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