Are you addicted to work?

Recognize the signs of workaholism

By Heather Camlot
Adapted from

You work hard, put in extra hours and make sure every task is completed to perfection. So what if you skip lunch, miss dinner with your family, or miss sleep on occasion?

You may be a workaholic.

According to Statistics Canada, one third of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 44, about three million people, identified themselves as workaholics in 1998. And more than half the people in this age group, about 4.9 million people, admitted that they worried about not having enough time for family and friends.

In a society where job dedication is praised, workaholism is an invisible addiction.

What are the signs?

A workaholic is preoccupied with work, whether at the workplace or not. Unlike someone who simply works hard, an addict is driven to work, feels compelled to work, is unable to delegate to others, has a lot more stress, is a perfectionist, and may be using work as an escape. Other signs include working overtime, neglecting meals, leisure, and relationships, refusing to take days off, and taking on more than one person can handle.

In a darker stage, “A workaholic is someone who has become emotionally crippled and is addicted to power and control,” says Barbara Killinger, a clinical psychologist and author of Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts. “They become more obsessed with work, they get on the gerbil wheel and don't feel alive unless they're pumping adrenaline.” They usually come from a workaholic family, a breeding ground for perfectionism.

Meanwhile, technology may be the workaholic’s worst enemy. With cell phones, laptops, blackberrys and pagers, "You can work 24/7," says Ronald Burke, professor of organizational behaviour at the Schulich School of Business, York University, in Toronto. "For those people who are addicted, this is golden."

Tips to recovery

So how does a workaholic recover? “It's a long, slow journey,” says Killinger. Early recognition and prevention are key. Clinical therapy for the individual and organizational change, such as not rewarding addictive behaviour, for the company, may be solutions. In the end, the goal is to balance work and life -- and in doing so decrease family tension, abate health problems and actually increase the quality of work.

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