Work addiction is an unrestrained, unfulfillable internal demand for constant engagement in work and a corresponding inability to relax.

A person with work addiction—a “workaholic”—is incessantly driven, relentlessly active. Work is the one organizing and effective activity. For some work addicts, inactivity or activity other than work gives rise to guilt, anxiety or emptiness. Others may use work to counteract underlying feelings of inadequacy and ineffectiveness. In either case, the workaholic cannot rest.

Working passionately, long and hard, and deriving satisfaction from it, does not make you a work addict. An addiction is something you can’t do without.

People with work addiction have to work constantly, even on weekends, and during whatever vacations they permit themselves—yet for those who are truly addicted to work, this relentless pursuit of work and the attainment of material gain do not result in great pleasure.

Questions for Self-Evaluation

Change begins with ownership and examination. Consider the following questions in relation to your work and your feelings about your work identity.

How did you do? If you rate yourself as having any symptoms of being addicted to your work, take heart! Chances are good that you genuinely love what you do—but the lack of clear boundaries and an overreliance on letting work define who you are has let things slip a little out of kilter. Nothing you can’t address with a little self-reflection and daily attention.

Here are six simple remedies for work addiction.

Establish clear boundaries between your work life and your private life for each day, for each weekend, and for designated vacation periods. You may find it useful to set aside a brief time at the end of each day to allow closure of work activity—an official transition time that puts a period at the end of the sentence, so that time off is really time off.

No matter how much you may feel rewarded by your work, play is equally important. Creativity needs time to ferment, develop and expand. If you feel uncomfortable with taking time off, consider reframing the time as a necessary component of your work: in order to be maximally effective at work, making time for play and a private life is crucial.

Reassess the amount of time you spend talking about your work with family and friends, and the amount of time you spend associating only with friends from work or people in the same line of work. Obviously people who care about each other are interested in all the things that are important to the other, including work. But being caught up in war stories may represent an inability to establish boundaries for work or an overinclusive identity with one’s work.

Distinguish feedback, criticism and setbacks on work projects as relating to the work itself. Try not to hear them as a personal affront or invalidation.

Know the difference between thinking, feeling and imagining, as opposed to acting. Physical action is not the only form of doing; thinking and contemplating are also active forms of doing something.

Establish your own life plan on a daily basis, as well as the big picture on a yearly and career-long basis. Keeping a journal may be useful.
Writing down your thoughts, feelings, plans and timetables regarding work can clarify things and provide a basis for reflection.

DAVID KRUEGER, M.D. is CEO of MentorPath, an executive coaching practice
serving coaches, entrepreneurs and healing professionals. Dr. Krueger is author
of 11 books on success, money, work and self-development.