While it’s good to have a great work ethic and be passionate about your job, there’s a fine line between ambition and obsession. Indeed, if you find yourself having an out-of-control urge to work, you’re likely to be suffering from workaholism. And if you are, you’re almost certainly hurting your career without even realizing.
There’s no way you can keep satisfying the urge without consequence — before you know it, you’re completely burned out, and the road back to recovery becomes an almost impossible one.
To help you avoid wandering down this path, we’ve listed the 20 most common signs of being a workaholic, along with tips on how to battle work addiction.
Workaholism, like gambling or excessive shopping or dieting, is a type of non-substance addiction. Essentially, it’s a compulsive desire to work.
The individual who struggles with it has trouble freeing themselves from the grip of workaholic behavior that ends up changing how they view themselves, how they find relief from stressful emotions or situations, and how they relate to other people.
It’s simply so much more than “working hard” or “loving your job”; it’s a need to perform well, hit targets and prioritize work no matter the cost, be that interpersonal or intrapersonal. As a result, it can have detrimental effects on a person’s health, happiness and relationships.
When we think of addictions like smoking, drinking and gambling, workaholism seems more innocent in comparison. However, like any addiction, be it a substance or non-substance addiction, being addicted to work does have a negative impact on a person’s health, relationships and even their career in the long run. As such, it’s something we should all take seriously should we find ourselves struggling with an obsessive urge to work.
In general, addiction doesn't reflect on an individual’s personality or “goodness” but rather signals an issue within that person’s psychological world; workaholic behavior can be more of a symptom than a problem itself, used to find relief from other stressors. Put plainly, it often functions as a coping mechanism that numbs out some other painful emotion or experience.
Knowing the signs of workaholic behavior can be a great way to “catch” the addiction early. Below we’ll list 20 telltale signs of workaholism you should look out for in yourself and your loved ones so that early interference can be made possible.
1. You’re the first one in and the last one out
Although you might like to get in extra early to get through your tasks in peace and quiet, you also tend to stay late and work overtime on a regular basis preparing for the next day. So, if you notice that you’re switching off the office lights on a nightly basis, it’s probably time that you reevaluate your work schedule to see what’s actually making you stay so late.
You may think that working a 12-hour shift will surely make you more productive, but the truth is you’re only damaging your work standard — and your health in the process. Remember: putting a standard shift in, and working to the best of your ability, is better than burning the midnight oil day in and day out.
2. You constantly check your phone
Are you guilty of being glued to your phone and checking your inbox every five minutes, wherever you are — whether that’s on the train, in bed, in line at the cashier or watching TV (if you even have time for that)? And do you feel the need to reply to any emails you receive as soon as you receive them? After all, it would be rude not to, right?
Wrong! There’s nothing worse than making your brain work overtime and focusing on job-related tasks after you’ve logged off work for the day. So, if your phone and other technological devices at home get in the way of your downtime, it might be a good idea to disable notifications or switch them off completely.
3. You always feel ill and tired
Constantly feeling run down and tired? You might be overworking yourself!
Being addicted to work may sound innocent, but it can actually have damaging effects on your health, inflicting a variety of illnesses like anxiety, depression, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Remember: your immune system shouldn’t have to pay for the bad balance in your life!
4. Your self-worth is defined by work success
Are you happy only when you’ve received praise from your boss? Does any form of criticism get you down? If you answered “yes” to both those questions, you’re quite simply allowing your work-life to control your entire happiness.
In other words, you rely on external validations from those around you. Marilyn Puder-York, an executive coach and the author of The Office Survival Guide*, agrees: “Workaholics define their self and self-esteem by achievement only.” It’s time to start looking outside of work for achievements that will make you feel successful!
5. You don’t have any hobbies
Similarly, when work-related goals are the only thing that keep you motivated on a day-to-day basis, it’s time to reassess your life and realign your priorities. In other words, you need to find something that you enjoy doing outside of work that isn’t related to your 9-to-5 responsibilities. This could be joining a book club, socializing with friends, joining a sports club or dance class, or something else that you’ll enjoy doing and which will help you beat your work addiction.
6. You feel that you’re never good enough
Workaholics never know when enough is enough. “They are always focused on more and seeking to maximize everything, because they don't really know what success means to them,” says Jullien Gordon.
In other words, you could end up spending hours trying to perfect a report because you simply don’t think you exceed expectations — when, in reality, you’re a star employee. It’s important to know when to stop and when to realize that you’re actually doing a good job. And remember: your manager isn’t going to praise you every day for your work — they hired you for a reason, and that’s because they thought you have what it takes to do the job.
7. You can’t say “no” to your boss
Do you find yourself saying “yes” to every additional task your boss throws your way? And do you also volunteer to take any projects that go beyond your job description?
Spend some time to figure out how long you need on any given project, and only accept work that is aligned with your experience. That way, you’ll avoid overworking yourself, and you’ll be able to walk out the door at 5pm. Remember: it’s important to recognize when you’re stretching yourself too far and when you’re taking on tasks that are outside your skill set and don’t align with your career goals.
8. You regularly ditch your friends
You can’t say “no” to your boss but you definitely can say it to your friends every time they ask you to hang out because you’re just too tired from spending over 10 hours at the office each day. And that’s without adding the two-hour commute into the mix.
At this rate, you’ll be left with only clients and coworkers stored in your phone’s contacts, as your friends will get annoyed with your lack of making an effort. To make sure you have a good work–life balance, start saying “yes” more to the people that really care about you.
9. You only have one topic of conversation
If you miraculously do make it to a social event, you only have one topic of conversation — and guess what that is? Work! Yeah, you got that right! If you’re not thinking about it, you’re talking about it.
To stop yourself from riding the bore-train, start expanding your general knowledge and get to know what’s happening in the world and the lives of others around you.
10. You get impatient with everyone around you
Your coworker Jane has left work early because she needs to make it in time for parents evening, yet you’re really frustrated that she didn’t get to work at 6am (like you did) to make up her hours. Meanwhile, Irene is gossiping by the watercooler instead of working on the shared project.
Nothing screams “workaholic!” more than getting annoyed with everyone over every little thing. Remember: what really matters to most employers is the quality of their staff’s work, their productivity and the overall team morale — not the number of hours that they’ve kept your heads down. So, just because Jane left early, it doesn’t mean she works any less hard than you — she’s just managed to create the perfect work–life balance for herself.
11. You don’t know how to delegate
Do you complete every little task yourself because you know you’ll do it best and think that other people will only mess it up? If you do, you’re lacking something important called time management. So, learn to start delegating (and freeing up some time in your calendar for more important jobs in the process), and don’t forget to let people be responsible for the work they’ve been assigned.
12. You eat lunch at your desk every day
If you even remember to eat lunch, you do it at your desk, working through your lunch break because you think that there’s just no time to rest when you have all those pressing projects to finish. But are they really that important? Or can the work wait for tomorrow?
It’s important to take regular breaks to keep up your productivity levels and to avoid making careless mistakes. So, start making an effort to take your lunch break and perhaps even step out of the office to take your mind off your work for a bit.
13. You take workations, not vacations
Are you guilty of carrying your tablet or laptop around with you on vacation and logging in every day to complete a “few” tasks and check up on your team? If so, it’s important that you realize you’re not allowing yourself to recharge your batteries. Instead, you are causing yourself even more stress and are unable to understand when to draw the line.
So, next time you book a staycation or holiday, make sure you leave all your electronic devices hidden at the back of your drawer, and allow yourself some time to unwind and enjoy life.
14. You’ve never taken a sick day
Do you still go into the office when you’re sick, thinking you’re some kind of superhero who can carry out the job to the same standard when you’re healthy? Well, it’s a bad idea. Not only do you risk making mistakes but also losing productive working hours. So, stay home and get some much-needed rest — your body (and, in turn, your boss) will thank you for it!
15. You don’t call yourself a workaholic
Being in denial is the first symptom of any addiction. If your friends and family keep telling you that you’re a workaholic, it’s time you took a long look in the mirror to discover what the causes are and how you can move forward. There are many treatment groups that you can join if you can’t seem to shake the bad habits away on your own.
16. Your personal relationships are strained
If you keep thinking about work, talking about work and prioritizing work all the time, chances are that your loved ones are starting to feel irritated or neglected. If you’ve noticed a change in the way your girlfriend, husband or best friend are treating you lately, ask yourself if your relationship to your job might be to blame.
After all, the less effort you put into maintaining your interpersonal relationships, the likelier it is that you’ll end up distancing yourself from people without even realizing.
17. Not working makes you anxious
If you started working late as a way to avoid stressful situations at home, your job is now serving as an emotional crutch to you. Not working, therefore, starts to feel scary and anxiety-inducing, because it forces you to pause and allows whatever thoughts have been bothering you to resurface. Pay attention to whether you start to feel restless, tapping your foot, biting your nails or looking for some other distraction when you’re out of the office.
18. You’re not sure who you are outside of work
When work becomes such a large part of your identity that it consumes everything else, it can be easy to forget who you really are. In psychology, this knowledge is referred to as having a strong sense of self. If you feel like you could benefit from regaining your sense of self, you need to start by working on your self-awareness. Be honest with yourself about your interests, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses. If work weren’t in the picture, who would you be?
19. You have a crippling fear of failure
People might sometimes push themselves too hard because they feel they’ve got something to prove. Perhaps you once told yourself that your parents or friends might respect you more if you worked hard, for example. If that’s the case, then you’ll inevitably become terrified of underperforming or receiving critical feedback: it will feel as though you’re losing your value as a person.
20. Your loved ones are worried
A lot of the time, we’re quick to notice changes in our loved ones but can’t do the same so easily for ourselves. If you’ve been “feeling fine” yet your kids, siblings or friends are expressing worry, you might want to resist the urge to brush it off. They’re probably onto something you aren’t yet aware of.
Although it might feel like it’s gotten the best of you, there are ways to beat your unhealthy relationship with work. Here are five steps you can take to make positive changes in your professional life.
Step 1: Consider how you feel
Has a situation had you feeling anxious, depressed or helpless lately? Is your sense of self-worth tied to how productive you are at work? Have you been taught to view overworking as a virtue? All these could be red flags, indicating that your relationship to yourself or others might be driving you to this extreme.
Step 2: Identify the causes
Once you’ve carefully considered and questioned your beliefs and experiences, it will become easier to identify what things have played a role in your addiction to working — or outright triggered it. Identifying where the need to work so hard comes from is crucial in making changes.
Step 3: Start practicing small acts of self-care
It can be near impossible to go from 100 to 0 in a matter of weeks. Forming new habits takes a long time, particularly if our current behaviors are there to soothe us from some other type of distress. Take time, be patient and build your self-care routine step by step.
Step 4: Commit yourself to making changes
If you tell yourself that you’ll never recover from your tendency to overwork, you’ll definitely make matters more difficult. Thoughts are powerful, so remind yourself that recovery is possible, instead, although it can be slow. If you believe it and hold yourself accountable, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to remedy the situation.
Step 5: Ask for help if you need it
Perhaps you’ve been working obsessively for so long that you can’t possibly imagine how to stop. If that’s the case, try to focus less on any feelings of shame you might be experiencing, and more on the fact that you’ve committed to change. If you need support, let your friends or a professional know.
In an interview for the Atlantic’s How to Build a Happy Life podcast, Stanford psychiatrist Anna Lembke pointed out that workaholism can lead to secondary addictions, like the abuse of drugs and alcohol. The World Health Organization also reports that working long hours increases the odds for developing heart disease or having a stroke. With this in mind, the need for intervention becomes clear.
As we’ve talked about:
- There are many warning signs that you or a loved one might be struggling with workaholism. Keep in mind, however, that not everyone will exhibit the same symptoms or behaviors.
- The most common signs of workaholism include tiredness, restlessness, irritability, declining overall health and poor interpersonal relationships.
- Working long hours on the regular interferes with your immune system, sleeping pattern, and relationships. Eventually, it catches up with you in the form of burnout or frequent illnesses.
- Balance is key in achieving consistency. If you care about progressing your career and producing quality work consistently, then you’ll want to avoid overworking yourself.
Join in on the conversation below and let us know if you’re on the verge of becoming a workaholic, or if you’ve already been through it all before.
Originally published on May 14, 2018. Updated by Electra Michaelidou.