Recognizing These 5 Symptoms of Workaholism Could Save your Life

“You are a workaholic!” was the last thing wanted to hear when I was going through burnout at the age of 27. First of all, being referred to as such would have implied that I was not in control of an area of my life, that I had an addiction. Not me! I was always in control of everything. Or so I thought.

I began thinking to myself, “what is a workaholic?” and began to do some research. According to Wayne Oates, who coined the term, it connotes an addiction to work. Typically, workaholics are people for whom work has become a single, all-involving preoccupation. It is the only thing in life that seems to matter to them, the only thing that makes them feel alive. They invest all their time and energy in it, so there is little or nothing left for other people or activities. That sounded too much like me!

“The workaholic enjoys nothing except an occasional good meal, constant supplies of work, and a good bed to fall into from sheer exhaustion. This goes on until death”–Wayne Oates — Confessions of a Workaholic

Just as devoutly religious people get their sense of “significance” from their religion, workaholics get it from their work. Since they do not need much besides work to meet their needs, most limit themselves to relationships that do not interfere with their work. Some workaholics choose to remain single for that very reason. Some find a workaholic spouse that won’t interfere with their schedule. Others simply marry workaholics with the idea that somehow they change the person they are marrying into the person they want to live with.

In the most common situation, one spouse is a workaholic and the other is quite the opposite. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that this situation makes for a very stressful marriage. As a reformed workaholic, I can assure you that the more we experience stress in our homes as a result of our workaholism, the more we seek opportunity to escape. We go to work early, we stay late and we bring work home.

When both mates are workaholics, their involvement with each other is, of course, very limited. In this case, the children are neglected and suffer. Many people can identify with growing up with a workaholic parent, but as a child I knew what it was like to have two parents who were both very hard workers. They absolutely loved their work. For the first twelve years of my life, I did not know what a family vacation was, nor had I ever seen my parents even take as much as a day off to get away and spend time exclusively with each other – in order to rest from their work and invest in their relationship.

The most traumatic experience for workaholics is burnout caused by the very thing they love – work. Since relationships have not been a high priority, to whom does the workaholic turn to for support? In my experience as a workaholic going through burnout, I looked around me for support and found myself pretty much alone.


The idea of a drug addict or alcoholic we can understand, but we seldom give much thought to the workaholic. Possibly one of the most destructive of all addictions is the compulsion to work. Add to that the fact that it often goes untreated because it is the only addiction that makes you look like a hero. Workaholism has destroyed families, marriages and health, leading people down the path we call burnout, some till they reach the precipice known as suicide.

The balanced person can work with joy and deep satisfaction, but for the workaholic, the job or business becomes his god and the place of employment is the temple where he worships.


1. Workaholics work long hours.  It is not uncommon for a workaholic to maintain a 14 hour/ day pace for six days a week. They also love to talk about how early they got to work, how late they stayed and how little sleep they got the night before. Before my burnout, a seventy-five hour work week was normal for me. I have since discovered that there is little relation between productivity and the hours worked and that I now accomplish more in fifty-five hours than I once did in seventy-five.

2. Workaholics find it very difficult to say “NO” to people making demands on their time, often taking on more and more to please others and to be accepted. They also have trouble delegating responsibility since they feel they are the only ones who can do it right. They have trouble accepting the fact that they do have limits.

3. Workaholics talk about work. People talk about the subjects that interest them; for the workaholic, that’s work.  They seldom talk about or enjoy a hobby and rarely mention their family in conversation.

4. Workaholics feel guilty when they relax. The family vacation is a waste of time for a workaholic, and an afternoon of golf causes more guilt than it’s worth. An evening out with their spouse is easily pre-empted by something of higher priority at the office.

5. Workaholics’ habits are destructive to their health. Physical ailments such as heart disease and circulatory problems are common among workaholics. Our bodies were not created to be used as machines.

So, how do you develop a high performance attitude without becoming a workaholic? The key is balance. Have a passion for your family, friends, and hobbies as well as your work. Build your relationships with the same zeal you build your business or career. With balance, you get more done at work, and you have more fun with your family and your friends than you ever thought possible. You’ll discover that the only difference between work and play is your attitude

Ben Kubassek is an international expert on social entrepreneurship, author, and speaker. He’s on a mission to help young people in developing countries launch their own businesses in order to create jobs and bring transformation to their communities.

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