Overcoming Work Addiction: Recognizing the Signs and Developing Healthy Habits

Did you know work addiction is a thing?

In today’s work environment, where productivity is valued, working extra hours and going above and beyond are seen as traits of top-performing employees. However, it just doesn’t stop there for some people. For some, their steadfast dedication to getting work done is driven by an intrinsic desire to achieve a certain status or level of success or even to escape from emotional stress, such that they are addicted to work. 

Our goal in this article is to demystify the concept of work addiction by explaining what it means, how it can be recognized, and providing tips for developing healthy habits. So let’s dive right in!

What does work addiction mean?

Work addiction, also known as workaholism, is a behavioral addiction that usually manifests in a compulsive need to work, even in instances where there is no need to work, such that it begins to adversely affect other areas of a person’s life. Interestingly, we’ve referred to ourselves as “workaholics” at some point to reflect our enthusiasm towards taking on more tasks without understanding what that truly means.

The word “workaholic” was coined by Psychologist Wayne E. Oates in his 1971 book titled, “Confessions Of A Workaholic: The Facts About Work Addiction,” where he noted that workaholics felt the “compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” This indicates a situation where a person cannot get their hands off work, even after contracted hours, such that it begins to damage their physical and mental health, relationships, and consequently, their happiness. According to research, 10% of modern workforces, such as those found in the US and the UK, may meet the criteria for a work addiction diagnosis. Given the long hours they are required to work, this also reflects the realities of a large proportion of Nigeria’s working population.

There are several reasons why people end up becoming workaholics, which typically vary. For some, it gives them a sense of purpose, and for others, it could be a way to get away from some problems they’d rather not deal with or be due to childhood traumas. Given its drastic implications on a person’s quality of life, work addiction can no longer be ignored as a good form of addiction. Like any other mental health condition, it requires proper diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. 

What are the signs of a work addict?

Identifying a work addict can be quite tricky since it’s difficult to draw a clear line between struggling with work addiction and being a top performer at work. As noted by Jullien Gordon, high performance and workaholism appear identical on the surface in that they both involve hard work. The BIG DIFFERENCE is how the individual feels on the inside about who they are concerning their work. While there are no clear parameters for identifying work addiction, a study conducted by Norwegian researchers from the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen identified some specific traits of workaholics that can serve as indicators of this addiction. These traits include the following;

  • Always thinking about how you can make more time for work.
  • Spending far more time working than you intended.
  • You work to alleviate feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and/or depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • Being constantly stressed if you are unable to work.
  • Prioritize work over hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise.
  • You’ve been working so much that it’s affecting your health.

If any of the traits listed here resonate with you, chances are you might be suffering from work addiction, and you must take active steps to overcome it before it starts affecting other areas of your life.

How to overcome work addiction 

Like other types of addiction, there’s no quick fix for work addiction. The first step in overcoming work addiction is identifying that you have a problem. You could start with an honest self-evaluation and identify if some of the traits listed above are peculiar to you. Once you’ve recognized that you have a problem, here are some actionable steps you can take to overcome this addiction;

  1. Prioritize a healthy work-life balance

Having a work-life balance is usually underestimated when it comes to improving overall physical and mental well-being. You must maintain a clear balance between work and other important aspects of your life so that work interruptions in your personal life are minimal.

  1. Learn to say No 

If you struggle with work addiction, this means you’re probably already known for being able to complete a large volume of tasks. However, since the goal here is to overcome work addiction, start by evaluating the amount of extra time you have and also whether you’re in the right mental state to take on additional work. If you’re not up for it, do not hesitate to decline politely. 

  1. Take time off

Employers and HR managers provide paid time off for your overall well-being so you must take advantage of it. Whether it’s going on a vacation or spending time with family and friends, ensure you do something outside of work during those periods. 

  1. Seek help 

Finally, if, after trying all of these tips, you’re still finding it hard to overcome this addiction, you might benefit from seeking therapy or getting treatment from a mental health professional.

Work addiction should not be taken lightly, as it can have drastic implications on a person’s happiness, relationships, as well as physical and mental health. If you’re already recognizing some traits of this addiction, take active steps to curb it before it gets to a stage where it would be difficult to control. If you’re currently struggling with this addiction, understand that there’s help available for you only if you take advantage of it. So, do not hesitate!

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