Pre-COVID work was highly touted as creating thousands of workaholics, perhaps you, perhaps me. In 1971, Wayne Oates coined the term to mean “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly”.
Popular culture considers a workaholic as someone who neglects family, friends, and their self needs in order to spend more hours at their job. In movies and shows, this person is often depicted spending long hours at the office, answering phones or emails at the dinner table, and/or working on weekends. More often than not, they are viewed as neglectful, valuing work success over family needs, and are painted as a villain. These depictions are a bit extreme.
You’re not a bad person for caring about your work, but it’s also important to recognize where the line for being a “workaholic” is drawn. An article written by Morley Glicken states “there are many people who put in long hours, but still give back to their loved ones and enjoy outside activities when they have free time” that don’t qualify as workaholics, but rather those who work hard. The line for her is drawn “when work becomes all-consuming and joyless…it becomes a negative addiction”.
Glicken also notes that true workaholics are ones that work simply to work—they prefer working to leisure and will work anywhere, anytime. If you find yourself nodding at your working habits, a question for you is are you working simply to work, or to distract yourself from other negative things in your life? Do you truly just love your job and want to excel at it every day? Or are you working and find yourself neglecting those in your home with you and the attention they require and need from you? Perhaps you are closer to being a workaholic than you think.
There are two primary reasons why an individual might be a workaholic:
- The need for validation of success outside of ourselves—good grades, gold medals, a promotion. As a kid you wanted to be the fastest in the playground and the smartest in the room. This manifested as we become older to believe that success comes from accolades and achievements.
- High standards of an internal sense of perfectionism, where nothing seems right if it’s not perfect in one’s mind. The higher the discrepancy between performance and one’s self-evaluation of that performance is a significant predictor of whether or not one might be a workaholic.
What might this all-consuming drive to work look like now that we are in the middle of one of the worst pandemics ever in our history? Offices are closed and more are closing every day. With living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens turning into remote offices, the traditional view of workday is on its head.
The question now is…what does a “workaholic” look like even if you’re working from home?
Keith Fentress has been working from home for over 30 years and wrote that although there is fear of working less from home, the added pressure makes one work more from home. He states some of the symptoms he notices working from home are abandoning a daily routine, thinking too much about work, and “feeling trapped as if the pressure will never end and becoming overwhelmed, tired, and stressed”. Does this feel familiar to you?
Take 60 seconds to think about your work day, at the office or at home. When do you turn on your computer and check your email? How many meetings are you scheduled for each day? Do you take a full hour for lunch? Do you stand up every once in a while, and walk around? When do you sign off? After you sign off, do you still check your email or answer phone calls? Overall, have you felt like you’re working more than ever even without a commute?
It’s okay if you are. In fact, staying busy through work these past few months may have provided the distraction you need to process what is going on in the world. Now think about Glicken’s description; are you working hard and perhaps overworking because you enjoy your job, or are the pressures created by this pandemic pushing you to move into the waters of workaholism at home?
Today though, July 5th is National Workaholics Day, a day to remember that life is more than work.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that work is a part of our lives, not our entire lives. If you have been working from home over the past few months, you have been given the opportunity to redefine your work life.
Working from home is a new reality, one that does not need to be identical with the previous one. Think about the satisfaction you gained from working past 6pm in your old schedule, checking your email at the dinner table, or working through your lunch hour and how it can be fulfilled now in other ways. Maybe after every phone call or zoom meeting you spend 60 seconds meditating or five minutes to take a walk outside. Maybe you still take that full hour for lunch and spend it playing tea party with your kids. And set a time to be done—truly done—for the day and commit to it. Turn off your laptop and phone and be present in your at-home life.
The idea of being a workaholic has not disappeared without an office—it’s just transformed. Yes, work is important but if the world has learned anything over the past few months, it’s that work is not everything.