Workaholics

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 16 – January 16, 2006

Although it may not be of interest to you, I want to share with you what I did on my holiday and I what got for Christmas? Besides the stellar fluorescent beach towel and a good bottle of champagne from the Melbourne hamper draw, I got a blackberry from Geyer! Don’t get jealous, it’s not really a Christmas present, the arrival of this device just happens to have coincided with the arrival of the baby Jesus in the manger. Even though it had nothing to do with the holiday it had quite an impact on mine. I mean no hurt when I admit that normally I spend little if any time thinking about any of you when I am on holiday, but since I got my blackberry – front of mind every day!

Our holiday was spent at our friend’s beach house in Sorrento, the mornings all began the same: my friend on the phone to the Financial Review IT guy, navigating her way through the firewall into her e mail. My husband and older son waiting to get on to their e mail, followed by two others in our group waiting to get on to their e mail. Me checking my e mail with my new blackberry, and my younger son playing his PSP, which can access the internet to check e mail if you desire. Alas he is young and innocent and does not have an e mail account yet but suspect that will be a request in the near future.

Afternoons held greater variation: check the computer for tides tables, if the beach is not an option check to see what movies are playing, check to see what boat is in the lead in the Sydney to Hobart. The computer even played a part in our evenings; no opening a nice bottle of wine to relax in the sunset for this crowd, not when you could log on to the internet for new and unusual drink recipes.

I can only imagine the tragedy that would have ensued if the power had gone out and we all had to go on a technology cold turkey. Evidently at some point, when we were not paying attention, myself, my family and my friends all got addicted to both technology and work. I found myself wishing things were simpler, I dreamed of Homer Simpson’s description of the internet – the mesh inside of your swimmers, and logging on to your internet only happened when you got a real fright.

Technology is meant to make life easier but in reality it has blurred the boundaries between work and the rest of life. According to psychotherapist Bryan Robinson author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them (New York University Press 1998) overwork is this decade’s cocaine. He defines workaholism as “an obsessive-compulsive disorder that manifests itself through self-imposed demands, an inability to regulate work habits, and an over – indulgence in work – to the exclusion of most other life activities”

25% of the population qualifies as workaholics. They have significantly higher rates of depression and anxiety and according to a survey by the AmericanAcademy of Matrimonial Lawyers; preoccupation with work is one of the top causes of divorce. Workaholics also abuse alcohol more, have more extramarital affairs, and have more stress related illness.

What is it that we find so seductive about work? One reason is it keeps us from dealing with other issues in our lives that may be more challenging. Communicating beyond the superficial with your spouse or children, losing some weight, eating better are all other common pressures we may wish to procrastinate on a bit. No doubt our clients understand this in a subtle way, when they resist changes in their work environment which for many may represent a place in their lives of calm and stability.

Our culture rewards those that work endless hours and denies that there is any price that is paid by doing so. Being a workaholic is not typically seen as a problem by our society and in fact it is sanctioned. After all, unlike alcoholism which does nothing good for one’s self or others the consequences of workaholism is greater productivity which companies benefit from.

Needing more money is another common delusion that encourages us to overwork. The cycle of working more to acquire more possessions is never ending. The more things that we buy the more time it takes for us to tinker with them, and the less time and money we have to spend focusing on other things in life. With a family of four each having mobile phones, e mail addresses and now broadband I expect our average monthly bill to be in excess of $200. The amount of time spent setting up, monitoring and maintaining these devices is staggering.

People today work more than they need to and it is often their own fault, they treat time as a status symbol. Not having time is considered a symbol of prestige, the more time you have on your hands the less important you are. Similarly, when we take a call on our mobile while meeting or talking with others we foolishly feel that this action symbolizes our importance, instead of being just plain rude. Unfortunately, if you are the person being talked to the message is clear, you are not nearly as important as that person on the phone. Now if you happen to be chatting to a brain surgeon, taking the call may be justified; this is rarely the case.

Two time promising myths we subscribe to: First we believe that knowing more will save time. We live in an economy where information is plentiful, it’s cheap and we can get it fast, but most of it is usually irrelevant. Lots of information is useless, the right information is invaluable. Never the less we fall into the trap of over informing and over doing because it justifies our positions. Hmmmmmmm…. It takes more of our precious time to sift through the dribble to find the relevant information, so no time gained there. Secondly we believe that if we organise ourselves, and often we look to technology as our savior in this regard, we will gain greater efficiency. Do we save any time? Beware, better organization results in temporary savings followed by an increase in expectations that means more work. The moral there is get organized but don’t tell anyone about it

It takes courage, strength and dedication to break engrained habits of overworking. Groups like Workaholics Anonymous are around to help people simplify their lives. Unfortunately, their meetings are poorly attended because a workaholic will not take time out of work to attend a meeting. Whether it is with the help of a group, or on your own, the key to breaking the cycle comes from within. Everyone needs to draw the line for themselves and learn when enough is enough

Recognising that more, or faster technology, will not lead to greater efficiency or more time is a critical step in finding balance. These devices will slowly infiltrate your life; you will feel you have to respond. Consequently these labor saving devices will demand that we labor more, any time day or night. Creating time, takes time, a strategy is in order. Begin by cutting back one hour a day from work to reflect on your life, what makes it complicated and how can you eliminate those complications?

No one can maintain more than three priorities at once, especially men who are lucky if they can pull off one. We need to follow the advice of Ronald Reagan’s wife Nancy’s who told all of the addicts in the US to just say NO during the ‘war on drugs’. Saying no to work and technology is tantamount to cutting out the breakfast beer for an alcoholic. No is a hard word for most of us to say, we want to be included, feel we are required, and for many of us we have not gotten over that phase children go through around age four. We want to wear a cape, put our underpants over our heads, jump off the lounge and be a superhero.

Sources

“Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything” James Gleick

Keep it Simple – by Michael Warshaw

Fast Company Issue 15 June 1998

Scripture, Meets the Web: Placing Limits on 24/7 by Bob Tedeschi

The New York Times January 9, 2006

“My name is Tony, and I’m a workaholic.” By Tony Schwartz

Fast Company archive

Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side

by Sean Silverthorne

Harvard Business School Working Knowledge publication date Jul 29, 2002

Technorecovery? By Bob Davis

Fast Company Magazine Issue 60 July 2002

The Web Is Cooking  by Susy Pilgrim-Waters

Fast Company Magazine Issue 29 November 1999

Defeating Overwhelm by Stever Robbins

Harvard Business School Working Knowledge publication date

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