Behold, here lies a hardworking man – an obituary of a workaholic

 過労死

Above is a likely stamp on your death certificate, especially so if you are a workaholic – and Japanese. It means Karōshi; death from over work. It is not surprising then that the famous adage, “no one ever died from working too hard” has its roots among the Japanese. Their work ethic has often been admired and preached, but as they already know too well, working too much CAN kill!

The present work culture glorifies putting in the hours consistently while paying little to no attention to our own well-being. One of the famous Aesop’s fables, ‘The Goose and the Golden Eggs’ offers a succinct depiction of this culture. It is a story about a foolish farmer who decided to kill his goose which laid a golden egg every day so he can get all the golden eggs at once.

Most of the world’s great accomplishments are done through organizations – through employees. It is therefore in these quarters that workaholism is likely to manifest. Working for a great and successful organization seems to also be an impetus in itself for employees to pump in more hours into their work. Often admired and even rewarded financially, workaholism is just as destructive as any other addiction.

Chances are that you know a few folks whom work is their only interest, maybe you are one of them. While the effects of workaholism may not actually kill you, the effects of working too much couldn’t be any further from physical death itself. This is the deal; if you put in more than 11 hours of active work and on a consistent basis, you are more likely to experience impaired judgments, a weakened state of emotional resistance, have problems with close relationships, trouble getting yourself organized, very low concentration and absorption levels, and a tendency to get harried.

Long working hours are also closely related to less sleep, less time with family and friends, and less time to relax and work out; yet these are the critical buffers against stress and stress-related illnesses like depression and heart attacks. Seeking out the constant thrill of more work is the essence of workaholism and may negatively impact the organization’s overall performance. Workaholic managers for instance are notorious for placing insane demands or impossible standards on their junior colleagues. This could create a constant ‘crisis-like’ or ‘fire-fighting’ working environment where everyone is continually frantic and the morale levels always headed south.

Here are a few indicators that you are working too much:

®     You are excessively impatient and irritable [having a small bag of emotional responses]

®     Constantly missing important family and social events

®     Your pets won’t play with you (or growl at you at the door)

®     You feel like a stranger when you are around friends and family

®     You kiss or hug your boss goodbye or shake your family members’ hands

®     Ignoring contact from the world outside of work

®     Constantly checking out your customers and colleagues for possible dates

®     You can’t survive without your cell phone

®     You are glad your mate ‘understands your tight schedule’

®     They are threatening to leave you [because of your work]

®     Selective amnesia; you can’t remember anything not related to work

Employees find themselves in a state of workaholism either through relishing the thrill of accomplishing more than others, potential material rewards, and even as a way to escape bad relationships. Boredom and having a deep void in one’s personal life also encourage drudgery, industry, and frantic efforts fill up our headspace. All these push people into workaholism.

Taking some time out to rest and relax is just as important as any other tool in your arsenal of production capacity. Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s in their 2003 tome, The Power of Full Engagement, speak explicitly about the impact of relaxation and rest on performance. They argue in a nutshell that, “disengaging from work is what allows for passionate and full re-engagement”. They counsel that the focus should not be on managing time, but managing energy. Emerging empirical research data now shows that workaholics don’t necessarily accomplish more than people who work less hours.

So; find a hobby, hang out some more with friends and family, set clear working-time boundaries get adequate sleep, go out some more [nature is so refreshing], get off the web, don’t ignore your body signals [fatigue, feeling cranky, apathy] and seek out individuals with an admirable work-life balance. And take a break for heaven’s sake!

Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?! ~ Edgar Bergen

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6 thoughts on “Behold, here lies a hardworking man – an obituary of a workaholic

  1. Well, I haven’t shaken my wife’s hand goodbye and the dog and cat still like me (at least when it’s time to be fed), but my boys are my best reminder if my starting to work to hard… and that’s happening right now. Well written, John, and a good reminder that, in the end, we will treasure our relationships more than our accomplishments–and we need to put our priorities straight now. Thanks for this!

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  2. It certainly is true that being a workaholic is fashionable these days and so there is a certain level of social pressure to fall in line. I also think that the world has generally become a very anti-social place once you reach 25 years old plus. If everyone you know is busy, inevitably you too will become a workaholic because with no one free to meet with you, what business do you have to be free yourself? It’s actually a very complicated issue.

    I would only add one thing to what we ought to do instead of working ourselves to insanity, give time to charity. I myself I’m seeking some way to be useful to society after hours. I think it is great to be a hard worker, but the work there is is more than what we do in the office. Indeed the work required of us away from the us is in all likelihood more in tune with what it is we are really on earth to do.

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  3. Having balance in your life is a vital part of emotional and mental well-being. I think when employees are free to work at times suited to them they will be happier and more productive overall.

    So working long hours is bad for one’s health and will wreck relationships especially at home. In addition, tired employees are irritable with co-workers and customers and so bad for business. An excessive workload may cause stress which may in turn lead to burnout and sick leave for the employee. Nice one, John.

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