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Would you recognise work addiction in your workplace?

By Nicola Jagielski, Associate Director of Clinical Services at Health Assured

A healthy work-life balance is a vital part of good wellbeing. Being fulfilled (and well rewarded) at work, as well as satisfied with your social and home life, is something we all aspire to. But for some people, the ‘work’ part of that balance takes over completely—and work addiction is a very real and dangerous condition.

Hard work is good, positive and should be encouraged. Unfortunately, this can mean some people suffering work addiction can go unnoticed. Sometimes, a person working unreasonably long hours just seems dedicated. But a work addiction, fundamentally, is a coping mechanism—it can hide emotional distress, physical pain and other signs of low health.

How can I recognise work addiction?

Researchers at the University of Bergen have developed a method for spotting work addiction—or ‘workaholism’. On their scale, there are seven criteria, which are scored from one to five (one meaning ‘never’, and five meaning ‘always’):

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

·         You spend much more time working than initially intended.

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

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

·         You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

·         You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.

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

If you rank highly on at least four of these, this suggests you’re a work addict. But of course, it’s not always easy to get someone to sit down and fill out a questionnaire—so here are a few signs to look out for in employees:

·         Approval-seeking—does work, and gaining approval from that, seem to be someone’s main motivation?

·         Control issues—work can feel like something a workaholic has control over—this can be a sign that other aspects of life are spiralling.

·         Perfectionism—unreasonable demands, incredible workloads and unrealistic goals—set both on themselves and others

·         Preoccupation with work—people with addictions tend to fixate. An alcoholic thinks about their next drink, a video game addict can’t wait to get back online—and a workaholic obsesses over their tasks and priorities.

·         Lying—another sign of general addiction, a work addict might lie about their work habits, successes and failures.

How can I help?

Addiction is a disease, and the best way to fight it is with professional help. But you can put supporting measures in place:

·         Encourage a good work-life balance—this is vital. Make sure people have a set number of hours. If someone is contracted to work 40 hours, make them stick to it! Presenteeism, or the concept of being visible at work no matter what, is detrimental to a good, healthy home life.

·         Emphasise results—rewarding employees for their achievements, rather than long times spent on projects, helps instil a sense that work should only be done at appropriate times.

·         Lead by example—we’ve all read stories of CEOs who would work 200-hour weeks if it were temporally possible. That’s not a good example to set to others, and for most it can be damaging. Be seen to take time away from work, enjoy relaxing and emphasise that work-life balance.

·         Build routines—start every day with a meeting setting out the tasks ahead, and spend the last 30 minutes of every day discussing how it went. People will be conditioned to hit the morning with the best they’ve got, and they’ll learn to wind down before heading home.

Of course, if you suspect someone has a genuine problem with addiction, you should consult the appropriate professional services. But follow our advice, and you’ll see productivity and happiness rise—because workaholism damages both of those things.