Workaholics: all work and no play

You might as well face it – you’re addicted to work. Could your workaholism be hurting you?
By Neil Osterweil
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

On the seventh day, even God rested.

But for workaholics, the day of rest never comes. There is always one more email to read, one more phone call to take, one more critically important trip to the office that can’t wait until Monday.

Weekends? Holidays? Family? As the uber-workaholic Ebenezer Scrooge put it, “Bah, humbug!”

“It used to be that I never went on vacation without my laptop and a couple of beepers,” says George Giokas, who describes himself as a “reformed” workaholic. When he was starting his company, StaffWriters Plus, in the pre-BlackBerry mid-1990s, Giokas spent more than a few late nights and nearly every Saturday at the office, he tells WebMD.

As he confessed to the online edition of Business Week in 1999, “I’ve struggled with the weekend issue many times, trying to figure out why I absolutely have to work then. It must be ingrained in me to the point of being a kind of addiction – like going to the health club every day. If I miss one day, I feel awful.”

But Giokas has since learned that the problems that pop up when he’s away from the office will still be there when he gets back, and that what happens in the office stays in the office.

“I’m not the sort of person to bring home problems,” he says, “and I don’t dwell on issues. I get a pretty good night’s sleep.”

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Workaholism: A Life Out of Balance

Not every workaholic, however, is able to achieve the balance that Giokas has found.

Justin Blanton, who practices law in California’s Silicon Valley, tells WebMD that he is a workaholic and that the problem has only gotten

worse in the four years since he wrote the following on his blog:

“Whether I’m reading a Harry Potter book on my PDA while waiting in the deli line, checking email on my phone as soon as my date makes for the ladies room, or heading back to my computer each commercial break (no TiVo… yet) – I’m always checking something.”

“It’s gotten worse in the sense that it hasn’t let up at all, and I feel more compelled to be busy,” Blanton says today.

In a culture that prizes work ethic, overachievement, and financial success – where gazillionaires such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are household names, and Donald Trump has his own television show – people who are addicted to working are seen by outsiders as smart, ambitious, and entrepreneurial.

“The system is almost built to reinforce workaholics,” says Simon A. Rego, PsyD, associate director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “Those are the people who end up getting positive job evaluations, get opportunities for promotion, and see themselves getting bonuses or raises. It’s almost like the system has a built-in model to give them free hits of what they’re addicted to.”

Even when out of the office, workaholics can satisfy their cravings with cell phones, PDAs, laptops, and WiFi, which ensure that work need never be out of reach.

But blaming technology for workaholism is like blaming the supermarket for food addiction or the corner liquor store for alcoholism, says Bryan E. Robinson, PhD, author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them.

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Workaholics: all work and no play