The Configurations: The Workaholic

The workaholic configuration combines great activity with low enjoyment. They spend more time at work than absolutely necessary. Sometimes they spend much more time at work than anyone else wants them to. There is clearly a generous amount of energy and involvement with work activities. What seems to be missing is enjoyment.

A defining quality of being a workaholic is voluntary choice. The workaholic label does not apply if people are spending long hours at work because the job description or a pushy boss demands long hours. Workaholic feel compelled to devote long hours at work.

The motivation for work appears to be fear. It may reflect insecurity about one’s capabilities. It may reflect concern about competitive pressures from colleagues. For example, my surveys have found that people who go to work despite feeling ill worry about mistreatment from their coworkers. Going to work can be a defensive move in a hostile environment. It may reflect difficulties in one’s personal life that make going to work a refuge.

In contrast, with work engagement, people are having a good time.

The workaholic configuration becomes a relationship issue. At work, an ongoing pattern of long hours may not only reflect low levels of trust, it may prompt further discord. Colleagues may resent being shown up by one’s overly diligent behavior. Friends and family may feel deserted. The time and energy pouring into work is one part of the problem. Another thing is that people notice at some level the lack of enjoyment.

The workaholic life does not appear to be sustainable. It lacks the energy that comes from enjoyable work. The driven quality of the workaholic life brings a tension. If long days at work generate headaches and backaches rather than a sense of flow, this configuration may be looming. While generating a great amount of activity, the configuration does not bode well for a happy future.

What to do if you suspect you’re adopting a workaholic lifestyle?

First, reflect on your motivations. Long hours can result from a blissful immersion in flow, inefficient work patterns, hard driving bosses, or personal insecurity. Each of these motives brings it challenges.

Second, reflect on your options. Is your current work pattern the best way of responding to your motives? Do is benefits balance the costs?

Third, choose your future. Rather than bounce about in response to vaguely understood pressures, follow the vision you want to live.

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