Having made quite a lot of noise before about the importance of balance and measure in life, I was more than a little concerned to read about a business professor extolling the virtues of being a Workaholic this week.
I appreciate it is Saturday morning and I am clearly working at the weekend, but I am comfortable doing that because overall I am managing a healthy balance across the different aspects of my life that are important to me. For me these are family, creativity, value, fun, health, truth and fairness. They are all important and evident whether I am at work, resting or playing. But there was a time when I wasn’t so aware of what really motivated me and how I could find fulfilment in life’s experiences, by drawing these things into (and out of) every situation across a broad range of activities. I too was under the impression that the most important thing was working for financial gain and career progression in a hopeless quest for security.
The dictionary definition of a Workaholic is…
“a person who compulsively works excessively hard and long hours”
…so how can this be healthy, productive or a wise approach to life? Doing anything to excess is always detrimental.
The French Business School Professor Yehuda Baruch, based in Rouen, identifies several positives associated with being a workaholic but clearly these outputs can be achieved in other more effective ways, without someone crossing that fateful line into Workaholism. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.
Professor Baruch, quoted in an article on the eurograduate.com website claims that…
“Chocoholism does not hurt the environment, and only under certain extreme cases might it be harmful to the individual’s health. Similarly, workaholism can be encouraged by intrinsic motivation and need, coupled with organizational identification and job satisfaction.”
Without even bothering to question the comparison with chocoholism, whether it is appropriate in this context or whether it is accurate to say it is harmless, I want to challenge the other claims made and make a few points about why workaholism should not be encouraged.
Motivation is clearly a good thing but this should not lead to working hard and long hours. Motivation must be harnessed and focused, raw and untamed it eventually generates excessive activity and leads to inefficiency. However intrinsic it might be in an individual, motivation is not in endless supply and it is pretty clear in the modern working world that working excessively hard and long hours will more often than not drain motivation and leave you running on empty, if you manage to keep running at all.
Identification with the organisation you are working for, or have created, is a key need as identified by Maslow. This sense of belonging is motivational in itself, it will ensure good teamwork and collaboration. But as soon as anyone over-commits and takes their involvement to excessive levels the balance is lost and friction begins to appear between team members as judgements are made based on inappropriate measures such as how late or early someone leaves the office.
Job satisfaction can come from different things for different people. It comes back to that list of things that you hold dear, your principles, your beliefs and your ambitions. It is different for different people and it may change a little over time. However, I have never known anyone to get job satisfaction from feeling compelled to work excessively hard and long hours. And even to suggest that it works the other way around, with job satisfaction driving to people to work hard and long hours, well the poison of excess soon destroys any sense of satisfaction and fulfilment making it unsustainable for the workaholic.
Some might suggest that Baruch’s message may have been lost in translation somewhere but if he has chosen to focus on the word workaholism then this seems unlikely. It is the definition of that word that demonstrates clearly why it is a negative and unsustainable state. If you are said to be acting compulsively you are not in full control of your actions, as soon as you lose control you are much less likely to find enjoyment and satisfaction in what you are doing, you struggle to identify with the activity as the excess creates agitation and a spiral into unhappy inefficiency.
I read another article this week that I found much more re-assuring. It referenced a theory that most people reach a point where they could actually complete 90% of what they do with just 60% of their current effort by becoming more measured, balanced and efficient. Without even looking at the empirical evidence, I think all of us could reflect on our activities and agree that at certain points in our lives that seems entirely true and achievable. (I’m afraid I can’t find the original article to provide a link to it, the idea is similar to the Pareto 80-20 rule but acknowledging that you will need to do at least some of the less productive stuff as well, the serendipitous bits that indirectly lead to the end product, to hit your 90% quota.)
Let’s leave it there for now, it is about time I started getting ready to take my son to the football this afternoon. What have you got planned? Work, Rest or Play?