"Am I a workaholic?"
We all have times when the workaholic lifestyle feels like the only way to get through the week, especially when the duties are demanding. But where exactly do you need to draw the line? Having a strong work ethic is one thing – being unable to switch off and unwind is very much another.
Hard work, we are told, pays off – as any bona fide workaholic can attest, sometimes your job (and the need to do it anywhere, anytime) just sneaks up on you.
However, in a culture that tends to overvalue workaholism (often passing it off as routine devotion), those long hours can throw off work-life balance. In fact, too much work can be unhealthy, unproductive and unrewarding.
If you work pretty much non-stop, and can’t even contemplate a day off, it sounds like you've turned into a workaholic. Putting in the extra hours might generate results initially, but it won't be long before you've ground yourself down. And fatigued, exhausted employees are little use to their organisations.
By taking note of these early warning signs, you should be able to keep things on an even keel and find a work-life balance:
1. You're first to arrive...and last to leave
Are you the first person to arrive at the office in the morning? This isn't in itself a bad thing – professionals often find they are most productive at the start of the day, particularly when there are fewer distractions in a quiet workplace.
But if you're also the one also switching off the lights at night due to working overtime, then there may be a problem. There's only so long you can burn the midnight oil before it starts to have an impact on your performance levels and time management. Putting in a standard shift in top gear is always a better option than working 12 hours straight in a tired malaise.
2. You have no hobbies or interests
When was the last time you took part in some sort of activity you enjoy outside of work? Some people spend every waking hour performing employment duties – or when they're not actually working, they're thinking about it.
This leaves little time for anything else, whether at home or socially with friends. The upshot of this is that your social circle slowly evaporates due to the lack of a work-life balance, leaving you with just colleagues and clients on your contacts list.
3. You're constantly stressed
Sometimes a little stress at work is no bad thing – it ensures professionals are motivated to complete projects and meet important deadlines. But if you find yourself in a constant state of worry – even when you're not at work – this can be problematic.
Sometimes workaholics find they are stressed because they aren't at work – essentially suffering withdrawal symptoms at weekends. This isn't good for your short or long-term health.
4. You never take a lunch break
If you find you've never got the time to take a proper lunch break, ask yourself – is this a voluntary or involuntary decision? If your organisation can't spare you half an hour to sit and eat your sandwiches, then it needs to think about recruiting additional employees to add capacity.
Employees need to set aside time every day for breaks and make sure they take them – it's as much about giving your brain a rest as anything else. This ensures you're ready to fire on all cylinders in the afternoon.
5. You check your emails every five minutes
There's nothing wrong with a regular check of your inbox while you're at work – it's important to keep on top of your emails. But once you head home for the evening, it's a different matter. You're paid to work during the day, not 24-7.
So unless it's an absolutely urgent email, you shouldn't be spending your evening responding – or sending messages of your own. Depending on the nature of your job, you might have emails coming in throughout the evening. If you pick up your phone or tablet every time it buzzes, you'll never put the thing down.
6. You get impatient with everyone else
It could be the employee who leaves early every Friday or the parent who wants to reduce their hours – do you get frustrated with colleagues who seemingly work fewer hours than you do?
If so, it may well be you who is the workaholic. The most important thing from an employer's perspective is productivity and value - rather than the number of hours you work. So just because other people leave at 5pm on the dot, it doesn't mean they are doing a bad job. It may just be that they've found a better, healthier work-life balance.
7. You have one topic of conversation
You don't know what's happening in the news, what the result of the big game was, or even who the prime minister is these days. If it's not work-related, it isn't worth discussing.
But if this sounds like you – and you genuinely only have one topic of conversation – it won't be long before you bore everyone else around you to tears.
How to avoid becoming a workaholic
Keep your sanity with these three tips to avoid becoming a workaholic.
Time is one of your most important resources. We're paid for it, so it makes sense to spend it wisely. This might mean declining non-essential meetings or dedicating time in your calendar to accomplishing one task.
With time, there's also opportunity cost to keep in mind; if you're spending it on a less urgent project, you can't spend it on one that could be more impactful. And while a quick procrastination break every now and then never hurt anyone, set end goals to keep your productivity in check.
Learning how to delegate is the yin to time management's yang. In other words, you will have more time if you know how to delegate tasks as appropriate. To start, know what requires your expertise and what doesn't.
Perhaps a project manager is the better person to run a meeting or keep the assignment rolling. Understand your team's strengths and make good use of them. Finally, be honest about what you can take on. If you feel overwhelmed, be willing to say no or ask for help.
Business fluctuates, and there will be times when you have to stay late, work a Saturday or return an email in the wee hours. But don’t make this a habit. Remember why you're working in the first place: to support yourself or your family, and to feel fulfilled, empowered or professionally satisfied.
If you don't want to find yourself in the "live to work" group, create clear boundaries. This may mean leaving by 6pm each evening, no matter what, or blocking time to work out during your lunch break. It may also mean not checking work email on your personal phone or at all on the weekends.
The life of a workaholic doesn't always lead to success
If these signs of workaholism ring true for you, it's time to take action – here are some tips on how you can make sure you get out of the office on time today.
It is important to work hard and give your all to your employer. Showing commitment to your organisation can be good for career development – it can give you the edge on other similarly-performing professionals.
But if you are a workaholic, and fail to achieve a sensible work-life balance, you're setting yourself up to fail in the long term.
The article was originally featured as "7 signs you're a workaholic" on the Robert Half UK Blog.