In a culture where working long hours and refusing to take breaks is prized, it’s easy to miss the signs that you might be putting too much of yourself into work.
While it’s great to love your job, when your career is all you think about, that’s tipping into an unhealthy area.
The same goes for when work takes up all of your time, or when you use it as a sticking plaster to cover up bigger problems.
The tricky thing is that when you’re in the midst of an unhealthy relationship with work, it’s tough to recognise it.
So to help us do that, Professor Sir Cary Cooper, advisory board member at Delamere Health, shares some common signs that you might be a ‘workaholic’ – and what to do if you’re ticking a lot of these symptoms off.
Signs of work addiction
You find yourself working more than intended
You regularly work through your lunch break, you’re the last one to leave the office, and you can’t help but bring out your laptop when you’re lounging on the sofa late at night.
This can be a trap that’s especially easy to fall into while we’re working from home. When your home space is also your office, it’s tough to set proper boundaries, and all too easy to never stop slogging away.
You’re using work to escape your problems
Ever noticed that when things in your life are complicated or your mood is low, you throw yourself into work?
That’s a sign of addiction – using something as an escape.
Your alcohol consumption has increased
One way some of us try to separate work from rest? A massive glass of wine.
We get it. But ask yourself this: does it drinking feel like an irresistable urge? Are you hitting the booze to deal with the excessive stress of your job?
You struggle to sleep
You can’t drift off – your mind is still whirring with ideas for tomorrow or going over what happened at work today. You toss and turn in the night and wake up earlier than your alarm.
Not working stresses you out
Hooray, you’ve finally booked some time off. But wait – why do you feel even more stressed than before? Why are you obsessively checking your emails, and watching how your team is getting on from afar?
If you’ve ever returned from a holiday and vowed to never take time off again, you have a serious problem.
The same goes for when you feel on edge at weekends, like you’re not sure what you should be doing, or you’re unable to relax.
‘This feeling tends to stem from guilt from not being able to devote yourself to your job all the time,’ say the experts at Delamere.
Work takes priority over everything else
When was the last time you made time for yourself?
Do you find yourself constantly skipping the gym because you’re working late (again)? Ordering takeaways because you don’t have time to cook? Missing out on social events because you’re too busy at work?
If you’re nodding along, this is a sign you need to reassess your relationship to work.
Your loved ones have expressed concern
It might have been in the form of a gentle ‘you work too hard’ from your mum, or jokes about how your friends never see you anymore.
If people in your life have noticed an issue with your working lifestyle, don’t dismiss those concerns.
How to deal with workaholism
If you’ve noticed the signs listed above, you might be suffering from work addiction, also known as ‘workaholism’.
Delamere defines this as ‘the inability to switch off your professional life’.
‘It is driven by the need to achieve status and success,’ the say. ‘Similarly, those who suffer from a work addiction tend to get a “high” from getting good recognition for their efforts and completing a task.’
So, you’re recognising the problem. Now what can you do to fix it?
Use Christmas as a time to properly disconnect
We’re approaching a time when it’s socially acceptable to switch off – use that.
You don’t need an excuse to rest, but when you’re in the mindset of work dependency, it’s tricky to justify relaxation to yourself. So if Christmas helps you do that, jump on it.
‘If the last 20 months have taught us anything, we should be taking time off over the holidays to relax with loved ones,’ says Professor Sir Cary Cooper. ‘People are now working harder and longer hours than ever before and should use Christmas time as a way to disconnect from corporate life.’
Turn off notifications
‘If you have emails or messages coming to your phone, switch them off so that you aren’t distracted or thinking about work when you should be relaxing,’ says Professor Sir Cary Cooper. ‘Having the temptation to look at work emails while off can mean you end up going back after the holidays more tired than when you left, because you didn’t fully disconnect.’
Set up an out of office
Not just for Christmas. Every time you’re away from work and trying to carve out some time for yourself, make sure you set up an out of office message that clearly establishes that you will not be checking emails or work messages.
Then stick to that assurance. Trust that people will see the out of office and expect them to respect it. Don’t make these boundaries meaningless by then responding to ‘just one’ email or constantly scanning your inbox.
Add working hours to your email signature
Related to the above, a great way to set boundaries is to add your working hours to your email signature or Slack status, with a clear line that you will not be reading or replying outside of these times.
We really need to get rid of the expectation of instant replies at all hours of the day (and night).
Work on changing your workplace’s culture
It doesn’t matter what actions you take if your workplace still expects you to throw yourself into the job at the cost of your health.
Leading by example is powerful, but it’s worth chatting with your managers, too, to see if they can do the same – and make it clear to everyone working for the company that mental wellbeing is a priority.
Professor Sir Cary says: ‘It is the job of employers or line managers to make sure that staff are not overworking so they have enough time to rest.
‘It is important that employers give staff enough time to relax over the Christmas period so they feel refreshed and energised in the new year.
‘To help keep work addiction to a minimum, managers should not send any kind of email outside of working hours, even if it’s work that can wait until the new year. For those that might struggle with addiction to their job, receiving an email like this could cause the person to start working again when they should be resting.
‘Countries including France and Portugal have recently brought in legislation that bans managers and employers from doing so, while some companies will choose to shut down the server altogether.’
Seek professional help
If you’re struggling with an unhealthy relationship to work, you should feel no shame in seeking professional support. Talk to your GP or go private with a counsellor to seek mental health help.
A therapist will be able to get to the root of a work obsession and give you the tools you need to create healthier boundaries.
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Follow us on Twitter at @MentallyYrs.
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