Monday Mornings with Madison

Is a Workaholic the Best Hire?

Some say that it is better to work smarter, not harder.  That makes it sound like old-fashioned hard work is just that… passe.  That is, however, hardly the case.  The most successful people are usually deemed the most “hard-working”.  And by hard working, they mean people who work many long, arduous hours.  In fact, they lead the pack of notorious workaholics.  Consider this list published by BusinessInsider in 2012.  Howard Schultz, Starbucks coffee mogul, works 13 hour days, 7 days a week.  Mark Cuban, Mavericks owner and serial entrepreneur, worked seven years without a single vacation.  Jeffrey Immelt, GE CEO, regularly puts in 100-hour work weeks.  If that seems excessive, Marissa Mayer, Yahoo CEO, used to regularly put in 130-hour work weeks while at Google, in part by sleeping under her desk.  Tim Cook, Apple CEO, works practically 365 days a year and commonly has staff meetings on Sundays.  Indra Nooyi, Pepsi CEO, works 13-hour days while raising two daughters.  Ryan Seacrest, radio and TV show host, carries what is considered a preposterous workload.  Carlos Ghosn, Nissan and Renault CEO, spends 48 solid hours per month in the air and flies over 150,000 miles for work every year.

In a culture that prizes work ethic, overachievement, and financial success, people who are ‘addicted to work’ are seen by employers, colleagues, and customers alike as smart and ambitious go-getters.   These chronic hard-workers have morphed into something else… workaholics.  And this is often a label worn like a badge of honor.  Employers see this ultra-focused work ethic as a positive, not negative.  So is that what employers really want in their next hire?  Should every employment ad say “Workaholic Wanted”?

Is a Workaholic the Ideal Employee?

What is the difference between a hard worker and a workaholic?  A hard worker will not waste time and seek to get as much done as possible during each normal work day.  The workaholic will work as many hours as needed to get the job done and regularly works overtime.  A hard worker will work on a weekend when there is an urgent project or special event that requires it.  The workaholic works most every weekend and only takes a weekend off for special occasions or life events that cannot be ignored.   A hard worker makes sure all critically important work is done in a timely manner.  A workaholic sees every task as critically important and therefore feels the need to work all the time.

Here are some other signs that an employee is a workaholic.  Customarily check and respond to emails at night.  Regularly work on weekends.  Skip vacations and work through illnesses like colds and migraines.  Return to work weeks – or even days — after childbirth.  Work even when in the hospital.  Work right after the death of a close, immediate family member.  Work around the clock and sleep only when necessary.

At most companies, such employees are praised and considered the epitome of committed.  Truth be told, many businesses would want to employ an entire company full of workaholics.  At a job interview, they would want candidates to list their worst flaw as ‘workaholic.’  Employment ads could read something like this:

Workaholic Wanted.   The ideal candidate wants to work 12-16 hour days, without overtime pay or comp time.  He/she doesn’t mind checking emails at home (when home), and will answer work-related calls even on weekends.  The right candidate is willing to drop everything and rearrange own schedule to meet a new sudden work demand.  He/she looks forward to weekends as quiet time to be even more productive.  Instead of dreaming about a ski vacation while sitting at work, the right candidate will be dreaming about work while on a ski slope.  In fact, candidate will feel guilty when not working, preferring to forego vacations and pass on long-weekends in order to get the job done.  The right person will never call in sick, never need personal time and will scoff at the idea of work-life balance.

It is easy to see the appeal of having workaholic employees.  To many employers, workaholics are viewed as proactive and driven.  They take ownership of all that they touch.  They don’t leave for tomorrow what they can do today.  They are eager to get to the next task.  They don’t look for ways to pass off a task to a colleague.  The words “not my job” are not part of their vocabulary.   They don’t cut corners.  They aren’t interested in time off.  Their attitude is always “yes, I can” instead of “no, sorry.”

At first glance, they do seem like the perfect employees to have.  However, while employers may believe the best employees are ‘workaholics’, this is fundamentally flawed thinking.  Why?  That’s because it is unsustainable for most people to be a long-term workaholics.  Workaholism is a compulsive behavior that usually erodes health, happiness and peace-of-mind… and therefore ultimately affects productivity.  Studies have shown that there are four basic elements that determine whether individual workaholics are happy and healthy.

  1. The manner in which their families accept their work habits (if they even have family)
  2. The amount of autonomy and variety that exists in their work
  3. The degree to which their personal skills and work styles match those required by their jobs
  4. Their general state of health

Workaholics who were satisfied with these four aspects of their lives generally felt good about themselves as well. So it is possible to be a happy, healthy workaholic.  However, those who‘d had difficulties with one or more elements were more likely to experience the negative effects of workaholism. They risked what might be termed the three occupational hazards of the intensely self-driven worker: burnout, family problems, and heart disease.

Burnout or Brownout.

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and, eventually, a diminished interest in work.  Burnout is not just the simple result of working long hours.  The cynicism, irritation, frustration and lethargy of burnout can occur when an employee is working hard yet is not in control of how the job is done, is working toward goals that don’t resonate, is not respected or trusted in his/her work, the work is meaningless, and/or there is a lack of social support.  Burnout can lead to a complete nervous breakdown.

Family Problems. On a day-to-day basis, it’s not the workaholics who pay the biggest price for their work-obsessed lifestyles. Rather, it’s the people who live with them who suffer most. Because dedicated workers love their jobs so much, they tend to spend less time at home than most people. As a consequence, their families often feel neglected and unloved.  The result is often divorce.  On average, couples in which one partner is a workaholic divorce at twice the average rate (which is already about 50% nationally), according to a 1999 study conducted by Bryan Robison of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Health Problems. Similarly, studies have shown that workaholics may have an increased risk of coronary heart disease, especially if they are “Type A” personalities, which includes those with an excessive competitive drive and intense time urgency.  In fact, type A people are seven times more likely to develop coronary heart disease as are their Type B counterparts, which are more easy-going and aren’t so driven by time or competitiveness.

For companies that understand that employees are the lifeblood and most valuable resource of a business, these issues can become huge HR problems.  Most workaholics start out as a company’s star performer but end up either burnt out, divorced, or suffering from a heart attack or worse.  Those aren’t the kind of employees that a thriving, growing company wants.

Work-Life Balance

Instead of looking for workaholics, employers should seek hard working employees that seek to have a healthy work-life balance.  Work–life balance is focused on proper prioritization between work (career and ambition) and lifestyle (health, pleasure, leisure, family time, and spirituality). Boiled down to its simplest terms, work-life balance is about achieving something and enjoying something every day.   This is both simple and yet deceptively difficult to do.

Why is work-life balance so difficult to achieve?   First of all, work-life balance is a moving target.  It does not mean an equal balance. Trying to schedule an equal number of hours for various work and personal activities is usually unrewarding and unrealistic. Life is more fluid than that.  The best individual work-life balance will vary over time, often on a daily basis, for each person. The right balance for one person today will probably be different than for someone else today, and for that same person tomorrow. The right balance for a person who is single is different than for that same person when married.  And that balance will change again with children, or when starting a new career versus when nearing retirement.  There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all work-life balance to achieve. The best work-life balance is different for each person because each person has different priorities and different lives.

However, at the core of effective work-life balance are the concepts of achievement and enjoyment.  Achievement and enjoyment are the front and back of the coin of value in life. There cannot be one without the other, no more than there can be a coin with only one side. Trying to live a one-sided life is why so many “successful” people are unhappy and fall apart.  A balance of achievement and enjoyment each day helps avoid the “As Soon As….. Trap”; the energy-draining habit of planning for enjoyment “as soon as….” some milestone is achieved.  Perpetually putting off enjoyment for achievement is the definition of a workaholic.  And that should never be heralded as any company’s ideal employee.

Quote of the Week

“I used to be a classic workaholic, and after seeing how little work and career really mean when you reach the end of your life, I put a new emphasis on things I believe count more. These things include: family, friends, being part of a community, and appreciating the little joys of the average day.” Mitch Albom


© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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