Workaholism and the “yes” syndrome

Workaholism and the yes syndrome

As promised in my last post, today we’ll be talking about two workload-related problems that can affect your ability to schedule properly: workaholism and what I call the “yes syndrome”.

First, I want to talk about the “yes” syndrome. I’m talking about people who say yes to too many things, commit to things just out of a sense of validation that they get for being needed by others or accomplishing things, rather than committing to it because of the project itself. This can become a serious problem over time, because if you say yes to everything, you can become known as the go-to willing person in your job (or otherwise) and find yourself seriously overloaded. (I should point out that there is absolutely no problem with being willing to take on more work, IF you know you can accomplish it.)

So what do you do to avoid it? Start by asking yourself these questions before you take on an assignment:

–          Is this something I really want to do? Does it fit with the goals I set for myself in my life?

–          What will I have to give up if I take this on? Is doing this worth giving that up?

–          Do I have the skills and time to accomplish this realistically?

If you answered “no” to even one of these, then your answer should be “no” for the whole project.

This problem of over-committing is often directly linked to self-esteem issues; if you find yourself unable to say no to people even after going through this process, you might have a problem with your relationship to yourself. There are many self-help books that can help you with that; I do recommend you seek counseling.

The second problem I wish to address is workaholism. I’m not talking about people who say “I’m a workaholic” like they say “I’m a perfectionist” at a job interview, because they consider themselves hard-workers, or just because they enjoy their work; I’m talking about a real problem that can lead to long-term negative effects on your overall health.

160_professional_life_flashYou might find yourself thinking “well, it has its perks” or “people who are workaholics are lucky”. This is just like saying that depression isn’t a real disease; it negates the problem because it is invisible, or worse, makes the person feel guilty for seeking help because our system is one that, by rewarding hard work, enables this addiction. This makes it very hard to get better; when we try to work on this problem, it can be perceived as being lazy or selfish.

It’s an addiction in the real sense of the term, albeit a psychological one. It’s no different from compulsive gambling or sex addiction; it often masks or is used as a palliative for general anxiety or intimacy problems and depression. It takes you away from your family, your friends, and often makes you neglect to eat or sleep, which has huge impacts on your physical health; in some cases, it might even lead you to physical addiction to other substances, stimulants which some people end up taking to sleep less and stay awake longer so they can work more. People with this addiction are also highly likely to experience isolation, which exacerbates their problem, or severe depression and burnouts, several times in their lifetime. They are also much more likely to commit suicide, because of all the addictions, they are least likely to identify their problem and seek help.

If you refuse to take breaks, are annoyed with social activities because they stop you from working, sneak your laptop in when you go to the movies, hate vacation time because you would rather be working, then you might have a problem. Workaholics Anonymous has a small test you can take to see whether or not you have a problem. Take thirty seconds and test yourself. And please, if you realize you have a problem, seek help, either from one of their support groups or from a therapist, before you lose your loved ones to neglect or damage your health. I’ve been there. I still am, as you’ve most likely surmised from reading my schedule. I’m working on it, and these days it’s hard because I have a lot of deadlines. Unlike a lot of addictions, this is one you can’t quit cold turkey; you still have to work to earn your living, so it’s a constant balancing act not to take things too far.

If you find yourself struggling with this problem, contact me. Maybe we could try to form some kind of online support group!

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