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Do You Have A Work Addiction?


During a recent keynote address, I asked the audience the following questions:

  • How many of you would say that the demands and complexities of your workplace have been increasing?

This is always greeted with a laugh – one of those “we’re nervous for you, Mr. Speaker, because if you think things are getting easier then you’re talking to the wrong group.”

  • How many of you expect that these demands and complexities will continue to increase?

Fewer laughs, but no hands go down.

  • And how many of you feel like your capacity to meet this rising demand will increase at the same rate?

Dilemma time. People fidget in their seats a little as the mood turns more uneasy.

If your hand falls, you’re admitting that you have a limit – that at least theoretically there is a point where you will be unable to respond to every need.

If you keep your hand up, you’re acknowledging your belief in unlimited capacity – that no matter what the job demands next, you can handle it (sigh).

In my experience, ignoring or downplaying our capacity is a direct result of our environment and the way that we have designed our work.

See for yourself. Consider whether or not these characteristics apply to you:

1. Acceptance (Loss of Willpower)

50.8% of US employees are “not engaged”, 17.2% are “actively disengaged” (Gallup) That’s 68%, by the way. 2 out of 3 employees.

Go ahead; look to your left and to your right. And while we’re on the topic, there are many definitions of employee engagement, but I simply consider an engaged employee as one that actually cares about their work and their organization.

Analysis of the Glassdoor database shows that the average employee gives their company a C+ (3.1 out of 5) when asked whether they would recommend their company to a friend.  Just to put this in perspective, more people believe in their online dating accounts (80%) than their employers.

53% of American workers say they are burned out and overworked while 86% say they are happy and willing to work for a promotion. (Staples) I just love this stat – so let’s pause for a moment to honor it.

53% say they have too much to do but 86% would do more if they could get a promotion. Ha! That says a lot, doesn’t it?

2. Harmful Consequences in Value

29% of employees feel valued in their jobs (Bureau of Labor Statistics)

36% of employees would give up $5,000 a year in salary to be happier at work (Randstad)

55% of managers and employees are either actively looking for a different job than the one they have now or watching for job opportunities (Gallup) Ouch!

3. Unmanageable Lifestyle

61% of Americans work while they’re on vacation, despite complaints from family members. 1 in 4 report being contacted by a colleague about a work-related matter while taking time off, while 1 in 5 have been contacted by their bosses. (Harris Interactive)

People spend an average of 11 minutes on a project before they’re interrupted. It takes them on average 25 minutes to get back to the point they were at before a distraction. (UC Irvine

Workplace interruptions averaging 2.8 seconds long doubled the rate of sequence errors. (American Psychological Association

77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress – 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms – and 54% admit that their stress has caused them to fight with other close to them. (Institute of Stress

4. Tolerance (Escalation)

We work in a 24/7 workplace with excessive expectations. Managers routinely overload their subordinates, contact them outside of business hours, and make last-minute requests for additional work. To satisfy those demands, employees arrive early, stay late, pull all-nighters, work weekends, and remain tied to their electronic devices 24/7. (Harvard Business Review)

Over half of workers said they often spend 12-hour days on work related duties and an equal number frequently skip lunch because of the stress of job demands. (Integra

55% of Americans did not use all of their vacation in 2015. (Project TimeOff

5. Withdrawal Symptoms

So why don’t we just quit? Why don’t we just pull a Jerry Maguire (These fish have manners – and they’re coming with me!). Because it’s scary!

Fear is powerful motivator. There’s a variety of possible causes here, but for me there was some self-doubt involved (the notion that perhaps I’m not good enough to get my dream job) as well as my aversion of uncertainty (the worst case scenario). When I walked away from my corporate career, I could easily draw a straight line from no job to living under a bridge. I’m a planner and I generally manage my affairs steering away from unnecessary risk, so it was difficult to learn to trust that it would all work out.

Next comes the lack of support. As the Huffington Post recently put it, “as humans we often need accountability to reach our goal or do what we promise to do. If no one is holding us accountable to leave our job, no one is reminding us how wonderful we are and supporting us when we are afraid, it could get challenging to do it alone.”[/fusion_text][fusion_text]

stress_1How’d You Do?

Did you recognize yourself or your workplace in any of these headings? Would you say that you’ve experienced (or continue to experience):

  • Loss of Willpower
  • Harmful Consequences
  • Unmanageable Lifestyle
  • Tolerance (Escalation)
  • Withdrawal Symptoms

These are the 5 criteria used in the diagnosis of addiction.

Workplace Addiction

At first glance, you’re apt to brush this off. “It’s just an artifact of modern life,” you say. Maybe, but I believe that there is more at play here.

Granted, the demands placed upon our time and attention have exploded over the past decade. But as the world fills with noise, we’re gradually losing our capacity to attend fully and thoroughly to anything. Add in some physical, mental, circumstantial and emotional factors , and occasionally our control is lost. We do our best to “suck it up” and not complain even though we know that we simply cannot manage as well as we’d like.

Most of us are functioning each day with a constant, low-grade fever of anxiety. And our drive to find relief only leads to more self-destructive behavior. “Sucking it up,” ignoring it, or flat-out denying it only perpetuates the condition (it actually creates a “cycle of addiction”).

The psychology of self-destructive behavior is often complex but there are patterns that appear as stress and anxiety accumulate. The bad news: Of all the self-destructive behaviors to choose from, addiction in any form is among the worst. If your inner voice is becoming excessively critical or you feel that your self-esteem is beginning to suffer, it’s time to address some things.

Breaking the Cycle

You may have many reasons for supporting this newly labeled addiction – and there are many methods you can use to begin to break the cycle. Here are a few things to concentrate on that are appropriate for any type of self-destructive behavior, but have proven particularly helpful in workplace addictions:

1. Define Your Behaviors

If you’ve read this far, you’ve likely already begun to recognize your own negative behaviors. Some may be subtle, others more easily seen – the key here is to examine with intention. There’s no need to judge so give yourself a bit of grace as you write down as many of these destructive behaviors as you can. If you find this difficult, you may want to ask others to help out with this.

2. Identify Triggers

What motivates your destructive behavior? This may be a more difficult question to answer than you might initially imagine because reasons often have motivations, memories, meaning, and internal stories we use to rationalize our intent. Maybe consider asking yourself, “what situation or feeling am I trying to avoid by acting this way?”

3. Track Alternatives

After you identify a destructive behavior (and again without judgment), consider what other alternatives you may have had. In many ways, the details are less important than the process here. Did you compromise with yourself or agree to a tradeoff (“I’ll work late tonight since nothing else is planned, but this is the last night I do it this week.”)? Are you responding to a threat (real or perceived)? Did you trade one destructive behavior for another?

Play the scenario through again and look for other options, misplaced assumptions, and the road not traveled.

4. Practice Mindfulness

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you know this is personal favorite of mine (did you really think I wasn’t going to mention mindfulness?). Destructive behaviors often arise from inability to recognize or accept what is happening to us in the present moment. By taking a moment to get grounded and present, you connect with the world and keep your mind open to alternatives.

5. Get Coaching

If your behaviors are highly personal, or you’re just not used to sharing without feeling deficient, or if you just don’t want to go it alone anymore, then you should consider individual coaching. A coach can help you reestablish your perspective, build confidence and resilience, and gain clarity as you move forward.

Is it time to address your workplace addictions?



Photo Credit: Stress by Giuseppe Savo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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