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 (Manna 53: Conquering Addictions)
Work Addiction
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Work Addiction

Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK

WHAT IS WORK ADDICTION?

Addiction is the condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something. It is an inability to extricate oneself from a state of mind or behavior which is, knowingly or unknowingly, beyond one’s control.

Work addiction is an unrestrained demand for constant engagement in work. In Japan, it is called karoshi—death by overwork. In the Netherlands, it is described as “leisure illness,” affecting 3% of the population. Workers are physically sick on weekends and vacations as they stop working.

Work addiction is one kind of addiction that is more subtle, and very often misunderstood. Some corporate cultures unknowingly support, encourage and reward work addiction. Those who are addicted to work are driven to perform even harder and accomplish even more. They cannot stop working until they suffer serious consequences.

THE CAUSES OF WORK ADDICTION

We have been brought up in a competitive society. We want to be the best, or at least reach the limit of our potential. In this high-pressured society, our desires to provide a decent living for our family or to make a contribution to society become the main driver of our life.

How much effort have we put into our annual appraisal or professional development? We want to be seen in the best light, don’t we?

The work addicts feel that they have to achieve certain standards. Such a mindset is driven by their self-projected and self-imposed image. They have an overdeveloped sense of self-importance. They are likely in occupations that are considered as in a different class. They are unable to make sense of today’s success; there is always a guilty feeling in their mind that they have to do more.

Work addicts use work to manage, control and avoid their insecurity. Success would lead to the desire or ambition to achieve even more. Failure would lead to frustration and irrational behavior, which itself reinforces their misconception that they are not working hard enough.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF WORK ADDICTION

Like any other addiction, the work addicts lose their ability to choose what is right for themselves (Rom 7:23). Their physical health deteriorates under the strain of their punishing work regimen. Weight problems and lack of healthy eating and exercise are also common. They suffer from “burn-out” or being ill from worry over work.

Not only do the work addicts jeopardize their own physical and spiritual well being, their behavior causes their family to suffer as well. Their withdrawal from family life leads to a deteriorating family relationship. The work addicts would like to substitute their presence by showering gifts on their children or spouse.

Material things are not an alternative to personal devotion and commitment. The caring, loving father or mother, husband or wife, has become remote, unapproachable, and bad tempered. In times of need one cannot find solace or support from Prada shoes, Louis Vuitton bags or a Playstation 3.

Husband and wife begin to grow out of their relationship—the absenting spouse is out of reach, out of sight, and out of mind.

Last but not least, work addicts sever their relationship with God. Many people have destroyed their faith in different ways, but they all started from distancing themselves from God.

By spending less and less time with God they are gradually depriving themselves of spiritual sustenance. Such a sterile faith is depicted as a severed branch, withering, barren, and only fit for the fire (Jn 15:1-6).

THE SYMPTOMS OF WORK ADDICTION

People who are affected by work addiction do not notice that they have a problem. Normal people think about skiing while working, and work addicts think about work while skiing.

There are a number of telltale signs of work addiction.

Not enough time

The direct outcome of work addiction is the siphoning of family and church time to work. The work addicts divert their energy to work, gradually neglecting their family, and ultimately distancing themselves from God.

There is no time to read Bible stories to their children at night, no time to talk to their spouse, and no time for prayer let alone time for church services. They are haunted by a sense of urgency and constantly struggle against time. They rarely take holidays and often work on weekends.

How much time do you spend on work, family, friends, and ultimately God? Are you breaking promises to yourself, family, friends, and God? Are you skipping church services and meetings in order to spend more time at work?

Impatient and irritable

The sense of urgency makes workaholics annoyed with people who interrupt their work asking them to spend time with them. They cannot tolerate delays in grocery stores or restaurants, for they don’t have time to wait.

Unable to relinquish responsibility

The inability to turn away from work makes it difficult for them to relinquish responsibility or delegate part of their work to their colleagues. They obsessively need to control themselves and everything in their lives.

Isolation

Work addicts begin to develop reclusive behavior. They choose to spend long periods of time at work. They have difficulty finding hobbies outside their work. They let down family and friends by neglecting responsibilities and missing events.

Inability to relax

Work addicts often wake up at night, unable to get back to sleep because their brains are actively tackling the unfinished business at work. Even on vacation, it is difficult for them to relax or disengage from work. The advances in technology do not help either, as WiFi is ubiquitous and the BlackBerry is always at hand.

Inability to enjoy life and success

Workaholics are unable to enjoy the fruit of their labor because they have a distorted picture of perfectionism. They can never reach the state at which they would be totally satisfied with the results.

HOW TO OVERCOME WORK ADDICTION

Identify work addiction

The first step to moving away from work addiction is to identify the signs of work addiction. The prodigal son suddenly came to his senses, realizing the appalling state he put himself in (Lk 15:17). The trigger of such an awakening is the introspective question “what am I doing here?”

Seek help from man and God

When Lot departed from Abraham he traveled to the land of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 13:10). The temptation was so great that he gradually moved into the city (Gen 19:1). He was tormented by the lawless deeds of the city dwellers (2 Pet 2:7), but he failed to remove himself and his family.

Lot epitomizes those who are entrapped in work addiction. They are tormented by their habit but are either unaware of their peril or unable to help themselves. Only through the intercession of Abraham (the loved ones) and the willingness of Lot (the victim) to follow the angel was he able to escape from the total annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Prevention is better than cure. We need to prevent work addiction before it causes irreversible damage to our spiritual life and family relationships.

Set boundaries

Daniel was one of three governors under the Persian king Darius (Dan 6:2), yet he habitually prayed three times a day to God (Dan 6:10). Daniel did not compromise his belief in the time of adversity. He did not give up a bit of his time or obligation towards God just to gain political expediency (Dan 1:8-9, 20). He knew that there was a greater power than himself who could restore him. Therefore, God rewarded him with kindness, and the wisdom and ability to conduct his work.

We need to maintain a work-life balance by setting boundaries that we will never cross. We should draw a line on the time we spend on work, family, and God.

Mark your daily calendar at the beginning of the year with major events such as birthdays, anniversaries, special events at school, family holidays, Sabbaths (yes Sabbaths, I mean it), and spiritual convocation. These are sacrosanct, and you should not excuse yourself from them without valid reasons. You may even find it useful to set aside a brief time at the end of the day to allow closure of work activity.

Manage work effectively

Manage your workload effectively by setting smart objectives. Make sure your objectives are specific and achievable. By setting up specific and attainable goals you will prevent the risk of over-stretching yourself, or allowing work to eat into your quality time.

Confront your boss to make the objectives realistic—work should not be an open-ended commitment. Ask for additional resources when needed, and do not be afraid to say no.

Maintain dialogue

Try to spend as much time as possible with your family. Keep them informed about your work and your time away from home. Let them know why you have to be away, and stay in touch.

Change mindsets

To avoid the trap of work addiction, you need to change your perspective on life.

Entrust yourself to Jesus, knowing that He controls every aspects of your life (Mt 10:30-31), and He will see to all your needs (Mt 6:33).

Paul learned how to rejoice in the Lord greatly because he knew how to be content in whatever state he was in (Phil 4:10-11). His re-evaluation of life allowed him to see his priorities clearly (Phil 3:8). Any aura of self-importance evanesces in the light of Jesus.

The fire that feeds the self-destructive behavior of work addiction is quenched by the love of Jesus. Knowing that we do not need to pursue richness, power, and glory in this life, our burdens are immediately lifted from us.

Change jobs

If the fire is too hot, get out of the kitchen. We should not feel ashamed or dejected for changing jobs or careers. If your boss is not realistic or the work itself is not suitable, rather than hanging on in a state of suboptimal existence, you should take the courage to evaluate the situation and make the right choice for you and your family.

Are you a victim of the Peter Principle? Are you one of those who have been promoted to his level of incompetence? A change of direction is not failure; it is a matter of choice. You should take up a job that you are comfortable with.

CONCLUSION

Under constant pressure to perform and outperform, we are all potential victims of work addiction. To avoid falling into the trap, we should constantly evaluate our life and our relationship with our family, our friends, and our God.

It is vital to set boundaries at work to preserve a work-life balance. If the workload is intolerable, pray to God, and He will open a way for you. Remember the sea of testimonies in the Bible; Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah gained favor before man because of their unmovable trust in God.

You should not be afraid to ask “Is this job suitable for me?” or “Does this job compromise my faith?” Do not be shy to walk away from your job; God is the one who will prepare.

If you are in the dire state of work addiction, you should seek help from God, your family, and the church. Old habit dies hard, but remember Abraham’s effective and persistent prayer, and how Lot’s willingness to respond led to Lot’s deliverance.

All is not lost as long as we come to our senses and return to the Lord.

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