularly communicate with them to help them find the right blend of work life balance. At the end of the day employee retention is important and we want our top performers to contribute long term to company successes, not burn out after only a few years.

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