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Workaholism-Not an asset, a sickness

Updated on July 31, 2010

Jobs can kill

I write on sites in the US and Europe on employment issues. Overwork is a major problem around the world. It’s an easily avoidable situation, and there are much better career approaches. This is an analysis of basic issues.

In the 80s, being a workaholic was an achievement. People would work mindlessly for long hours, and their conversation degenerated into talking about nothing but working long hours. Their lives vanished. There are a lot of myths about workaholism, and they’ve become entrenched in the employment market as some sort of symbol of success.

The facts about workaholism are a lot less impressive:

  1. If you have to work extremely long hours for long periods, you’ll eventually wreck your health. Overwork and stress are inseparable.
  2. Why does it take you 14 hours to do a job supposed to be done in 8 hours? If you’re taking on extra work, what’s in it for you, if anything?
  3. Is the work productive or necessary? If so, why aren’t people being hired to do it faster and more efficiently? Are you just the pack mule in the workplace?
  4. If the work isn’t providing clear benefits, profits, or other real results, it’s a hideous waste of time and effort which could be done doing almost anything else which would be productive.
  5. Even the most fanatical careerists don’t work for no results. Workaholics, on the other hand, will work on principle, or for the illusory nod of approval from a boss which actually means nothing.
  6. Fear of losing a job is another factor. The naiveté of workaholism is well illustrated by the basic theory that hard workers don’t get sacked. Wrong. Good workers shouldn’t get sacked, but they do. Until there’s formal business training for managers teaching them to recognize productive, efficient workers, they will continue to get sacked.

If this looks like internal and external stresses are the basic scenario for workaholics, it is. Workaholics simply go over the edge and don’t even look where they’re going afterwards. The result is “crash and burn” to apocalyptic levels, and it’s often career destroying.

Bad job design

Another reason for workaholism is that bad job design gives people lots of work which simply can’t be done efficiently. It has to be done, so the result is a sort of pseudo-workaholism. Long hours, endless issues, and no level of efficiency. The effects are identical. A good worker burns out for no good reason. The work isn’t even particularly useful, often just management bureaucracy or administrative minutiae a competent business manager would eliminate.

The career issues

Sadly, a lot of the workaholic’s extra work isn’t even useful on a CV. The ability to say you’re a team player doesn’t mean much if the team’s playing major league football and you’ve spent a career playing minor league marbles. The fatal mistake is that all that work goes exactly nowhere in career terms.

Worse, the highly inefficient types of work are also obsolete. Turgid days and nights of number crunching aren’t exactly best practice. The workaholic literally stuffs their resume with ancient rituals, then wonders where all the job opportunities went.

Recognition and peer groups

If you go looking for employee recognition and accolades, you’re either a saint or a masochist. Recognition isn’t part of the culture, anywhere, despite much effort in trying to teach managers the value of positive reinforcement, and meaningful rewards.

There’s even a social angle. The remains of the old “boss coming to dinner” sitcoms are now a weird sort of peer group mechanism, easily exploited by management. The much loathed “meetings for everything” syndrome is part of this process. Workaholics blunder through this extremely picky, friction-generating environment like the horse in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which literally worked until it died, working for the ruling pigs.

Cynics can exploit this very disingenuous situation easily. They don’t believe in any form of work ethic and simply work on managers more than their jobs. The workaholic comes up for air once every few years and wonders where their promotion went.

If you want to work like a maniac:

  • Make sure you work for something worthwhile.
  • To hell with office gulags. Either the work environment is acceptable, or it isn’t.
  • Don’t destroy your health. You can’t go out and buy a new you when the old one wears out.
  • Don’t ignore stress. When you feel lousy, it’s because you are feeling lousy.
  • Don’t do anything and everything simply because it’s there. Delegate, avoid, whatever, but don’t lose your life to your job.


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      Very good subject to be dealt with. People often don't realize until it is too late.