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How to break the work addiction

  • Story Highlights
  • Workaholism, or compulsive working, takes many forms
  • For some, long work hours can become an addiction
  • This compulsion can diminish productivity and sour work relationships
  • Workaholics don't necessarily enjoy their work
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By CareerBuilder.com
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CareerBuilder

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(CareerBuilder.com) -- Rachel Weingarten is hesitant to admit how long it's been since she took a "real" vacation.

More than 31 percent of college-grad working men regularly put in 50 hours a week, according to a study.

"(It was) over eight years ago," the thirtysomething finally confesses. She travels often, but her getaways always turn into work, she says. "Even if I'm going to a spa, I'm usually reviewing it."

Weingarten has plenty of work to keep her occupied. She's president of Brooklyn-based GTK Marketing Group, an author and the founder of a successful networking venture. "I probably work about 10 hours a day, seven days a week," she says. The tally gets even higher when she's planning an event.

Rachel Weingarten is a self-admitted workaholic -- and an insomniac. "I really don't know how to unwind," she says. "I'm always excited when I get jet lag, because it's the only time I get tired and forced to relax."

More than 31 percent of college-educated male workers regularly work more than 50 hours per week, according to a recent study from the University of California, Santa Barbara. For some, these long hours lead to burnout, but for others, they can become an addiction. Support groups like Workaholics Anonymous chapters are popping up all over the United States to help workers cope.

Workaholism, or compulsive working, takes many forms, according to Workaholics Anonymous literature.

These include: "deriving our identity and self-esteem from what we do; keeping overly busy, neglecting our health, relationships and spirituality; seeing everything as work-related; having no desire to do anything (work avoidance or burnout); procrastinating; postponing vacations and rest; doing unnecessary work; perfectionism; avoiding intimacy and being controlling."

Constant working isn't always a bad thing. Weingarten admits her social life has suffered a bit, but her work schedule has helped advance her career. "What I do is so much fun, it doesn't feel like work," she says.

But not all compulsive workers share this passion for their jobs, says Kerry Sulkowicz, MD and founder and principal of The Boswell Group, a New York-based firm that provides business psychology consulting services.

"Workaholics, interestingly, don't necessarily enjoy their work," he says. "To the contrary, they just feel compelled to be doing it all the time, and some even complain about it incessantly."

This compulsion can actually diminish productivity and sour work relationships, Sulkowicz warns.

"Workaholics tend to downplay the impact their habits have on those around them, including making peers and subordinates feel they have to maintain the same breakneck pace," he says. "...They set a terrible example for maintaining a reasonable work-life balance."

Working constantly can also make an employee seem inefficient, says Ben Dattner, president of Dattner Consulting, LLC, a New York-based organizational consulting firm. Workers putting in constant face time may seem like they're more focused on effort than results, he says, and overworked managers could look like they can't delegate efficiently.

It's not just office workers taking their jobs to the extreme. Jen Singer, author and creator of www.MommaSaid.net, a Forbes Best of the Web community for at-home moms, says she is a recovering workaholic herself: "A stay-at-home mom-aholic."

Singer says during her children's early years, she tried to devote every waking hour to quality bonding or educational time with her children. "Somehow, I thought that if I took time to fold the laundry or vacuum, it was taking precious time away from my children," she recalls.

Eventually, Singer became so frazzled and exhausted she nodded off at Dragon Tales Live, a musical show held in an area with tens of thousands of screaming preschoolers.

"My head starting bobbing soon after the bubbly announcer asked, 'Do you know why we're so happy?' And I answered, 'Too much Prozac?'" she recalls. "I was so punchy that I was heckling a show for three-year-olds."

Singer found recovery in taking some time off while her husband took the kids, slowly teaching her kids to entertain themselves, and hiring a babysitter once a week to allow herself some time to write.

Other workaholics may find respite by negotiating alternative work schedules, scheduling additional time with their families, or even exploring new career options. For more severe work issues, however, a support group may offer relief.

For more information on Workaholics Anonymous, visit www.workaholics-anonymous.org.

Copyright CareerBuilder.com 2009. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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