In the first part of this series I talked about why people are workaholic’s, what drives them. In some cases it can be argued that being a workaholic isn’t really a choice, it’s a compulsion. This can be a polarizing subject, especially if you are a workaholic and don’t wish to be. It can also be a challenging subject if you are in a close relationship with a workaholic and their commitment to productivity limits the frequency and quality of the interactions you wish to have with them. If we move away from the emotional for a moment, we can see that a personality that’s skewed to work and productivity is much like nearly everything else in life i.e. it includes both pro’s and con’s.
As a quick reminder, the workaholic i’m discussing is not someone managing overload from delegated work that they don’t really wish to do. These situations are fairly easy to spot. Any company where the workload is relentless by structure tends to see very high turnover. People can be workaholics for relatively short bursts of time. Ultimately though, if it’s not really part of their personality, they eventually escape that environment; one way or another. The personality i’m discussing is the person who is continually driven to do the work themselves.
As I said, if you are driven there are some benefits and some negatives. Like the work ethic of the individual, these pro’s and cons can be very significant. Let’s start with the Pro’s:
Organizations love them.
Yes, organization’s love workaholics. This should go without saying for anyone with any time in the professional world. Not only do they love workaholics but as I illuded to earlier, the most aggressive also generally try and create a workforce culture that eschews work life balance in favor of a life that’s fully dedicated to the mission.
I have heard countless times both directly and indirectly statements, pressures, innuendo, etc.. about enhancing the commitment to the job and the organization. Yes, there is definitely a strong argument to be made for the benefits of unplugging, and downtime but that is generally not something that becomes an industry or organizational value that’s doggedly pursued. I almost never hear management encouraging ‘unplugging’, ‘relaxing’ and/or ‘spending time with your loved ones’ unless it is a recommendation made as a component of a structured organizational shut down. For example, it can be a manufacturing plant pausing operations while a new line is installed, or an education institution during a planned student break. Of course management in these instances is going to talk up the benefits of down time and unplugging.
We can’t forget that every organization will have elements of their operations that need to be responsive during the aforementioned breaks or during off hours. We live in an era of perpetual connectivity to the job.
That’s when the organizations really lean heavily on the workaholic. If you are the guy or gal who is coming in early, staying late, and responding to emails and calls on the evenings and weekends or during operational breaks then you will quickly become part of the ‘in crowd’ with all the preferential benefits they receive. These benefits can range from extra opportunities for career advancement to much more managerial oversight to schedule flexibility. Even if you don’t have access to a work PC in many instances our smartphones can complete about 90% of the tasks needed.
All this results in greater security in your career, but maybe not your job. If you work your tail off you will get a reputation as a ‘hard worker’. Every employer on the face of the earth loves to hire a workaholic but not so much that they will keep them around. Yes, if there has to be a cut between two people and one person assiduously maintains a work life balance and the other is a workaholic, then the workaholic’s job is safe. Unfortunately decisions are not just made on qualitative analysis. Jose may work his tail off in accounting but if the organization is going to outsource accounting, then more than likely Jose will lose his job. Organizations just won’t think about retraining the accountant to be something different such as a logistics person just because they have a tremendous work ethic. This being said, the second Jose is a free agent, he will be the first one who is snagged. The world will know about him because his workaholic tendencies most likely means he was engaged in every area he could be including affiliated organizations outside the job. Reputation helps careers, there is no doubt about it.
The “I hate Monday’s” work cycle doesn’t really exist.
My wife and garfield have something in common with the majority of the workforce. They both hate Monday’s. You can see it in her eyes on Sunday nights and I can hear it in her groan when I wake her up on Monday Mornings.
She wakes up and thinks “If I had one more weekend day I could go play with the kids, lounge or maybe even get some laundry done”. When my eyes pop open on Monday morning i’m already reviewing the list of things I need to put on my list for work. Yes, I really do think in ‘lists of lists’. I look forward to most of my Monday’s. I can get started on all those things bothering me that I couldn’t get out of my mind on the weekends. There have been several mornings where i’m waiting for security to open the building so I can get in two hours before everyone else to get started. I look forward to it that much.
I’m not alone in this, well not completely alone. Ask any career coach or someone who has a dream job. They love to come to work. You hear many musicians, stars, and others in the public spotlight with broad flexibility and self determination talk about how much they love their jobs. Although the origin is somewhat obscure, there is a common quote about it:
‘Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.’
Yes, there are always going to be hard days, and challenging moments and No, I don’t think every workaholic loves most of what they do. I do believe that workaholics love to accomplish things, to be productive. That can overshadow the relentless hours of the things they don’t like to do.
The workaholic strategy helps with the brute force attack for career ascendence.
In another article I made a bit of a tongue-in-cheek analogy that to climb the corporate ladder is akin to getting a ticket on the space elevator. The idea behind this is that as the organizational pyramid becomes more flat, to climb the ladder you have to get on what is, a notoriously difficult to join, pathway of ascendence. Once you are on it, you zoom up because there aren’t as many options available to decision makers as you move further and further up the chain.
One way to get that ticket, to get on the ascendence path is simply to do everything you can. To be on every committee, to volunteer at every affiliated organization and to get every credential available as well as others that can be aligned to what you do (think getting an MBA in addition to everything else you need for your job).
It’s a bit similar to RPG video games like the new Legend of Zelda. In the game you spend a tremendous amount of time ‘grinding’ with the purpose to collect ingredients to cook items that essentially boost different powers in the game. You never know what mix you will be needed, so the more items you collect, the more you can mix and match depending on the challenge you are faced with. Career prep is very similar. The more ingredients you have, the more you can present exactly what the employer wants to order.
Greater levels of peace and security.
Business, especially big business, partake in annual business reviews. This, in and of itself, is generally a positive thing. It is a very good idea to do periodic reviews to make sure what you are doing, is still the best thing to be doing, in the business. The problem for average members of the workforce is the general tendency to make cutting costs a big part of reviews within mature businesses. The biggest expense is always salaries, so the most direct cuts are in the workforce, but, to be fair, it is not the only type of directive to come out of these meetings. The organization can determine things like that it’s spending too much money on travel, or possibly that the load balance of the CRM system isn’t strong enough but the costs for engineering software resources needed to rebalance is too high relative to metrics in the industry so it’s better to outsource. The variables are endless and the intersections of decision priorities are highly complex. Naturally most organizations make these types of decisions behind closed doors. Not everyone is tremendously astute on the individual contributor level to ‘get’ the trends. What results is worry and concern. What decisions will they make? Will they ‘cut my job’?
Secrecy turns into ‘sense making’ on the part of employees. “The boss didn’t invite me on the trip because they don’t like me” is easier to comprehend than “The Boss is under intense pressure to maintain a certain travel budget constraint and is also under pressure to continue visiting customers and doesn’t have time to discuss these priorities and metrics”. Admittedly there could be better communications from the boss in this scenario, but telework, complex scheduling, or a corporate culture that espouses a ‘need to know’ culture can all get in the way of sharing the goals that resulted in the travel denial. This type of sense making happens continually in all organizations.
Going back to the workaholic who is connected to different areas of the organization: They stay late, they work longer, they engage more. Organizational osmosis happens. The workaholic understands the directives. They ‘get’ the decision making methodology and can do a tremendously better job predicting what decisions will be made. In the above scenario the workaholic would be thinking “They’d be crazy to invite me on that trip because it’ll mess up our department’s travel budget”.
Taking it a step further, what if the workaholic, who may be peripherally connected to another department goes into the boss, and says… “I’ve got something to do with my other department near the customer, so I can use their budget and get the visit in”. All of a sudden, the travel budget restriction coupled with the customer visit initiative has been met. In another situation, if the workaholic knows months in advance that the revenue is falling in one business and a VP wants to make it up by growing another of the company’s business via increased investment, then the workaholic will know to do what they can to position themselves to be able to add value to the new focus area.
Admittedly these are overly simplistic examples, but the concept of leveraging knowledge of what’s happening behind the scenes eliminates the stress of not knowing and resulting sense-making. It also allows the workaholic to increases their value to the organization which ultimately results in more job security. No individual is ever actually secure, but the anxiety level goes down when your on top of everything. This happens when your connected in many different ways with many different organizational lines, dotted, and direct.
You are putting in the hours. Maybe you are motivated by the goals, or maybe it’s an innate part of your personality. The bottom line is that you are always there and always working. More than likely, over time, you have slowly but surely ascended in your income level. You may have gotten a promotion or two using the brute force attack of career ascendence and with those higher titled positions comes bigger checks. You may have just become indispensable over time to where you get competing offers and your organization is increasing your compensation to keep you around. You could have gotten credential after credential related to your job and in more formal organizations these lead to income spiffs.
Alternatively, in less formal organizations, you may have been wooed by competitors who were in need and wanted someone with your reputation. Being that you are a workaholic you’re generally connected with your industry in ways that people who are 8 to 5’rs aren’t. So not only are you learning lessons on how to increase your income from within your particular focus area, you may have picked up a few tricks from outside it as well. The point is that your income has probably gone up, and substantially. On the bell curve of income for your position you, more than likely, are to the right of the hump.
Even if you are eventually targeted by a bean counter for being above an acceptable compensation threshold and are summarily downsized in an annual business review, (remember organizations can prune indiscriminately), you will still generally benefit financially. On average, the jobs you move to throughout your career will all have some measure of the same income inflation beyond the norm. Over time, income and activity levels generally, but not always, are intertwined. Bottom line, if you are a workaholic there is a good chance your getting paid more than the people who aren’t.
Income, security, and opportunity are some of the strong benefits of being a workaholic. The Con’s can be equality strong. Some of them are as follows:
There is an old adage “when your on your deathbed you won’t be thinking about work”. I always use to think this is true. Then I read a story chronicling Bill Gates visit to see Steve Jobs during Job’s final days. The two magnates are well known to both have an intense work ethic. The brief information that was made public about the visit discussed how they talked about their shared industry background, the ‘good old days’ of working if you will. For them, work was life, at the very least it was the one thing in common two of the greatest minds in our generation had in common. This being said, I still don’t believe it’s the norm.
Kids… Family… Friends… when we are younger we are around each other by default. It’s where the interpersonal foundations and lifelong connections come from. As time goes on we try and maintain these relationships even though our lives pull us in different directions. This can be geographical as many professionals have to move multiple times throughout their lives to take advantage of career opportunities. It can also be from the perspective of personality that develops through life experiences. No matter the reason, maintaining the personal relationship in the face of barriers takes work. The work is in the form of a commitment in time and effort. If you spend all your time working at tasks related to productivity, then the reality is that the ability to ‘work’ at the relationship is severely constrained. It’s really hard to hang out with your parents, siblings, or childhood best friend if you work 70 hours a week and live half a country away. Facebook simply isn’t a good substitute, even if the “I hate mondays” caption on the funny cat photo they posted actually brings a smile to your face.
Relationships, friendships, and connections are not just important, they are a necessity in life. Interestingly workaholics fill in the gaps with connections made on the job and in their industry. How often have you heard some company spokesperson say “We are a family here”? More than a few times I would guess. Unfortunately work relationships are not always permanent. They may be a good placeholder, but these relationships, like the family and childhood relationships, are based on a foundation of the work at hand. As we have discussed our affiliation with work ends more frequently than our core lifelong relationships end. Yet, if we put our efforts into these work relationships, we may make it harder or even impossible to reconnect with those life relationships.
In the first article I talked about how the sinkhole of time related to regular health care is not something a true workaholic enjoys or aspires too. Beyond this simple avoidance there are other ways your Health may suffer. If your spending so much time working, stressing about work, and generally not able to unplug there are countless and well documented health effects related to this. Generally bad health starts with food and time management. If your rushing to the next meeting then maybe a drive through is the way to go. One McDouble value meal isn’t so bad, a habit of getting one every other day is tremendously unhealthy over the long haul. Yes, you can get the salad, but that won’t help much if your not careful. It’s not just fast food. If your in the corporate world and always going to after hours events there tends to be lots of rich foods. I recently had a senior executive tell me that “all he does is eat”. Even if you don’t work in the ivory tower, the sales, marketing, training, and PR teams across the world have gotten very good at leveraging their ability to entertain and engage their targets using food. Over time this kind of intake will take down even the healthiest individual.
It’s not just food that can be a challenge. Opportunities for exercise and other healthy activities can easily disappear if a good amount of your job is physically sedentary. Again, over time this can have massively adverse effects. Thankfully many workaholics who make health a priority have the discipline to get in time ‘at the gym’. They are easy the spot, they are the ones on the treadmill taking a business call.
For some folks, being involved in so much activity can create a greater connection to stress related issues. I personally have experience with this. I never considered that an ‘anxiety attack’ was a real thing until I thought I was having a heart attack several years ago. Shortness of breath and tightness across my chest got me to the hospital very quickly. After checking out my heart several times in different ways, I was told the symptoms were a result of just stress, i.e. an anxiety attack. Considering what I was going through at the time, it’s not surprising, but the point is, stressful workloads were a major component of that period of my life. Afterwards I found that I was far from alone in having this type of experience. Part of the diagnosis was high blood pressure. That scared me a bit because I’m well aware that high blood pressure plus age can end someone’s workaholic tendencies involuntarily and quite quickly.
All for Naught
A major con for any workaholic is the idea that you may make the wrong bet. You could choose the wrong company, wrong industry, or wrong career choice. Imagine working 24/7 for a company for five to ten years and mismanagement tears it apart. Then what was the point of all your work? Yes, you have a reputation, but what if your entire industry crumbles? What if your the hardest working logistics manager in a world that suddenly embraces self driving trucks? What if your in a ‘safe’ government job and there is an aberration in who gets elected and your division is eliminated as part of a grand realignment of state priorities?
Worktime is an investment, but it’s not the only area of your life your investing in. Personal relationships outside of the office can be seen as an investment. The infrastructure you put into your community is an investment. Worktime is definitely more aligned to traditional investments in that there is a more quantifiable element to your efforts, either in your impact or your personal bank account. But all portfolios should be balanced and that goes equally as well for the portfolio of life. If you put all your energy into a single effort and that investment goes south, then you loose all that work.
It doesn’t matter if your a workaholic or not, you have an interest outside of your work. An interest that is ‘just for fun’ or ‘personal enrichment’. Something, that simply isn’t productive. Some of these interests could be immediate, such as scrapbooking, going to shows, watching tv, or being creative in some way. Some are aspirational. Everyone has a bucket list, right? Well everyone I know has one. For me, I personally would like to game more, fish more, build more things around the house like outdoor home theaters, light shows, zip lines, blog more, podcast more play with computers more, etc.. My longer term bucket list items includes travel and large creative projects like creating a video game and a movie.
It’s easy to see where you can lose sight of the less than productive pastimes if your a workaholic. You simply work and never really get to immerse yourself in all the great video games or shows that are out there in a world now comprised of limitless creative media. What about the bigger bucket list items. Some larger projects are easy to do, for example if you want to spend three months traveling around Europe, all you have to do is save enough. Others are not as simple. I will never be able to make my creative magnum opus if I don’t start playing around with the associated crafts and trades. To do that I need to engage my hobbies. My hobbies are put aside because of work and life commitments that I fit in around work. Admittedly there is more I wish to do if I could balance better. I know I’m not alone in this line of thinking. It’s the compulsion to be productive, to have a goal and achieve the goal that keeps me and every other workaholic I know from the less than productive, if enjoyable, things that interest us.
One more point I’d like to make about the ostensibly easy to achieve goals that just require money. Yes, if you are a workaholic you have a greater probability of being affluent. That being said, there is a money / flexibility catch-22. If your so good at earning money your bank account may get bigger. Good for you! If you are a workaholic, then you won’t have that three month european experience because it’s hard for you to let go of your work for three days, let alone three weeks or three months. I said you can earn money, but if you do, do you have the time to enjoy it? I even know many workaholic retirees who can’t bring themselves to unplug for the grand trip they have been promising themselves their entire life.
Life is complicated. There rarely is an easy answer. Deciding what is more important: maintaining the pro’s or eliminating the con’s in the life of a workaholic is a tremendously personal decision. It’s a decision that is much like the the rest of life in that it has no real easy answer. If the Pro’s of being a workaholic are more important to you then, for the most part, you will likely remain a workaholic. If there is some sort of personal self-analysis and it’s determined that the con’s are outweigh the pro’s and you want more balance in your life, then a change will have to happen. That change, or the ways in which it happens, is the subject of the third and final article in this series.