Workaholic

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KISHORE M. SHAH analyses the word ‘Workaholic’ and suggests ways to build a healthy work-life balance

During one of my coaching sessions with a senior manager of a MNC, I came across one of his facets, that of having major issues with people management, this despite being a star performer. As the session progressed, he shared that his organizational nick name was ‘Paplu: The Workaholic’. Incidentally, a similar nick name was also given to him by his spouse. This triggered an interesting discussion of what provokes the ‘Workaholic’ nomenclature and what are the root causes and consequences of such work behaviour, and if there is a way to undo this trend?
I found that the term ‘workaholic’ probably dates back to the early days of industrialization. Initially those who worked extra hours every day, including holidays, were called ‘Workalcoholics’ analogous to alcoholics! But slowly its manifestations changed impacting the social well being of self and others, which became a grave concern.
We literally struggled to differentiate the work behaviour of a ‘workaholic’ with those who were called ‘committed’ or ’passionate’ as there was a thin line of differentiation. Slowly, as our research picked up momentum, we found that there was something deeper hidden in evolution of the word ‘workaholic’.
The next in series was to know why people become ‘workaholics’ and its consequences.

Here are some findings:
1. Conscious game plan of few corporates and leader’s agenda!
Sometimes, reality is better and bitter heard in the corridors of a company rather than its boardrooms. I was indeed disturbed when a very senior HR personnel of a MNC shared that the most insensitive department in his organization was his own and how they succumbed to the pressure of creating cunning ‘Rewards and Recognition’ schemes so as to have an addictive effect and make people work like alcoholics at the cost of their personal and social life. He had in fact named this project ‘1-2-3’ or ‘Ek-Do-Teen’ ka formula, which means take one person allure him/her with double salary and extract three times the work of a single person.
At times, the leader, in his craze of proving himself, or for the fulfilment of the tall promises he/she has made, creates a pseudo sense of urgency with no supporting systems and culture for the execution. It creates a terrific drag on self and others leading to workaholism.

2. Identity crisis and survival pressures supplement workaholic nature
Most of us suffer from an identity crisis, a lot of which comes from childhood insecurities. In addition, there is the multiplier effect coming from the peer pressure of performance from schools. All these force us to have a second nature which is like a mask. It envelopes our original self, but is socially acceptable. Just look around; you will see people behaving like clones from the same role boundedness even when they are at home. What it means is that if a person is a ‘workaholic auditor’, he will carry the same behaviour at a subconscious level even at home and will ask for budgets, scrutinize each and every expenditure, hold family to task, etc.
Similarly, a ‘workaholic six sigma trainer’ forces similar systems at home. A motivational speaker treats his family as an audience at all times. If one is director of a manufacturing unit, he will tend to treats his home as a shop floor. One slowly disconnects with the authentic self and eternally remains in a state of stress and strain.
The indicators are evident. Just access their social life and you will see growing forced bachelorhoods or staying together as a family interestingly has reversed, family members lead separate lives and staying together happens only on a holiday or if luckier, on weekends. This anomaly is conveniently masked under a jargon “We are spending quality time”. The consequences, however, are alarming as quite often, it takes a toll on their children who either underperform or are directionless.

3. Competitive rivalry augments workaholic nature.
Making ‘Economy the only guiding way of life’ builds competitive rivalry and such fiscal pressures devalues social interactions, hobbies, etc forcing people to look through a fixed lens to experience the world, in a way making them blind to several emerging patterns in their own jobs and relatedness with their family members resulting in dimmed sensitivity which slowly breeds workaholic nature.

4. Strained family life fuels workaholics.
Most of those who have strained family life or divorcees often use their office as a stress buster and an escape route. In the bargain, however, they also tend to pressurize others to follow a similar routine. The ‘if being senior, I can put in so many hours of work why can’t you’ attitude results in building insensitivity for self and others, thus creating a chain reaction and multiplying the workaholics till it reaches a critical mass unknowingly, as also creating an organization-wide workaholic work culture.

5. Career race speeds workaholism
As one climbs higher up the corporate ladder, the space shrinks and uncertainty grows. There are people desperately waiting to grab the opportunity if you underperform or fail or show casualness even for a moment. Hence, the pressure to perform and hold on is mind boggling. Also, there are not enough choices for job hops, thus leaving people with no choice but to accept additional responsibilities, over perform and thus, one gets sucked into the vicious cycle of working extra to keep a significant margin.

Workaholic Anonymous…
There are very few organizations but when we compare these numbers on a larger canvass, practically none conduct periodic ‘Stress and Strain’ tests for their employees who have to thrive on stress and who ideally have to ‘Re-engineer their work force’ based on the report.
Most organizations still depend on weekend pubs/dance floors or monthly picnics as remedial action. But these are not remedies, they may, at the most act as pain killers, offering momentary relief.
It is high time that we move towards creating a system which detoxifies the work place and also our personal work habits.
Analogous to the ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ there is pressing need to start ‘Workaholic Anonymous’ centers either in the industry. Or may be NIPM or NHRD needs to take initiative in this direction and move away from their rhetoric workshops which are so easily predictive and jargonish because these associations have the strength to bring the change if they focus and energize.

Here are few inputs for building a physically, socially, mentally and spiritually healthy work force:
1. Predict and Plan for the idle time upfront
It all starts with planning flaws, as it is based on two wrong assumptions. The first is that we will be always engaged and occupied and the second, that the world is static and everyone will behave as per our plan. Hence, the moment we get into execution, the reality shocks us resulting in execution gaps.
It is time that we gear up to plan for ‘idle time’ which means that if we are forced to idle either by external forces or internal issues, how are we going to engage productively similar to an alcoholic who does not get his regular fix and has to cope with withdrawal symptoms which make him more violent and aggressive.

2. Organization wide interventions
1. It is important to revisit the Vision-Mission-Values with reference to the changing environment and engage into ‘Work Force Re-engineering’ on a regular frequency.
2. Periodic evaluation of systems and procedures and elimination of Non value added activities is a must.
3. Substituting the work force time by using digital technology for value added and required non value added work.
4. Periodic stress/strain tests and remedial actions to be lined up for all key positions. In fact, an organization’s overall health report by a reputed third party should be a mandate for the AGM report.
5. Providing a ‘Life Skills Coach’ to those who have to encounter stress or those who work on critical projects so that they can open up, unwind, rejuvenate and enrich with the experience and expertise of the coach.
6. By ‘listening to help lines’ the organizations can tie up with reliable NGOs who are working on ‘Prevention of suicidal tendencies due to depression’. They provide toll free helplines and the idea is that their trained staff helps the person to speak out or express without any inhibition which significantly reduces the pressure.
7. Engage in a CSR project and not events as this will keep the employees purposefully engaged and enable them to explore their hidden talents and in the bargain, also obtain the joy of having done something good for a cause rejuvenates one’s spirit.
We must remember that we are human and not pendulums swinging from one extreme to another. Anything that is done in excess causes imbalance. Our life is many times larger, simpler and meaningful if we restrict our consumption to ‘need based’ and not ‘greed based’ workaholism and problems associated with it are almost eliminated.
It is said that ‘Success is not final and failure is not fatal’. Life means to keep moving without any pride or prejudice, experiencing every step and every moment without getting intoxicated with power, fame, work, identity crisis, etc.
There is a Tibetan proverb that says “Remember where you’re climbing to, and don’t just stick to the ladder.”

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