It’s time to rethink workaholism. The urge to work harder and longer is far too often blanketed as a negative trait. Though workaholism born out of economic worries, aggressive bosses, “imposter syndrome,” or fear of failure certainly isn’t positive, some aspects of workaholism can be a boon to employees and teams.
For one thing, workaholics get the job done, and they do it well, taking pride in their roles and not resting easy with an undone “to-do” list on their desk. As research on Chinese pupils showed, motivated gifted students adapted well to a workaholic state of mind. For them, workaholism was rewarding and invigorating, not demanding. Similarly, a Dutch investigation of over 1,000 high-performing workers discovered that those with true passion and grit found pleasure in working long hours, experiencing enjoyment from their accomplishments instead of conflict or stress.
Throughout my life, I’ve embraced workaholism hoping to propel my career. Though my personal life lacked balance during those periods, I elevated my professional growth and completed important projects, meaning those bouts of deliberate workaholism made me the professional I am today.
The dark side to workaholism is very real, but I was able to prioritize and tame it as necessary to open doors for more family time, outside interests, and self-care while still achieving my professional goals.
Still, not everyone can achieve this balance so easily. An employee struggling in an overworked culture may quickly see a decrease in productivity, particularly given the collateral stress that workaholic team members, who tend to be perfectionists, can pile on. In fact, a study across several Western countries showed that people whose weekly work exceeded 55 hours were at higher risk of cardiovascular disease or stroke, compared with those who worked 35 to 40 hours a week.
For these reasons, leaders must consciously balance the benefits of workaholism with its drawbacks, letting their workaholic team members excel while not letting workaholism dominate company culture. Here are three strategies for doing so:
1. Schedule and prioritize breaks
Everyone needs a break, even self-described “happy workaholics.” If you have team members who tend to go full-speed all the time, make them take periodic breaks. Otherwise, efficiency will start to take a hit. As research by Quantum Workplace reveals, 71 percent of workers wanted regular breaks, but only 28% of those workers’ companies supplied such breaks. Being the unusual workplace that supports and encourages employees to recharge throughout the workday (even if fleetingly) can help you moderate workaholism while still letting workaholic team members soar. Ultimately, it’s all about sticking to a plan that will work the best for those with a workaholic mindset and those without one.
2. Find a common team rejuvenation outlet
Evaluate your people’s interests, and look for ways to do something together that’s not intensely related to work. If all your teams ever do is concentrate on their jobs, their minds will turn to mush. Look for outlets that will refresh minds and bodies, from volunteering as a group to going on team-building adventures. In this way, people can de-stress collaboratively without the stress of missing work. Moreover, when everyone comes back to the office, having experienced new things that can boost happiness and creativity, they’ll be ready to engage in their responsibilities with fresh eyes and enjoy a more intimate team dynamic.
3. Lead by example
Don’t be a workaholic if you don’t want to foster workaholism. As a leader, you’re portraying the way you expect your workers to behave. If all you seem to care about is proudly marking time on the clock, your teams will likely follow suit. This tendency can cause burnout and expensive turnover. So walk the walk by setting parameters for yourself. For us, this means making communication between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. expected but not expecting immediate responses from team members outside of those time frames and clearly conveying those expectations.
Your people deserve a supportive culture where healthy workaholism is noted, not heralded as the end-all, be-all solution. By prioritizing breaks and outlets for rejuvenation while leading by example, you can create an organizational culture that’s ambitious, productive, and balanced, keeping maladaptive workaholism at bay and your talent contentedly driven.
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