Work ethic is an American value that runs so deep that Americans put in more hours than workers in other wealthy countries and are more likely to work nights and weekends. While many workers would love more time off, job insecurity and technology that keeps them constantly plugged in can often get in the way. Some people manage to make things work. They carve out time for their personal lives, they find ways to work more efficiently, they know when to let go. But for others, it can be a slippery slope from a busy work month to an endlessly busy work life. Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, author of the book Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them, says close to a quarter of Americans are workaholics.
There are strategies for scaling back and building healthier life habits. But the first and sometimes most difficult step, Robinson says, is simply recognizing the problem.
1. You work longer hours.
Workaholics are typically the first to arrive in the office and the last to leave, or they log in after hours and work into the night. Experts say that breaks, time off and self-care enable more productivity in fewer hours.
2. You can’t turn off.
True workaholism, says Robinson, is the inability to turn off thoughts of work. “A workaholic is someone on the ski slopes who is dreaming about being back in the office,” explains Robinson. “A healthy worker is in the office dreaming about being on the ski slopes.” And there are benefits to daydreaming. The more you can stay calm during work hours, the more you disarm your body’s stress response.
3. Your body feels unwell.
Workaholics have a lot of bad habits. Some turn to junk food, some inhale lunch at their desks and others skip meals. Exercise is often abandoned and sleep get thrown off. Mental health experts who treat work addicts see the same ailments among the overworked: gastrointestinal problems, headaches, weight gain or loss, increased irritability and tiredness, heavier drinking as a form of stress relief.
4. Your relationships are strained.
Workaholics need to look no further than their loved ones for signs of work addiction. Family members and friends are often feel their absence. “When people who love us tell us, ‘I never see you,’ it’s time to reevaluate our work-life balance,” says Robinson.
5. You tie your worth to your work success.
“Workaholics define their self and self-esteem by achievement only,” says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD. Author of the book The Office Survival Guide, Puder-York has worked with many work addicts who routinely tie their value and identity to their work and feel destroyed by less-than stellar results. Puder-York recommends letting go of perfectionism and unhinging self-worth from performance.