It is not uncommon for people to be putting in 80 or more hours of work each week. These people are often the first ones in the office in the morning and the last ones to leave at night. They may spend a good bit of their weekends working, too. Even on very occasional vacations, their cell phones and laptops are their constant companions. They rarely sleep more than a few hours each night. Despite attempts to squeeze in time with family and friends, they are often disconnected from the people they care about the most. They may struggle to remember the last time they saw the inside of a gym, and never seem to be able to carve out the time for a check-up with their doctors.
These people position work at the center of their lives and allow it to take up so much space that it prevents them from taking care of themselves and maintaining relationships. Yet, the feedback they get from colleagues and bosses tends to go something like this: “Wow, what a hard worker,” or, “You are so driven and dedicated.” Yet, if these people placed drinking at the center of their lives and allowed it to take up so much space that it prevented them from taking care of themselves and maintaining relationships, people may say things like, “How sad, you are throwing your life away,” or, “You are such a mess.”
While workaholism and alcoholism may share some negative outcomes, they are viewed very differently; workaholism is respected and revered, while alcoholism is derided and pathologized. Workaholism is complicated because, unlike alcoholism, there is a very real and tangible upside to it. Workaholism can result in a faster-than-average climb to the top of ladder, bigger bonuses, larger salaries, and greater benefits. All of these direct benefits create another layer of benefits—living in a nice, spacious home in the neighborhood of your choice, access to the highest quality of health care, the best schools and extracurricular opportunities for your children, and the ability to get your children through college without being burdened by debt.
To further complicate things, some professions seem to not only reward workaholism, but view it as a prerequisite. Professionals in such fields may feel powerless to take control over their schedules and carve out time for themselves. In some fields, professional advancement and a rich personal life really do seem to be mutually exclusive. So, what are you to do if you are deeply passionate about work that is situated within such a profession? Are you faced with a choice between work that you love and a humane schedule that allows you to take care of yourself and have healthy relationships?
Even the larger political climate sends the message that people must work as much as humanly possible. Part of the backlash against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is connected to the projections that people will work less as a result of the options the legislation creates. For example, take a couple comprised of an entrepreneur and a full-time employee who counts on his/her company’s insurance plan for the family’s coverage. Both have very demanding work, put in many hours, and struggle to find time to spend with their children. The ACA may provide an affordable health insurance option unconnected to employment, thus giving this family options. They may now be able to have the full-time employee drop back to part time, or even leave the job altogether and join the entrepreneur’s endeavors, potentially resulting in both people having to work fewer hours while moving the entrepreneurial endeavors forward more quickly. Why is this a problem? What is the benefit of creating a society where health, family, friends, and leisure time are consistently subjugated in favor of work?
There are no easy answers here. The cultural value for work, which was once positive, has been perverted into an extreme sport resulting in people glued to their work and/or cell phones 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With an issue so systemic, it is necessary to look to advocacy efforts to change things and to look for whatever power you have on an individual level. Thinking creatively, talking about the issues openly, and even partnering with a therapist (perhaps one who specializes in career counseling) to help you come up with a course of action are some good places to start.
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