WORK-LIFE BALANCE / JUL. 31, 2014
version 2, draft 2

Why Workaholics Aren't Heroes

Workaholism is a trait that has a rather unfair status in modern society.  It’s strangely regarded as a positive characteristic and indicative of how dedicated and motivated you are.  Tales of burning the midnight oil or pulling an all nighter are seen almost as badges of honour.

Heck, studies continue to show that extreme amounts of ’face time’ in the office is still a reliable indicator of your promotion potential.  The thing is, it’s stupid.  It’s stupid as an employee, and it’s stupid as an employer.  The number of hours you work has very little correlation with the quality of work you produce.  All it does is show you stick around at work a lot.

Sadly, it’s also counter-productive.  You may think you’re currying favour with your boss by working excessive amounts, but all you’re doing is storing up trouble for yourself.  Working extreme hours is going to drain and exhaust you, and the inevitable crash that results will hit you and your team much harder.

It confuses intellectual inspiration with brute force, as though throwing as many hours as possible at a problem will find a solution that your brain is incapable of on its own.  It is hardly the road to an elegant or effective solution.

It also creates a terrible culture in the workplace.  It creates a culture where ’heroes’ are valued more than the efficient.  Indeed, more efficient ways of working are often overlooked just so that the workaholic can ride to the rescue and put in ridiculous hours to ’save the day’.

Such a culture also makes those working efficiently or putting in normal hours feel like they’re slacking somehow by not staying late or coming in early.  Those people don’t need to feel guilty for not working so inefficiently, yet such a culture inevitably makes them so, with the knock on effect this has on team morale. There’s nothing heroic about staying at work out of obligation rather than inspiration.

And of course, the workaholic is also making the explicit choice of work over any other aspect of their life.  In an age where employers and colleges are looking for people with rounded personalities that can bring an array of perspectives to their work, someone with such tunnel vision does somehow stick out like a sore thumb.

Such workaholism skews your vision of what’s right or wrong.  It makes it hard to judge what’s a good choice from a bad one, and this is especially true when you’re tired and mentally drained from the hours you’re putting in.

The sad reality is, those workaholics don’t even end up achieving better outcomes than their more balanced peers.  Most of the time, they simply end up stressing out over small and trivial details that have little impact on the end product.

So let’s get out of this mindset that workaholics are somehow heroes.  They don’t end up saving the day, they merely end up taking all of it up by being stuck at work, while the real hero is at home having realised a better way of doing things.

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