John Brewer Coaching & Consulting
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Are you a workaholic? 5 ways to work hard but avoid addiction.

The necessity of hard work was frequently impressed upon me in my childhood. “You have to earn it to deserve it” my father would say. This was long before I vaguely knew what work was. In my early career I “worked hard and played hard”, but now, older, wiser with family and at today's speed of change, that doesn't work for me so well.

As I look back on my journey so far I have a different perspective on working hard. Working hard on the right things, in key moments, is healthy and productive. Becoming addicted to your own need for hard work, at the expense of overall balance and the well being of your important others is not. Being a workaholic has significant negative affects on you and your company. 

I have been called a workaholic, I have worked with a large number of them, and as a Coach I see many examples of leaders feeling trapped with the demands of work, in part excited by the pressure, in part fatigued by it.

A workaholic is a person who works compulsively. It is a physiological and psychological addiction. Workaholics Anonymous is an organization dedicated to supporting those who are struggling with symptoms.

Just to be clear, I am not advocating shirking responsibility or commitment to working hard to support your goals or the company’s mission, I am underscoring the need to work hard in a sustainable and healthy manner. 

If your own work becomes everything, this suggests that there are important gaps in your life, that you may be rigid in your pursuit of your needs, and unaware of the impact your behavior has on your family and colleagues. From a leadership development perspective being rigid inhibits the cultivation of deeper self-awareness, relationships and new skills.

I recently read an excellent book aptly titled “Chained to the desk” by Bryan E. Robinson. Robinson details the impact a workaholic parent has on their family. In a similar way to drugs, work addiction wrecks havoc on a family. What hit home to me was that the more severe the workaholism, the bigger the negative impact on the functioning of the family, the ability to communicate and demonstrate feelings. Ouch. Many workaholics experienced dysfunctional childhoods.

So how do you know if you are a workaholic? Excessive impatience, perfectionism, a need to always be in control, adversely affected close relationships, are all flags.

You can take your work addiction risk test here.

5 ways to work hard but healthy:

  1. Review your work environment: In several jobs I’ve held I had to reduce meeting times simply because I was back to back in them all day. I was exhausted! Have a conversation with your manager and your team. Share your feelings on what is exhausting and energizing in your work environment. Rally around positive habits
  2. Uphold your Identity: Don’t let finishing your work tasks be the definition of you. Companies hire you for your character and skills, and those closest to you appreciate you for many precious qualities you have
  3. Be Positive with Progress: I remember times at Alaska Airlines, when I was driven so hard to meet a deadline I had to keep my team focused on delivering, but also frequently understand and accept that we had problems that necessitated re-prioritizing as calmly as possible. Often I felt between a rock and a hard place. Beating yourself or your team up about missing a deadline or goal is counter productive. Perfection is a simply a moment in your imagination. Being upbeat on progress is much kinder to yourself and others
  4. Play: Make sure you give yourself time to mentally detach from work. Enjoy hobbies and close relationships 
  5. De-stress: Consider meditating to help you pause, or get that exercise in to give you vitality and the all important physiological benefits. Combating stress by soothing yourself can be an effective way to replace negative feelings with positive ones. Kristine Neff has a self-compassion test that is very helpful with this

Working hard, in unison to meet the company goals in bursts is critical to compete, meet customer needs effectively, and to energize your team who aspire to achieve great things.

But for Leaders, when hard work becomes an addiction for you or your team, the stress and consequences are counter productive and a serious threat to physical and mental health. And you want to keep your team fit and healthy don't you?