Are You a Workaholic?

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A term first coined in 1971 by the late Wayne Oates, workaholism is still alive and well, especially among entrepreneurs. What begins as a passion for a new start-up can quickly escalate into an obsession. After all, entrepreneurs often work alone or with small teams, and they are pursuing their dreams. Most entrepreneurs feel like they can’t be replaced, especially if it is their own company. They tend to work more and are driven to succeed. Their business becomes their self-identity. Most of these traits — passion, hard-work, identifying with the start-up — are generally viewed as signs of success. But there can be a downside to these, which is workaholism. Common signs of workaholism, both among entrepreneurs and those in the workforce, include:

1. Compulsion that you feel like you have to work and you can’t stop thinking about work. At first, this seems like work engagement and might lead to increased productivity and creativity. But over time, it can lead to burn out.

2. Not enjoying your work anymore. When work becomes drudgery and you lack the passion you once had for your job, it’s a sign you need to recalibrate your priorities.

3. Unable to delegate work. If you are self-absorbed in your work and can’t let go of tasks, you might be addicted to work.

4. Making personal sacrifices for work. If you find yourself not sleeping, eating poorly, or making decisions that negatively affect your health and family, you might be a workaholic.

If you recognize yourself in these signs, what can you do about it? There are many ways to deal with these issues if you are in a workaholic cycle, and ways to avoid getting there in the first place.

1. Stop working when the regular workday is over, if you can. If you feel you must work, try delaying email delivery until regular work hours. By doing this, your team doesn’t feel pressure to respond to your middle-of-the-night messages. Setting an example for the rest of your team for good work-life balance is important. For those who are in jobs that require 24/7 or on-call situations, try to delegate tasks for outside-of-work hours and/or take on different roles to help avoid burnout and stress. Studies show that it helps your physical and mental wellbeing if you can completely disengage from work every so often. This is why vacations are vitally important — you need to recharge your batteries!

2. Find ways to maintain your physical and mental health whether it’s taking a 20-minute walk around the block, scheduling time to exercise, making sure you eat at least one healthy meal a day or getting enough sleep. Having ‘walking meetings’ helps to get two birds with one stone. And getting more sleep can actually make you more productive at work, rather than less.

3. Find a hobby that you can use as an outlet or stress reliever. Make sure it’s not related to your start-up to ensure you are taking a break from your work. It can also generate new ideas, by letting your brain focus on other things for a while.

4. Review your company’s goals and your own career aspirations to make sure you’re not setting unrealistic parameters or aiming too high. The new year is a great time to review your strategy and to ensure that what you are doing helps contribute to your long-term personal and professional goals.

Workaholism, it’s important to note, is usually something that comes from within, rather than forced onto you from a boss. In other words, the idea that you need to work all the time is usually in your own head. Self-starters or entrepreneurs tend to be more driven than the average worker and are much more prone to workaholism. Workaholics tend to also work in competitive industries and work cultures. But, workaholism is not a destiny, particularly if you know the signs and actively work to mitigate them.

Alexander McKelvie

Alexander McKelvie

Alex McKelvie is the Department Chair and an associate professor in the Department of Entrepreneurship & Emerging Enterprises at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University. Alex’s research has received a number of major international awards, including best doctoral dissertation in Entrepreneurship from the National Federation of Independent Businesses and multiple awards at the leading Entrepreneurship conferences. Alex has published his work in many of the most important entrepreneurship journals and is on the editorial boards of multiple journals. His research has also been profiled in Forbes,BloombergBusinessWeek, Inc. magazine and more.
Alexander McKelvie

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