Being a hard worker is not the same thing as being a workaholic, although workaholics work hard. The difference between the two is compulsion: A workaholic is addicted to work to the exclusion of relaxation or hobbies, relationships outside of work, and their own mental and physical health.
It’s not so much the time spent working that makes you sick; it’s the obsessiveness, the inability to switch it off. People who are passionate about what they do are not workaholics, even though they put enormous energy into their work. They’re generally happier overall than workaholics. In fact, studies show that workaholics tend to suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.
Erin Griffith, correspondent at The New York Times, says young people have bought into the hustle culture, a work harder approach epitomized “by the patron saint of hustling, Gary Vaynerchuk, glorify[ing] ambition not as a means to an end, but as a lifestyle.”
It’s insidious and encroaches on every aspect of an employee’s life. “In the new work culture, enduring or even merely liking one’s job is not enough,” Griffith writes. “Workers should love what they do, and then promote that love on social media, thus fusing their identities to that of their employers.”
Workaholism is rife in tech
Even though it’s destructive, workaholism has long been seen as a respectable addiction, especially in the tech industry. “For decades, Silicon Valley sold itself as a worker's utopia,” reports CNET editor at large Ian Sherr. “The promise that if you work hard, you'll succeed—with big salaries, employee perks, and a stock option payoff that could make you a millionaire—is the driving force behind the always-connected work culture.”
The pandemic exacerbated employee issues, coupling work-from-home policies with the realities of 24/7 child care on top of homeschooling. Most of these workers “including employees from Google and Facebook, said they're putting in at least three extra hours each day to complete their work,” Sherr writes.
IBM senior technical staff member Isabell Sippli is a working mother who was actually able to reduce her working hours. “I have a small son, and currently, I work 85 percent of the time, while my husband works full-time,” she says. “In non-corona times, a daycare center works well. It’s a bit more difficult and exhausting right now, but certainly much easier than in other sectors. Nevertheless, I will be happy when the daycare centers open again.”
Interestingly, Sippli also says the “workaholic hero culture” in the tech industry seems to be on the decline. Still “there is a myth of the constantly accessible techie who can solve any problem, no matter what time of day.” And it’s this perception that she thinks puts off women from going into tech in the first place, “because they don’t see any compatibility with family in advance.”
Are you at risk of becoming a workaholic?
We asked mental health therapist Khara Croswaite Brindle what the signs of workaholism are. She told InHerSight that you’re at risk of becoming a workaholic if:
Your worth is wrapped up in what you do.
When people ask how you are, you say "busy."
You have a hard time saying no to more projects, more time, more favors.
You cancel social plans because of having to work more or work late.
You work weekends or late into the evening in an attempt to get ahead.
You check your emails compulsively when feeling bored.
You feel guilty or restless when experiencing downtime.
You work while on vacations.
Your sleep is disrupted by anxiety or worry about your business.
Work remains the first priority over family, relationships, self care, or social activities.
Croswaite Brindle says workaholism is a choice we make every single day. “We aren't just battling our own boundaries, we are also pushing back against a society that says working 24/7 is expected. People ask, how are you? Busy! How's work? So busy!”
Read more: 25 Tips for Dealing with Burnout
How to move from workaholism to hard worker (with a life)
So where do you begin when trying to develop a healthy work-life balance?
Start by scheduling your time off or it doesn't happen, Croswaite Brindle advises. “Schedule your lunches, your breaks, your do-not-disturb phone settings at night and on weekends.”
From her book, Perfectioneur: From Workaholic to Well-Balanced, she provides this step-by-step plan:
1. Go lean on lists
Identify your top-10 priorities and say no to anything that isn't in alignment with those 10 priorities until they are finished.
2. Redefine rest versus restoration
Identify what helps you feel rested versus what energizes or invigorates you and make time for both each week.
3. Watch your warning signs
Explore your own signs for workaholism and burnout, then identify activities you can do solo vs. with others for better work-balance.
4. Say yes to no (more)
Reflect on requests you get most frequently in your business and craft your thoughtful, empowered "nos," successfully saying no to more.
Read more: Learn How to Say ‘No’ Professionally
Developing a healthy work-life balance is a work in progress. Tech entrepreneur Tabitha Goldstaub, who is chair of the AI Council in the U.K., says she’s still figuring out how to achieve it.
“I am incredibly proud of myself for the journey I have been on since having my son... Just for keeping it together during the pandemic and everything,” she says. “I’ve learnt so much too; like, it’s okay to take a break from work and go have lunch with my family, and to be at my desk at 9:30 rather than 6:30 in the morning. Before, I was one of those workaholics that thought the wheel would stop turning if you weren’t there, pushing the wheel yourself. But I’ve learnt that the wheel does continue to spin.”
About our source
Khara Croswaite Brindle is passionate about giving people aha moments that create goosebumps and catalyze powerful action. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Burnout Consultant in Denver, Colorado. Khara’s greatest joy is engaging driven entrepreneurs and perfectionists to move from workaholic to well-balanced with streamlined strategies that fit their busy lifestyles. Khara offers training and on-demand courses in burnout prevention and recovery, compassion fatigue, and work-life balance along with her masterclass, workbook, and book series Perfectioneur: From Workaholic to Well-Balanced.