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Am I a workaholic or just working long hours? What you need to know

August 17, 2022 - 14 min read

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What is a workaholic vs. working long hours?

Are you passionate or heading toward obsession?

Rumination: The characteristic trait of workaholics

Releasing the guilt

Working fewer hours isn't the solution

How to work long hours without becoming a workaholic

Take care of yourself

We've all encountered a workaholic before. You probably know one — someone so invested in their work that nothing else matters, even their own health. But is it possible these people are just hard workers? 

People who have workaholic tendencies don't always realize what their habits are doing to their physical and mental health. No one wants to have this personality trait, but sometimes it just happens. 

However, there’s a difference between being a workaholic vs. working long hours. Learning how to distinguish the two for yourself will help you protect yourself from workaholism. It will also help you manage your well-being when you do need to put in some extra hours on the job.

 

What is a workaholic vs. working long hours?

A workaholic is someone who cannot resist the urge to constantly work. They must work even if they're tired, with family members, or on vacation. Workaholics have poor work-life balance because their jobs take top priority over their well-being.

Research has found that workaholics are more likely to have health issues like sleep problems, burnout, and exhaustion. They also face increased health risks for illnesses like metabolic syndrome. That can lead to cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure. 

Workaholism forces you to miss out on fun opportunities in your personal life, too. If we aren’t focused on our health — including our social health — it will suffer. That could lead to loneliness or strained relationships with your coworkers and loved ones.

Working longer hours doesn't make you a workaholic, though. There's a difference between workaholics vs. hard workers. Perhaps it's a busy time of year for your industry, or you have to work a few extra hours to cover for someone on vacation.

The difference is that once hard workers stop working, their thoughts about their work also stop. 

A workaholic's brain is constantly buzzing about work. Compared non-workaholics, obsess over their job performance. They feel compelled to continue working after hours and on weekends.

Plus, workaholics try to sustain their relentless work habits, whereas someone who works long hours understands the need for rest.

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Are you passionate or heading toward obsession?

Sometimes you don't know if you're passionate about your work or if you're a workaholic. That's why you need to take time to ask yourself what your work motivation is. Do some self-reflection and determine if you're always working because you're passionate — or because you have a work addiction. 

Passion is important to have in life, but not always at work. Research has found two main types of passion: obsessive passion and harmonious passion. Obsessive passion stems from external influences. You become obsessed to the point where you can't control yourself. 

Harmonious passion, on the other hand, comes from within. It connects to your values, gives you meaning, and stems from intrinsic motivation. Workaholics have more obsessive passion because their thoughts about work control them even at home. 

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Here are six questions to ask yourself to help you decide if you're overworked:

  1. How much creativity do you express at work?
  2. Do your tasks take longer than you expected? Do you struggle with perfectionism?
  3. Have others mentioned that they're worried about you?
  4. How often do you have time for hobbies or family life?
  5. How do you feel after you finish work for the day? What's your mood like?
  6. Do your work values connect with your other values? Are they different?

If you need help identifying if you're a passionate worker or a workaholic, consider working with BetterUp. We can help you deconstruct your work habits and create a plan to have a healthier work-life balance.

Rumination: The characteristic trait of workaholics

On the surface, it looks like a workaholic is simply obsessed with working. But what's troubling is their inability to disconnect from their work. When they arrive home, they think of work.

They're thinking about work while shopping, walking their dog, or trying to sleep. They never truly switch from their professional life to personal life — it's all blended into one.

This kind of chronic stress affects your entire body. It puts you at a higher risk for many physical health problems. It can also stop you from living your best life. Some of the health problems from chronic stress can even shorten your life, meaning workaholics won't live longer than those with a healthy balance. 

Working long hours may affect you only sometimes. Workaholics feel these impacts non-stop. Since workaholics struggle to turn off, the stress doesn't turn off, either. This often happens because a workaholic’s job is their identity. Nothing matters as much as their work. 

When workaholics describe their interests and values, they connect to work. Our jobs could revolve around crunching numbers, but we also love to go on long hikes while camping. But workaholics don't see that. They feel guilty when they attempt to disconnect from their work.

Releasing the guilt

Workaholics feel immense guilt when they aren't working. They feel like they're letting others down or hindering their own success but taking time off. Perhaps the type of power they have at work makes them feel like they must constantly contribute. However, that's not true. 

Everyone needs time away from work to have a healthy work-life balance. People who aren't obsessed with their work and have free time thrive more. They know how to leave work at the office and enjoy everything else in their lives. 

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But guilt stops workaholics from thriving in their personal lives. The Harvard Business Review found that work guilt makes people feel hurt when they're away from their work.

The guilt distracts them from other things that make their lives meaningful. It lowers their self-esteem because they feel like they're also falling behind. They can’t focus on things like family members, pets, or hobbies. 

Working from home challenges them even more because their office is right down the hall. It's tempting to finish dinner and get back to work on the next project. However, workaholics need to understand that releasing the guilt they feel is beneficial for their future.

Releasing guilt doesn't happen in the blink of an eye. Workaholics need to focus their thoughts and behavior on positive thoughts when they feel guilty. They need to focus on their wonderful accomplishments, show themselves compassion and empathy, and be patient with themselves.

Working fewer hours isn't the solution

There's a myth that we just have to work fewer hours to stop being a workaholic. Of course, that helps, but it's not the best solution. The stress that workaholics face is because of how they obsess over their work, not because they work longer hours than others. 

One survey found that workaholics have higher job stress, poorer work-life balance, and lower life satisfaction compared to non-workaholics.

Workaholics were even stressed when they couldn't work because they’re conditioned to center their lives around their jobs. The obsession they have over their work consumes their minds. 

But workaholics can begin to acknowledge that they have a work addiction. Gaining self-awareness allows you to see when your work-life balance is bent out of shape. Setting boundaries can help you hold yourself accountable, too. 

When you’re not working and perhaps feeling guilty about it, try to explore other hobbies. You can learn new skills outside of work and connect with your friends. These solutions help change your mindset so you can have a healthier relationship with work.

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How to work long hours without becoming a workaholic

First, we have to say that we don’t encourage working long hours and pushing yourself to your limits. But sometimes, your circumstances might compel you to put in more hours than you usually do. 

If that's the case, you need to be accountable and responsible for how you engage with your work. Know your limits, and don't be afraid to talk to your manager or supervisor if you feel like you're approaching burnout.

Here are six extra tips to help you when you have to work long hours:

1. Work smarter, not harder on your tasks to create more free time 

2. Do your best to mentally and physically detach yourself from your work at the end of the day

3. Value all types of rest to recharge your body for the next day and avoid overworking

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4. Turn work notifications off or unplug from your devices altogether

5. Be present with your family members and friends when you see them

6. Don't let your job performance define who you are 

Take care of yourself

We know the difference between being a workaholic vs. working long hours is significant. One’s obsessed with work and feels guilty when they aren't working. The other can disconnect from their work even though they put in long work hours.

But there's one strategy that stands above the rest when it comes to avoiding the damages of workaholism. It's practicing self-care. We need to spoil ourselves by doing things that improve our mental and physical health.

By prioritizing health and well-being, we actively take steps to reduce the harmful impacts of workaholism. 

These practices look different for everyone. Some people practice self-care by doing a face mask, watering their plants, or journaling. Whatever practice you enjoy, do more of it. And who knows — you might just inspire others to do the same.

Find someone to help you create a plan that incorporates some much-need self-care into your routine. BetterUp can provide the guidance you need to prioritize self-care practices that work the best for you.

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Published August 17, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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