Working: the Best-Dressed Addiction


Workaholism seems to be a condition exclusive to Americans; our culture views what we do for a living as an essential element of who we are. According to Jacksonville.com, the average American works nearly 25 hours per week, the average Frenchmen 18, the average Italian about 16.5 and the British come close behind us with an average of 22 hours per week. Our vacations, unlike our work hours, are much shorter than the average European’s. The average U.S. worker takes only 16 days off each year, while the French take 37 days and the Italians take about 42 days each year.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that last year nearly 10 million Americans worked more than 60 hours a week. We not only outpace the productive Japanese in hours worked, but according to the Seattle Times, we are the only developed nation without mandatory vacation time. The annual vacation poll from Expedia.com tells us that one in three of us will not be taking a vacation this year.
So what do all these statistics mean? It means our society has one more growing addiction to worry about: addiction to work.
Students might cringe at the thought, but it’s true. Recent studies show an increase of workaholics in America. There is a connection perceived between long hours and success in corporate America and it’s a struggle to break away from such a mentality. Our society, more than ever, places great emphasis on always striving for more and nothing really seems to be good enough. In this age of laptops, cell phones and Blackberries, the line between having a strong work ethic and an excessive dedication to work is becoming hazier. Because we identify success with a career, we define ourselves by what we do and continuously strive to exceed expectations.
Some people connect this strong foundation to our Puritan ancestors, who came into the New World and worked hard to build a lifestyle from scratch because it was understood that nothing in life was free. Thus, our culture has a justifiable basis for stressing the importance of a strong work ethic.
However, this emphasis is becoming deleterious. Not only are we driven by a strong desire to do well, but also by a fear of failing to meet our expectations. Growing advances in technology definitely don’t make it easier; we are now expected to stay connected to the office 24/7. This makes the concept of workaholism even more controversial. Where exactly do we draw that line between doing what is expected and working too much? What is enough?
To address the first condition, a Workaholics Anonymous (WA) organization was founded in 1983. Today it still stands as a self-supporting organization, a “fellowship of individuals who share their experience, strength and hope with each other to recover from common problems and workaholism.” The Web site includes 20 questions a person can answer to help determine whether he or she is a workaholic, the characteristics of workaholism and a 12-step recovery process that mirrors Alcoholics Anonymous.
According to WA, a workaholic is someone who works more than 60 hours a week. The important thing to note is that workaholism is not correlated with how someone feels about their job, but the behavior toward it. Workaholics have a dangerous commitment, or an unknowingly deep attachment to what they do. They feel the need to work continuously, and they get anxious when they are not working. They become so work-oriented that they often neglect other aspects of their life, like any other commitments and relationships outside of work. They may even attempt to create hobbies based around their career.
Workaholics often focus solely on finishing a project to the extent that they fail to prioritize or seek more creative solutions that may hinder efficiency. The need for control combined with unattainable standards and unreasonable perfection backfires, causing more harm than good, not only for the worker but the company as well. It is one thing to want to work hard, go the extra mile and achieve, but it becomes a whole different story when the extra mile becomes an emotional burden and a dependence that can cause physical and mental damage.
The stress that workaholics face leads to fatigue, sleep disorders, substance abuse, anxiety and physical problems like heart disease and stroke. This unhealthy dependence threatens not only our health, personal life and relationships, but also our happiness. And like any other addiction, the hardest step is admitting that a problem exists. In our overachieving culture, this addictive passion most definitely exists.
Some of you may have reached the latter sentence without being able to relate because you either hate the career you already have or you have no real motivation or interest to pursue a profession. Well, keep in mind, for every workaholic there is his reciprocal, sitting at home in pajamas and not interested in working. They can come together in an organization called CLAWS: Creative Livable Alternatives to Wage Slavery, established in the 1990s. The organization’s main purpose is to increase people’s value for leisure and provide alternatives to “wage slavery.” They prefer the term job-free to unemployed. Notably, the founder is no longer associated with its Web site, because it felt too much like work.