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7 Signs You're Addicted to Work

by Jessica Zartler / September 14, 2016

Being excited and passionate about your work is a blessing that many people don’t enjoy. Feeling motivated every day to bring ideas to the table and make improvements on the product you work with, or within the company, is what makes a great employee.

However, there is a line when passion becomes obsession, when habits become unhealthy and behaviors turn into stress, anxiety and a type of psychosis known as workaholism. The term is often thrown around, but its effects can be serious.

In many cultures, workaholic behaviors are often rewarded. People who are seen to be working long hours and sacrificing their personal life and sometimes health, are seen as smart, ambitious and entrepreneurial.

“The system is almost built to reinforce workaholics. Those are the people who end up getting positive job evaluations, get opportunities for promotion, and see themselves getting bonuses or raises. It’s almost like the system has a built-in model to give them free hits of what they’re addicted to.” - Simon A. Rego

How do we then adopt healthy behaviors and bring balance back into our lives? How do we break the habits of working long hours and checking work email at all hours of the day? How do we reset the expectations of bosses and colleagues who are also wrapped up in the workaholic culture?

The first step in bringing back balance is recognizing the signs that there’s a problem. Here are the 7 Signs You’re Addicted to Work and some solutions from expert psychologists on how to break the unhealthy habits.

The Red Flags

A new tool and first of its kind instrument, called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, was recently published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. Researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway and the United Kingdom studied more than 12,000 employees from 25 industries and came up with the seven core elements of work addiction: Salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, relapse and problems. Reflected in these elements, are the seven basic criteria for classifying workaholics scored on a scale answering A) Never B) Rarely C) Sometimes D) Often and E) Always:

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work

2. You spend much more time working than initially intended

3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them

5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working

6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work

7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Researchers say if you answered four out of the seven with “often” or “always,” you may be a workaholic.

Ironically, this obsession can lead to losing your job. It can also lead to problems in your personal relationships and can even result in physical illnesses tied to stress and poor eating habits, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and digestive disorders. At its worst, work addiction can also trigger serious and disabling mental illnesses, including depression and suicidal tendencies, according to health experts.

Shifting the Balance

Mary Blair-Loy, a sociologist and the founding director of the Center for Research on Gender in the Professions at the University of California, San Diego and Stewart Friedman, professor of management at the Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life recently offered advice in the Harvard Business Review on how to reclaim your life from workaholism and stop unhealthy behaviors in their tracks:

Redefine success:

Your self-worth should not revolve around your pay and status. Workaholics are usually perfectionists who are always looking to get ahead. Create boundaries and stick to them when it comes to your family life, physical and mental health and your spiritual health. Focus on the quality of your relationships, engagement in the community and physical and emotional well-being and don’t be so hard on yourself. After all, we’re only human.

Refocus your attention:

Step back and reflect on how you want to spend your time and energy. If you are with your partner or family, be with them and be where you are. If you don’t it is rude and your cheating them out of time. There can always be work to do but stop multitasking. Neuroscience shows it doesn’t really work anyhow and it’s actually less effective.

Reset expectations:

Don’t go it alone — enlist the help of family, friends and colleagues. Be clear, especially with your boss and co-workers, the changes you are making and why. Friedman recommends saying something like, “In the next month, I’m going to be offline after 4 PM every Tuesday. I think you’re going to see an improvement in my performance because I will be able to take care of some things in my personal life, and I will be less distracted. After a month of trying this, we will talk about it how it went for both of us.” Making time in your day where you can’t be interrupted allows more flexibility to shape your schedule and manage expectations in your team.

Experiment with digital detoxes

Friedman says there isn’t one solution that works for everyone but the idea is to stop being a “reactive robot” with your smartphone. Try hiding it, stop using it as a time-filler and have better manners — typing away at a smartphone no matter what the message is or how important, just isn’t polite.

Practice Mindfulness

Practicing moment to moment awareness and non-judgment is proven to help people make better decision, be less reactive and more mentally flexible. Blair-Loy say it helps to take a breath before acting and Friedman agrees that, “It helps you get a sense of control and purpose and be conscious and deliberate about your choices.” Be where you are and breath. There is nothing else that matters.

Prioritize your health

The last, but probably most important, is to focus on your number one priority — yourself! Take care of yourself with proper sleep, exercise and nutrition. Folks at SnackNation offer some great tips to cut stress at work. One person is only capable of being productive so many hours in the day — despite what we may believe — so honor breaks knowing that it will actually result in better focus and higher energy levels after. Also think about the others that are counting on you for your good health — family, friends and teammates.

In addition to these practical behavioral solutions, there is a technological solution to saving time and working more efficiently.

Teams save up to 40 percent of their work week by using Taskworld. You don’t have to be tethered to email. Manage all of your projects and communications on one platform and sign up for your free trial of Taskworld now

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