Working hard or hardly working? Usually a saying like that will elicit a groan of malcontent and/or physical violence, but the truth is sometimes a workaholic doesn’t always work hard. I know it seems like I have shifted one of the paradigms of the physical world itself. Although the image usual conjured of the workaholic is someone that will sacrifice everything for their career: family, time, their mental and physical health…but even semantically –holic usually denotes an addiction, alcoholic being the dark one on the spectrum, cake-aholic being a lighter one. But what are the fundamental differences between a workaholic and a hard worker? Are they interchangeable? Let’s take a look.
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A huge difference between a hard worker (or high performer that has become a synonym in industry), is how they distribute their effort. High performers expect results from their labors and when they feel their efforts might be in vain, or figure that out during the process, they adopt a project or task that will bring results. A workaholic, on the other hand, just works no matter what. They dedicate and exorbitant amount of energy trying to find work instead of making their work effective and efficient. They feel that if they're not busy their value in the company falls and falters, which ultimately is a tell-tale sign of insecurity and self-devaluation. Added to this feeling of ceaseless pressure, workaholics’ personal relationships also often implode creating the perfectly toxic cocktail for burning out. The high performer’s distribution of their energy on the other hand creates a long term sustainable rhythm and pace, which is more focused on a achieving the next goal, not being short sighted and seeking the next task.
Proactive vs. Reactive
A hard worker or high performer will generally be the man/woman with the plan. They have their day blocked out with allowed tolerances for any unforeseen events, but for the most part they are masters of their own domain (outdated 90’s sitcom fans will know). Instead of clicking on the email the second it comes into their inbox, snatching up the first chat that flashes up, they complete the task at hand first and then move on to more peripheral items. Workaholics on the other hand do the exact opposite by allowing themselves access to a steady flow of cognitively demanding distractions and time consuming delegations. They do not distribute their time as they see appropriate but they allow others to give them tasks, ask them for favors and advice. This slowly chips time away from their day, forcing the workaholic to stay and work extra hours to make up their own work; thus making them wholly ineffective in meeting deadlines and achieving goals.
Self-Worth vs. Self-Doubt
As I mentioned earlier in the article, workaholics will often doubt themselves and their value to the company (no matter how valuable they truly are) whereas a high performer always knows their value and more importantly the value of their time. Let’s take Netflix as a paradigm of this; the company is well known for having very innovated human management protocols in place. They have no restriction on vacation time, no time management system that forces employees to punch in and out of work and they encourage sabbaticals. They don’t care what you do as an employee as long as you deliver. This has been a rapidly proliferating mentality especially in the results focused tech industry, which helps attract the most talented individuals and are on the bleeding edge of innovation because of it. Workaholics on the other hand might have a difficult time coping in fields where creative, innovative and results oriented work is demanded instead of grunt work.
The Game Face Factorbusinessinsider
I’m sure you’ve all heard the tired old cliché that bosses seem to love (and think are never outdated) “Get your game-face on” which basically means get ready for an increased workload on the onset of increased business and hopefully increased revenue. Although it may seem beneficial to always have your game-face on (as many workaholics often do) the reality is that its hopelessly counter-productive. Although they might give you all of their effort all the time, without the necessary ground work and strategy, their efforts will go unrewarded. Here’s where the high performers distinguish themselves once again. A hard worker knows when to turn it on -or to used dated boss-lingo, when to put their game face on. Having an increased scope compared to the short-sighted workaholic, they know when work will increase and when the time is appropriate to strategize and review, which in turn sets up the circumstances to maximize success. Also you have to consider fatigue, both physical and mental. A high performer will keep his cognitive reserves unleashing a fury of focus only when absolutely necessary whereas a workaholic is constantly pushed to the threshold of their limits. One small increase in their workload or cognitive load and the workaholic becomes a full-blown meltdown…if they ever stopped working to have an actual melt-down. Worst of all is if they are put in a leadership role, they might suffer from something called decision fatigue which can make an individual make decisions haphazardly, resulting in potentially damaging your company and bottom line results.
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