The practices of a workaholic-putting work before self and family, dedicating oneself totally to career, working long hours and weekends are generally rewarded by employers and society. Workaholics are more tied to job and workplace than they are to anything or anyone else. In the name of "doing their job," these people may neglect personal relationships, parenting responsibilities, even their own health. When work gets the best of one's time, energy, and imagination, when nothing is left over for friends, spouse, lovers, children, or oneself, work is an addiction.
Work addicts are often surprised when friends or family ask for more attention or time. After all, how can one criticize a person who works so hard, provides so well, and is so tired as a result? The work addict will say he or she has "no choice," the time they give to work is the time required to do and to keep a good job. Work addicts rarely have hobbies or take pleasure in recreational activities except those, like golf or tennis games with clients and associates, that are work-related.
Work addicts can be so busy working they miss the process of growth and development in their children. Their children see them as strangers, resent the abandonment, and frequently act out. Today, it is the norm for both parents to work and not unusual for children to grow up in single-parent homes. Young people often have no sense of being parented at all. Adults are either too busy at work, too self-involved, or too tired. Peer groups, including gangs, become a logical substitute for families. Susceptible to advertising and fads, frustrated by parental neglect and lack of supervision, these children eventually find themselves in trouble. At this point, the child may finally catch the work addict's attention, but the communication gap from years of neglect may be nearly insurmountable. It is then one hears the parent say, "Where did I go wrong? I gave them everything," or, "How could they do this to me?"
When addiction takes over, basic needs for sleep, proper food, exercise, and freedom to refresh the mind and restore the spirit are ignored. Relationships are fitted in around the work schedule, and, if work takes all the time, then there are no relationships, except on the most casual and catch-as-catch can basis.
Engaging in work-addicted behavior over a long period of time will numb the addict to feelings, to the condition of the environment, and to the condition of his or her body, health, and/or emotional and/ or emotional and spiritual life. Away from work, the person may feel disconnected and at odds. Through addiction, the workaholic has avoided feeling anxiety, emptiness, lack of control, and other emotions that communicate life's realities.
The current high level of unemployment is particularly hard on work addicts. Of course, it is difficult for anyone to be without work and a means of sustaining self and family, but for the work addict it is a crises accompanied
by withdrawal symptoms and extreme anxiety. For them, it is not just the loss of a paycheck, it is the loss of self-worth, lifestyle, and their "fix." Since they never developed a life apart from work, without a job they are faced with total emptiness exactly what they sought so diligently to avoid.
The effects of work addiction can be read in the following statistics:
1. Worker’s compensation claims related to stress tripled during the first half of the 1980s;
2. More fatal heart attacks occur at 9am on Monday than at any other time;
3. The number of people showing up at sleep disorder clinics has skyrocketed in the last decade.
4. A "sleep deficit" is prevalent among Americans, indicating that they are sleeping sixty to ninety minutes less than is necessary for optimum health and performance.
To people brought up in families in which their own needs came after everyone else's or not at all, the abuses of dysfunctional, abusive job structures are hardly noticeable. If there was also disrespect and violence in their families, these people will be vulnerable to manipulation, deception, and other forms of re-victimization in the workplace. If they become managers or executives, they are likely to administer in the authoritarian manner they learned from their parents, creating an atmosphere at work that encourages disrespectful, manipulative, power-based behavior and punishes any deviations.
For some, this similarity of the workplace to their childhood experience, no matter how traumatic, actually feels safe, because all factors are known and all behaviors are more or less predictable. In such an environment, one never has to grow up. When jobs did offer security, the worker was taken care of in return for his unconditional loyalty; but that pleasant scenario is impossible in today's uncertain job market.
Some survivors tend to resist cooperative venture because they have trouble trusting others. They did not experience being treated with respect and consideration in childhood and do not expect it in adulthood. These people cannot tolerate working under too much structure or authority. Preferring to work on their own, they become artists, craftspeople, technicians, entrepreneurs, independent consultants, and contractors.
My early years were just too punishing, too violent, too sadistic, too damaging to my self-esteem for me to flourish in a corporate environment. It has taken me many years to figure out how and where I fit best and not to judge myself a failure or a misfit because working in the "mainstream feels toxic to my spirit.
Today all jobs are scarce and good jobs are precious. Now it will be tempting to exploit these conditions, to scapegoat employees, to decrease benefits, to demand longer hours for the same wage, to encourage workaholism. This is a growing challenge we face.
Unless they have begun to deal with their past, people who come from backgrounds of family violence tend not to question the rules by which they live and work. The message takes many forms but is always the same: our only hope of stopping present-day abuses is to examine the abuses of the past.