Workaholics anonymous

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A 12-Step Programme to Surviving Work-Addiction

By Priya Kumar

Amina is a publicist for a major luxury brand in Dubai. She excelled in school, graduating summa cum laude from Columbia University in New York City and earned her MBA from The London School of Economics. Last summer she was cherry-picked from a pool of 500 hopefuls for the role with her present company. If anyone knows a thing or two about hard work, it’s Amina. That is until the 25-year-old met Ahmed, a Portfolio Manager with a Swiss bank.

After being introduced through family, the couple has been seeing each other for ten months. Things have been going great, except for the fact that Amina does not see or hear from Ahmed during the week. He has a policy of shutting his personal phone off completely during working hours—which can span 16 hours at times. She is beginning to become accustomed to attending parties and family gatherings hours earlier while he’s wrapping up at work. Considering this is only the beginning of the relationship, she fears for their future.

What’s the difference between a workaholic and a hard worker? Bryan Robinson, author of Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them, carried out a study that included a 25-question survey to distinguish the two groups. While he noted that workaholics tend to work 10 more hours per week than hard workers, he also determined there is a major variation in mindset between the two. “The hard worker is in the office dreaming about being on the ski slopes,” he explains. “The workaholic is on the ski slopes dreaming about getting back to work.”

As one-half of the relationship, you do have the power to re-frame this mindset. Unless they know their addiction is a problem, how can it be overcome? Worse yet—what if the work-addict is you? Robinson describes in Chained to the Desk how the working world has changed in the past two decades: “The 1990s workday phrase ‘9 to 5’ became obsolete, replaced by the new millennium phrase ‘24/7’. These trends were an indication of how work had slithered its way into every hour of our day—the ‘Blackberrization’ of our lives.” The adverse effects of work-addiction stretch far beyond the physical and mental well-being of the worker him or herself Robinson claims: “Workaholism is the best-dressed problem of the twenty-first century. Workaholics often have comfortable incomes, and their families appear to have all the material comforts. Not only does work addiction look good on workaholics, but it also is becoming on their families from the outside. But behind closed doors workaholics are breaking down inwardly, and their families suffer in quiet desperation.”

ALTHOUGH IT SOUNDS QUITE OMINOUS, THERE IS HOPE. HERE IS A 12-STEP SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR HANDLING WORK-ADDICTION IN YOUR RELATIONSHIP:

1. ARE YOU AN ENABLER?
When your partner is working late it’s easy to push dinner and social plans back to suit their schedule. This, however, does nothing more than show your approval of their behaviour, thus encouraging their addiction. Especially when other parties are involved, it’s important to maintain your own reputation as a punctual member of your social circle.

2. DETERMINE THE ROOT CAUSE OF THIS CASE OF WORK-ADDICTION.
Is a big deal about to close? Or is his boss on his case at all hours about any number of deliverables?
Whatever the issue, it is important to discover what exactly is keeping him preoccupied. It may not even be a long-term situation, but a phase you can both endure until it’s over.

3. BRING YOURSELF UP TO SPEED WITH HIS JOB TO BECOME AN INVALUABLE ADVISOR.
Now knowing the root cause of the issue, you are in a position of being informed and, as a result, able to offer your feedback. Even if you’re in entirely different fields another perspective is always helpful when it comes to a stressful situation. Sarah has been in a relationship with financier Thomas for a year and a half: “I take a sincere interest in what consumes all of his time. So that when he has to make late night phone calls or answer emails when we are together I know why and support his passion for work. And later on we can talk about it and I feel I am a part of his daily life (as does he). Plus I’m actually really interested in what he does.”

4. LAYOUT YOUR NEEDS. DECIDE WHERE YOUR PARTNER FITS IN.
Are you irritated your significant other is late from work because your family and friends dictate you should be? Decide what your own needs are and then confirm where and when your partner’s presence is a necessity and where you can get by on your own. No one should be able to tell you what you should and shouldn’t be feeling.

5. SCHEDULE QUALITY TIME LIKE DATE NIGHTS.
It’s much easier to lose track of time at work on a regular weeknight than it is if theater tickets have been purchased. Planning a few date nights per month that are mutually agreed upon can settle disputes about one member of a couple being perpetually late. Sarah and Thomas made time for a date wherever and whenever they could: “A funny date we once had was (literally) at the airport. He was coming from a two-week work trip and I was leaving for a weeklong work trip, so we ended up having dinner at the airport. We knew if I were to take the chance and wait for him at home, I may stress about missing my flight.”

6. PICK A HOBBY YOU BOTH SHARE AND PURSUE IT.
After months if not years of the daily grind of a relationship, there’s only so much that can be discussed over dinner. “Workaholics often feel like they have to be doing something,” says Robinson. By selecting an activity like cycling, pottery or even bird watching, you are connecting and keeping their mind off work.

7. PHYSICALLY SIT DOWN AND PLAN—ON PAPER— YOUR SHORT AND LONGTERM
GOALS IN LIFE.

You’ve already re-evaluated your own goals, but what about theirs? By planning how long he needs to slog away at this desk job—three years, five years, ten years—you can decide together what needs to happen next. If you can ensure you’re both on the same wavelength, his hard work will quickly be put into perspective with a long-term payoff in sight.

8. PLAN AND DELEGATE HOUSEHOLD TASKS.
If you’re married and share your own home, the equal sharing of household tasks will be a part of your daily routine. This may or may not be realistic if your spouse is constantly at the office. If you find yourself left with the lion’s share of the housework, resentment will be sure to set in. Setting a schedule at the beginning of each month to suit both your schedules will go a long way in the upkeep of your home.

9. SCHEDULE ONE HOUR OF TECH-FREE QUALITY TIME PER DAY.
It’s hard to believe that smart phones and tablets became a ubiquitous part of our lives only around five years ago. Yet, they are perhaps the biggest cause of distraction for just about everyone. Couple that with a severe case of workaddiction and you have a recipe for disaster. Scheduling one tech-free hour in the evening with your significant other will open the lines of organic communication.

10. REFOCUS YOUR ATTENTION TO OTHER PARTS OF YOUR LIFE.
Remember when you were single you had all these hobbies and aspirations that didn’t involve your significant other? It’s time to reexamine what it is you enjoy and where you want to go—perhaps in your own career—and pursue it again. Refocusing your attention will make you less resentful about the time you feel should be spent with you.

11. COUPLES COUNSELING.
Couple’s therapy is an option if you as a couple cannot find the root of the problem and mend it. Advice from a professional can help both of you see things in a different light.

12. DETERMINE IF YOU ARE A GOOD FIT FOR ONE ANOTHER.
If you are unmarried, and you’ve exhausted all of the above, this is a good time to re-evaluate your mutual goals. It’s a harsh reality to face, but better to face it now than on your fifth anniversary, three children in.

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