We love a good #boss. We take notes from them about how to maximize productivity (even on Fridays), chase that promotion and negotiate a well-earned pay raise. But there is a point when a fixation on work goes from professionally savvy to seriously harmful. Although workaholism is a word often thrown around flippantly, the very real phenomenon can hinder interpersonal relationships, affect mental and physical health, and ultimately reveal a deeper internal trial.
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1. A workaholic feels uneasy and anxious when not working
Despite oftentimes disliking their jobs, workaholics find that the actual act of working gives them a sense of comfort, structure, and meaning, which results in feelings of guilt, restlessness, and helplessness when not working, according to Jovanovic. “Without a daily list of tasks to handle, a workaholic might feel as if they are wasting time or living without a purpose,” she says. Even though they don’t have much of it, workaholics rarely allow themselves to enjoy free time.
2. A workaholic always makes work the top priority
Is it the holidays? Doesn’t matter. Family dinner tonight? Forget it. Are they sick? Who cares? “A workaholic puts work above everything else,” Jovanovic explains. “For them, working might be very hard, but not working is even harder.” She especially stresses that their health often falls to the wayside in the name of work. And this skewed perspective on priorities can ultimately affect their opinions of others. “They devalue personal priorities and think less of people who put personal priorities before work,” Jovanovic says. Furthermore, workaholics are less likely to spend time connecting with other people at all — inside the workplace and out.
3. A workaholic leaves little to no time for other aspects of life
“Free time” isn’t all that free for workaholics. They constantly make themselves accessible to coworkers and are ready to go right back to work if necessary. According to Jovanovic, many workaholics actually lead in a manner that ensures they be constantly needed. “Workaholics do not invest in helping their team be resilient while they are gone,” Jovanovic states. “They create systems in which they are needed — they micromanage, delegate poorly, and do not rely on their team members.” And with all their off time strategically filled with office goings-on, they are then unable to set time aside for family, friends, hobbies or themselves.
4. A workaholic doesn’t own the problem
As with most addicts, most actual workaholics won’t claim to be workaholics, rather they divert the blame to circumstances such as needing a promotion, lazy coworkers, or naturally having too much to do. The reason for this addiction to work, Jovanovic confirms, is a pretty dark one. “Working long hours is a socially approved way of suppressing other acute problems in life,” Jovanovic says. “This is why the hardest step of all is admitting to yourself that work is your distraction from living.”
5. A workaholic is not happy
People who are passionate about their work and funnel a lot of energy into what they do are not workaholics. The reason for this, Jovanovic says, is because workaholics are unhappy. “They feel a compulsive need to work excessively,” Jovanovic says. “They do not commit to it for the fun of it, but for the purpose of tranquilizing the negative emotions that come from not working.” So in an effort to circumvent the anxiety that comes from not working, they busy themselves in work — but to the point of numbness.
Although workaholism can be all-consuming, Jovanovic assures us there are some ways to address the unhealthy behavior. She recommends consulting people in your office for feedback about your workplace habits and their effects on others, planning activities with people you care about right after work to ensure you actually sign off at the end of the workday, and reconnecting with your emotions (those things you’ve been perhaps unintentionally avoiding via work) by reading books, listening to music, or anything else that prompts inspiration and introspection. And, of course, there’s always professional help.
How have you taken a step back from the office? Let us know @BritandCo.
This article originally appeared on Brit + Co.
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