Workaholism: The Issues on Working Too Much and Loosing the Essence of the Job

Workaholism has been called the respectable addiction. After all, workaholics make excellent employees. Inside, however, they may feel unfulfilled. Work can become either a distraction from painful feelings or an obsessive quest for approval. Ice protects the skater from drowning in water; activity protects the workaholic from drowning in feelings. Like the skater, the workaholic can put on a dazzling show. But it is all on the surface. What often lurks below? Mental-health counselor Linda T. Sanford writes: “When the work addict is not consumed with work, he or she may be flooded with dreaded feelings of depression, anxiety, rage, despair and emptiness.” (2000, 17)

The ingrained compulsion of many workaholics suggests that it is a long-term characteristic, possibly rooted in one’s upbringing.

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PEOPLE WORKING THEMSELVES TO DEATH?

Trying to maintain an unreasonable work schedule can be dangerous. After examining the results of a survey of 3.6 million workers and 37,200 workplaces, Professor Lawson Savery of Australia’s Curtin University, along with a researcher, published a research paper entitled “Long Hours at Work: Are They Dangerous and Do People Consent to Them?” The answer to both parts of that question was, in effect, yes.

In a world where many toil for long hours, it is useful to distinguish between hard workers and workaholics. Many workaholics see the workplace as a haven in a dangerous, unpredictable world; the industrious experience work as an essential and sometimes fulfilling obligation. Workaholics allow work to crowd out all other aspects of life; hard workers know when to turn off the computer, to switch gears mentally, and to be present when celebrating their wedding anniversary, for example. Workaholics find an emotional payoff in overwork and get an adrenaline high from it; hard workers do not.

Modern society blurs the line between the two as it glamorizes overwork. Modems, cell phones, and pagers may blur the boundary between workplace and home. When any place can be the workplace and any time can be work time, some will work themselves to death. How do some people react to such an unwholesome attitude? Sociologists have discerned a trend of overworked and overstressed people toward bringing spirituality into the workplace and integrating religious and professional lives.

HOW HAZARDOUS IS WORK-ADDICTION?

According to the study authored by Bonebright and her colleagues entitled “The Relationship of Workaholism With Work–Life Conflict, Life Satisfaction, and Purpose in Life”, they mentioned that organizations today actually value workers who are hardworking and self driven. Likely, the said employees are the ones making most for the business. It is undeniably true though that these people are also the ones usually needing of psychological assistance for the sake of reducing stress and increasing self control in terms of work addiction. Apparently, the study showed that people of such characteristic usually feel awful and desperately disappointed when they get things wrong especially at work. Moreover, this particular study also notes the fact that these people are also among those who are in the population of those who are usually getting the most dangerous sicknesses related to stress and over work such as heart attack and being overly tired resulting to nervous breakdown that costs their health as much as they have earned for the hospital fees and medications that they have to pay for the sake of regaining the strength that they lost from working more than hard enough.

From the same study, it has also been learned that the comparison between the non-workaholics and workaholics geared to a much better understanding as to who among the said workers are likely to acquire the most level of work related illnesses. Workaholic employees are likely the ones who are to have dangerous diseases that bring their health down.

ON MEDICAL HEALTH AND DEPRESSION

While some workaholics fall victim to disability and death, others succumb to burnout. “Burnout has no precise medical definition,” explains Fortune magazine, “but the commonly accepted symptoms include fatigue, low morale, absenteeism, increased health problems, and drug or alcohol abuse.” Some victims become hostile, while others start making careless mistakes. How, though, do people become victims of work burnout? Generally, it is not the maladjusted or emotionally disturbed who do. Often it is people who care deeply about their job. They may be struggling to survive fierce competition or toiling to climb the corporate ladder. They work long and hard, trying to take full control. But when unwavering devotion and nonstop work do not produce the expected satisfaction and reward, they are disillusioned, feel worn-out, and become victims of work burnout. What are the consequences? In Tokyo a telephone service called Life Line, set up to help would-be suicide victims, is getting more and more calls from desperate middle-aged and older office workers. Of the over 25,000 suicide victims in Japan in 1986, an amazing 40 percent were in their 40’s and 50’s, and 70 percent of these were male. “It is because depression among middle-aged wage earners is on the increase,” laments Hiroshi Inamura, a professor of psychiatry.

Then there is what has been styled holiday neurosis. The symptoms? Irritation on holidays from not doing anything. Driven by compulsion to work, the work devotee’s conscience troubles him on days off. Unable to find peace of mind, he paces around his small room just like an animal in a cage. When Monday comes, off he goes to the office, relieved. A unique type of depression that is now sending middle-aged workers to the doctor is the so-called home-phobia syndrome. Worn-out workers linger around coffee shops and bars after work. Eventually, they stop going home entirely. Why do they fear returning home? Though unsympathetic spouses may be a factor, “many had been working too hard and lost the ability to adjust to the outside world, even in many cases to their own family,” says Dr. Toru Sekiya, who provides a “Night Hospital System” for such patients.

HOW THE FAMILY IS AFFECTED

Being focused with one’s work is not a wrong act at all. However, being overly dedicated to one’s particular job is quite overwhelming to the different aspects of the lives of such individuals. Most often than not, these people are the ones involved with the issues of not being able to complete their responsibilities with the relationships that they have in their personal lives. It could not be denied that the focus that they have upon their career issues is gradually making the life of such workers quite devastated on the part of their personal connections including the family. Itzhak Harpaz’s research on “Workaholism: its definition and nature” points out that workaholism has actually caused many individuals in acquiring higher amounts of financial savings while loosing most of their relationships in life such as friendships and family affairs.

The research further acknowledges the fact that people of such characteristic believe that the modern society is primarily dependent on the making of a more productive employee population in the organizations today. Hence, as they continue to realize this particular idealism, they loose the essence of being alive in such a wonderful society. It is undeniably true that these people are having the hardest time appreciating the world around them including the people living around them as they are primarily focused on their careers and how they are particularly increasing the manner of their progress in their own field of interest.

WHEN THE WORK FINALLY ENDS

The book At Work sounded a warning in its introduction: “In our society, . . . so strong is the link between work, self-esteem and social position that, on retirement, some find it extremely difficult to adjust to a life free of their former work roles.” Those who center their lives on work must ask themselves this question: ‘What will I have left if my work is taken away?’ Remember, when a person retires, his life may revolve around his family and community.

Those who have neglected the need for communication with their family and neighbors are at a loss after retirement to know what to talk about with them. “They are paying the bill for refusing to look at anything but work, are they not?” says a veteran counselor for middle-aged couples in Japan. “Their life lacked the human aspect, and they took everything for granted just because they were the breadwinners. When they retire, however, the tables seem to be turned.”

Those 30 or 40 years of hard work, supposedly for the family, can backfire. How sad if after years of hard work, former breadwinners are looked upon as “industrial waste” and nureochiba (wet fallen leaves) by their families. The latter expression is used in Japan to describe retired husbands who have nothing to do but hang around their wives all day. They are thus likened to wet fallen leaves that stick to a broom and cannot be shaken off, nothing but a nuisance.

DEALING WITH THE ISSUE

Fittingly, though, experts generally see workaholism as a sickness, not a virtue. Jack needs to play—and not just when he is a boy; adults as well as children have this same need. Why? What do people get out of leisure, or play? One textbook on the subject made a list: “Self-expression, companionship, integration of mind and body or wholeness, physical health, a needed contrast or rhythm in the work-constrained schedule, rest and relaxation, a chance to try something new and to meet new people, to build relationships, to consolidate the family, to get in touch with nature, . . . and to just feel good without analyzing why. All these are among the benefits people find in their leisure.” True, sociologists have devoted many books to the subject of leisure and play, and they agree that leisure is essential both to the individual and to society.

(Deal with Stress)

“There will always be stress in life, and really what we have to look at is our reaction to it rather than trying to make the stress go away.” —Leon Chaitow, noted health writer.

Dealing with stress should actually engage one in knowing what he is actually prioritizing in life. Moreover, being concerned over the things that he is supposed to attend to, including himself and his family is a sure key to dealing with stress concerning workaholism.  Understandably, one has to know how to balance the life that he has and be able to see thing through to be able to attend to the most important things in his life which could include his health, his relationships with family and friends and his spirituality as a means of saving himself from all the stressful elements of the society today.

Conclusion

Many are toiling today, but few are finding deep pleasure in it. Less and less is the satisfaction of accomplishment the reward for men’s labors; more and more the target of their efforts is money. It is the era of materialism, when pride in fine work has been eaten by the corrosion of greed, and zeal for artistic attainment bows before the idol of commercial gain. Replacing love of work by love of money results in deterioration of quality of work and artistic attainments. Money rules, and degraded persons pay for degraded products. They may have more materially, but they have less spiritually. Instead of finding their pleasure in their work they seek it in the accumulation of money, but their anxieties and neuroses and mental disorders cry out the failure of their course. In centuries past men wrote or painted or composed music in dingy quarters and finished their life in obscurity, but they were rewarded with satisfaction in their labors, and this driving zeal of theirs produced the recognized masterpieces in literature and art and music. The money-makers of today get the rewards they seek, like the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees who did their works to be seen of men; but both miss the deep pleasure and contentment of satisfying accomplishment. Created to work and enjoy it, many today hate it and dodge it and instead court wealth and cater to the desires of the flesh and are soon engulfed in.

True, to be happy people need to work. But it should also be remembered that we need some rest, a change for mind and body to mend frayed nerves and recuperate physical strength. Vacations of limited duration are invaluable for renewing strength. But when the physical and mental and nervous energies have been restored by an enjoyable vacation people begin to get restless. The vacation has served its purpose. Then, working people have been made strong again for activity and they are then ready to go to work. To continue the vacation beyond this point is to enter a period of boredom and restlessness and to court the demoralizing dangers of idleness. Hence, people would want to get back to work. They miss the joy and satisfaction that come from useful employment. This is the real balance that is needed by people working for the priorities of their lives.

References:

Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC. (Copyright 1997-2008). Field Guide to Leadership and Supervision. WORKAHOLISM. http://www.managementhelp.org/prsn_wll/wrkholic.htm. (May 1, 2008).

Robinson, Bryan E. (2001). Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them. New York: New York University Press, 62. ISBN 0814774806.

Bonebright, Clay and Ankenmann. 2000; Burke, R. 1999. “Workaholism in Organizations: Gender Differences.” Sex Roles. Vol. 41, no. 5/6. p. 333-345;

Griffiths, M. 2005. “Workaholism is still a useful construct.” Addiction Theory and Research . Vol . 13 , n o 2. p. 97 – 100 ;

Kemeny, A . 2 0 0 2 . “ D r i v e n t o e xc e l : A p o r t r a i t o f Canada’s workaholics.” Canadian Social Trends. No. 62.

Spence and Robbins.1992. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008-XIE. p. 2-7;

Robinson, B. 2000. “Workaholism: Bridging the gap between workplace, sociocultural and family research.” Journal of Employment Counselling. Vol. 37, March. p. 31-47.

Itzhak Harpaz. (2003). Workaholism: Its definition and nature. Center for the Study of Organizations and Human Resource Management Graduate School of Business University of Haifa.

Cynthia A. Bonebright. The Relationship of Workaholism With Work–Life Conflict, Life Satisfaction, and Purpose in Life. Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, University of Iowa.

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