Workaholism

When I lived in The Cruz, one of the jobs I had was at an AIDS organization. I started out as the Volunteer Coordinator then got moved into writing grants when a boss deemed my skills worthy (I did not enjoy it but I liked getting a bigger paycheck). From there, other duties were added on and by the end I was the Director of Development, managing the grants, fundraising events, donors, and a handful of staff and a couple interns.

I worked all the time. The amount of work required of me in that position just fueled my workaholic tendencies. The organization was quite broken thanks to multiple Executive Directors who mismanaged and one who the biggest lying egomaniac I’ve ever met (but he’s a story for another day). I put 120% of myself into that job. Despite its many ups and downs, it taught me a lot about who I am as an employee and a leader.

That was the last job I had before I moved to Seattle. When I arrived here I had no job but had five weeks worth of savings. I applied many jobs and went on something like 12 interviews. I turned down jobs (clearly, it was a different job market seven years ago) because I wanted to be sure I was accepting a job that I could do well in, in an environment that would not require me to be a workaholic to prove my worth. I moved to Seattle to change my life and that meant changing my work habits.

We live in a culture that glorifies being a workaholic and being perpetually busy- two things I strive to NOT do anymore. So many people I know have their work email on their phone or check it when they are not on the clock, or worse, on vacation. YOU ARE ON  VACATION SO BE ON VACATION. (Remember back before the internet when people just went on vacation from work?) I do not think that because you’re always checking into work you are a better employee than me. I do excellent work in my position. I help raise millions of dollars. And when I go on vacation, I make sure my work is done or tasks are delegated so that I can BE ON VACATION. When I leave work for the day, I leave it there. Because I have a personal life. Because life is too short to work all the damn time. Because there are people who deserve my attention, including myself who deserves down time and the opportunity for self-care.

I do not admire people who can’t turn work off. I don’t think it makes them a better employee or harder worker or more important. I feel sad for them, actually, because there should be more to life than work. I’m lucky that I have a job that I am good at, that helps the world be a better place, doing work I (usually) enjoy, and that I can leave at the office. I don’t ever want to go back to my old workaholic ways. It didn’t make me a better worker and it definitely didn’t make me a better person.

What about you? Are you a workaholic or a recovering workaholic? What do you think about this?

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24 thoughts on “Workaholism

  1. I’ve never been a workaholic. I just can’t do it. When I go home, I want to be home. It’s my time. However, there are some times – and this is not a regular thing – when I have to work on a deliverable that I’ll work extra hours at home to get it done, but I make sure to, for example, go home early the next day.

    And while on vacation? I’m on vacation. I just can’t be bothered.

    At my old job, I know some people were crazy workaholics, sending emails at ridiculous times of the night/morning or even when on vacation. I think for some of them, they preferred work to their home life which means there are deeper, underlying issues there. And for the others? Well, they’re just workaholics. If I was on vacation when they emailed (and it’s a holiday or they’re suppose to also be on vacation)? I’d never reply back. They’d have to wait. Nothing is THAT urgent.

  2. I don’t consider myself a workaholic, but I have work email on my phone and if I see a message – I will read it (because I’m OCD and can’t stand things in my in-box)… If I’m going to be out on vacation, however, I will turn it off and let people know that I’m turning it off… My hubby is always checking email, but for some jobs – it’s just required…

  3. Way to blaze the trail, Siz! I consider myself a hard worker at life, not at my job per se. I’m grateful for my job, and I take it seriously, but sometimes I’m downright lazy at it. I put a lot of energy into writing, my relationship, my family, my culture–and I like it that way.

    Back in the day, unions pushed through eight-hour work days partly so people could have time to be good citizens–to attend seminars, to read the newspaper, to vote. That workday has slowly gotten longer, and I think society is suffering as a result.

  4. I used to be a workaholic, and I still have the tendency to give 120%, although as I’m getting older the writing on the wall is getting clearer: You can do amazing things for an organization, save them tons of money, inspire others to greatness, etc, but when it comes time for awards, promotions, or raises, the friend or young relative of the person in charge somehow always gets the prize. I don’t waver from my work ethic, but I find myself not volunteering myself for extra projects as freely as I did before. Let someone else “prove” themselves. I’ve shown what I am worth, but sometimes I think now people just see an agreeable, overweight, middle aged person who gets things done in the background but doesn’t have the “look” of success anymore.

  5. While there are definitely companies like your old one that put value on how much you work — I used to work for one myself — I think half of the time the work more=higher value attitude exists in people’s heads. I’m like you: I personally think less of people who work around the clock rather than the opposite. When I’m off, I intend to be off. My old journalism job was an on-call-24/7/365 kind of job, and that caused me to develop a serious anxiety problem. When I changed jobs, I set the tone early. I don’t respond to e-mails after hours and I don’t respond to anything on vacation. My boss and my boss’s boss still tell me I’m doing a good job, and I’m not going to save anything from burning down if I do respond after hours, so what’s the point?

  6. Ah yes, the notorious glorification of busy.
    I would definitely say I am workaholic in recovery. I used to make myself available all the time, any time. I still work on the weekends sometimes and usually have an after hours call or two just by the nature of my work, and the fact I have clients in CA (2 hours behind). But in the end, working all the extra hours didn’t seem to get me that much further ahead.
    I am turning it around. I did not check in AT ALL on my most recent vacation. I was at the point pre-vacation where if I didn’t unplug entirely, I was going to lose it. (I feel much better now!)
    I have a co-worker who goes home, takes a nap, and then works until 2 o’clock in the morning. She fills more jobs than I do, but I have been very clear with my boss that I will do no such thing. And if it gets to the point that I need to do that to keep my job, then this is not the job for me.
    I hope when the economy finally turns around (if ever!) people will have the guts to recoup their time as THEIR time. I always tell people vacation is part of your total compensation. If you give it up, you are essentially giving up part of your pay, and that is just dumb.

  7. This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. I worked a lot before I had a baby 10 months ago. My priorities have shifted. I want/need to spend time with my family. The problem is that my boss EXPECTS me to be a workaholic (she is herself), and it has been an ongoing battle between us since I’ve returned from maternity leave. She’s thinks 32 hours per week means 32-40. NO, it doesn’t. Increased my hours to 36 per week, and she thinks that means 36-45. NO, it doesn’t. This battle has made me about 80% sure I’m going to quit and be a SAHM for a while. I read something recently that has really resonated with me. “No one on their deathbed says ‘I wish I would have worked more.'”

  8. I remember almost being fired for not being a workaholic. When I was a manager I would have to work on the visual book for the new season and my boss told me to take it home and work on it. I said, no I’ll work it on while I am at work and to block me off for an afternoon. I remember she got mad and told me that’s unacceptable and that I’d have to do it at home. I never did but I remember being upset because I shouldn’t have to work at home and off the clock.

    So I can’t say I’m a workaholic. I hope to never have a job where they think working off the clock and at home are the norms.

  9. I’ve literally quit jobs that became too heavy on the work and bad for my work/life balance. I’m a great employee… when I also have a life. I become a bitter, poorly-performing, unhappy worker – who does not produce good work – when too much of my life is taken over by work.

    I had an interesting conversation with some friends about this recently – whether people would take a terrible, 80+ hour/week job IF the payoff was right, and if that meant you could retire at 40 or whatever. I honestly don’t think I would. It would be AMAZING to be retired at 40, don’t get me wrong – but I’d be so unhappy in the years leading up to it that I don’t think it would be worth it. I don’t think I’d MAKE IT to 40.

  10. Not long ago, my boss responded to an e-mail addressed to me that he was CC’d on. He said, “Sarah doesn’t work on the weekends,” and then took care of whatever that issue was (cannot remember now) because I guess it couldn’t wait until Monday? Not sure if that response was to protect me or to call light to some sort of laziness he perceives, but I don’t care: ‘Yeah, I DON’T work on the weekends. Why do you?’ I wanted to say…

    I agree with you that someone working more hours than you or working OT doesn’t make them a better employee. I feel the same way. I get all my work done within the amount of time I’m given, which makes me feel **efficient**, not lazy. Not interested in adding to my already busy/stressful life (with a job and boss I despise, to be perfectly honest).

  11. Hear, hear! I leave work at work even though I am salaried. My job is just not that important to spend my evenings or weekends answering emails. And when I’m on vacation I am ON VACATION. I turn off my ability to get my work emails on my phone when I’m off. I get great reviews and everyone says I do a great job. I think if you have to work 80 hour weeks either you need more employees or you’re just inefficient.

  12. Also, I want to add that my boss is a CRAZY workaholic. He spent an entire week on a cruiseship with his family and went overboard (pun not intended, but funny) on e-mails the whole week. I actually had to tell him that there were too many e-mails coming in about the same issue, and too many documents and new versions coming at me – it was I-N-S-A-N-E. It has to make one wonder what someone’s life is missing that they put so much effort into work and can’t enjoy a vacation with the fam. I wasn’t born to work. I was born to love and enjoy my life, and that’s what I’d prefer doing. Work is just a means and resource to that love and enjoyment.

    Because, really, what is life without love and enjoyment??? A heart attack at 50? Not worth it!!

  13. I’m in the recovering side of things. I’m freelance and work out of the house so it’s a lot easier to get lost in the pattern of being available 24/7 because the computer is right there. But I’ve become firm about sticking to my business hours as far as clients are concerned – my work phone is the only one hooked up to my work email and that goes off at the end of my workday and doesn’t come on again until the beginning of the next workday. That isn’t to say there aren’t nights that I can be found working until the wee hours but that’s the joy of flexible hours – I can work late nights to make time for some me time earlier in the day. 🙂

    But I agree, if you don’t set boundaries – both for yourself and for the people you work with, there almost always will be the expectation of being available all the time…

  14. It totally makes no sense this ideal that you should be working 24/7 365 days a year.

    My friend had a baby the same day as I did, and she overheard someone commenting that “She never even checked her e-mail while she was on maternity leave.” Um, WHAT?

    Vacations are vacations. Leaves are leaves. The end.

  15. I have a very good work ethic but I refuse to “over-work” now. In my 20’s and 30’s I worked two and three jobs and spent more time at work than anywhere else. I simply refuse to do that now that I am in my 40’s getting closer to 50.

  16. Oh, man, this hits home today. Today, I discovered that I may be expected to work straight through two weekends AND the 4th of July holiday, with absolutely no recompense, due to the fickle decisions of other people. And I realized, I will work hard, I will pour my heart and soul into my work, but I will not allow my job to control every aspect of my life. As I type this, I’m fresh off a full day with my honey. To be precise, I’m straight off the FOURTH day off with my honey of 2013. Total. Including holidays and weekends. FOUR DAYS. So no, Work, I’m not going to allow you to eat up what little time we have planned together.

    I applied for a job this evening. And I’m going to keep applying for jobs. This shit is not acceptable.

  17. For better or worse, this is what my profession (medicine) requires of me. But it’s not in my nature. I love my life outside work! I think I am going to have a hard time convincing the whole of the field to change personally, but my generation of physicians is shaping up to be one of the first to really stand our ground about personal lives and work-home balance. The other day I worked for 10 hours and went home at 4:00, and leaving so early was such a novelty that I felt like I was getting away breaking the rules, might as well have been in high school on Senior Skip Day! Unfortunately for patients, that means they will have to put up with not having as direct access to their physicians as many would prefer (instead finding coverage from their physician’s partners)…which I can understand from a patient perspective would be a bit disappointing. We’ll see how this all evolves though. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

  18. I’m a paralegal, and usually one of the first questions I get when I tell people that is, “Do you want to go to law school? or Do you want to be an attorney?” Pretty much my answer is no. I like being involved in the work, but I know that if I was the attorney and they were MY cases, I’d feel the pressure to work around the clock. I’m happy to make less money, but know that when it’s 5:00, or the weekend, or my vacation time, that I don’t have to think about it anymore. I know that the big salary that come with being a lawyre would never compensation me for my time.

  19. That last sentence should be: “the big salary that comes with being a lawyer would never compensate me for my time.” The comment box was being weird and not letting me see all of my comment before posting…

  20. Here’s the thing- expectations in all jobs are different. I am mom to two little ones (3 and 5) and a young partner in a lawfirm. I need to focus on lots of things all the time. I consider myself incredibly blessed that my current partners do not hold it against me that I leave in time to pick up my kids from “school.” In exchange for the flexibility I have to leave “early’ or come in “late” (I usually work in the office 8:30-4:30) I watch my blackberry whenever I am awake and regardless of where I am. I feel that this gives my partners and clients confidence that no matter what I will take care of their needs too. For me that’s not workaholism nor shameful but what I do in order to obtain the flexibility that I require. I do not believe there is any shame in working hard to get what you need and still build a career- and what that means to everyone can be very different. Of course it helps that I absolutely love both my work and my family– it’s all my life whether I’m in the office or on the boat looking at email while my kids mess around in the water. They all know I’m watching them and am present for all of them.

  21. Yes! Love this! I agree… I am the same way. Work does not = life for me, and I never want it to. It’s funny, in my position, I do a lot of research on employee work patterns, etc. and all these studies say if you let people work from home, they might get more work done (if they are the productive type) because they work more hours. Nope. Not me. I am done when it’s time to be done. My job does not have real emergencies.

  22. I have friends who live in Munich and go on wonderful vacations all the time. I don’t know if they’re checking work email while they’re away, but I suspect they’re not. The Euros have it all figured out…

    I don’t know if I’m a workaholic. But I feel like I’m working more now (even though my billable hours are low) than ever before in my life. The old work-in-an-office and get-a-nice-salary gig has a shiny glow that didn’t used to be there!

  23. Preach it, sistah! I am far from a workaholic. In fact, I work to live, not the other way around. When I was in my 20s, I decided to skip the high paying salary track in my field (that also required a ridiculous amount of travel) in favor of a more modest paycheck and way more control over my life. I am still working for that company today, making far less than I would have otherwise, but being able to work from home full time when Gavin was a baby and needed additional care; and, being able to still work from home three days a week, so I can spend less time commuting and more time with my family. Best decision I ever made – no regrets!

  24. A recovering workaholic due to “recent events”…..and I just heard through a coworker this morning that my boss said to him last Friday (while I was at another doc appt) that he thinks my attitude has changed the past few months. No shit? Maybe because I was diagnosed with cervical cancer and one of the first things my oncologist told me was to change my workaholic ways….go home at 5 and put work out of my mind (vs working 11-14 hr days week after week). She all but said that what I had been doing the previous year or so could have very well brought the cancer on. So, if my boss ever has the fuckin BALLS to say to my face what he said to my coworker last Friday, he’s gonna be in for a rude awakening.

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