Do you have a co-worker who is too married to their job? You know; the one who lives, thinks, breathes and dreams work. Chances are you do. And their behavior isn’t benefitting anyone.
“We are one of the hardest working countries in the world, and, to some extent, workaholism is in our DNA,” says Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD, organizational psychologist and author of The YOU Plan. “However, excessive engagement can be counterproductive. The person putting in the most hours may be seen as an inefficient worker and less productive than their colleagues.”
Srikumar Rao, the author of Happiness at Work, agrees. He says super long hours are not a sign of dedication, but more of inefficiency and an inability to let go. “Frequently working long hours means that they are jaded and stale, not fresh and innovating and bubbling with ideas.”
Another danger of workaholism: He or she risks getting their identity caught up in the job, says Stever Robbins, an executive coach and top 10 business podcaster. “And then if they’re fired or laid off or passed over for promotion, it can be devastating; it can feel like an entire loss of identity,” he says. “Plus, it makes them boring. They don’t have anything else to talk about, and they don’t associate with people who might have other interests.”
But it turns the workaholic isn’t the only one affected by their unhealthy obsession. It’s hazardous to you, too.
“When a co-worker or boss is too married to their job, they’ll expect everyone else to be, as well,” Robbins says. “They’ll generate work for you to deal with faster than you can deal with it, since you go home at 5 and they don’t. If colleagues and everyone else try to keep up, it can drive everyone into stress and overwork. If people don’t try to keep up, it can cause work to pile up as the overachieving or overworking person finishes too much in too short a time.”
Plus, emotionally, it can cause resentment, as people feel like the workaholic is raising the bar of how much work is acceptable, he adds.
Group projects might also pose problems because workaholics tend not to be great team players, Woodward says. “They want to be in control and will often overestimate their contributions. They follow the mantra more time-in means better results, which can be problematic for the other team members.”
So, if you’re working with someone who is too married to their job and their behavior is affecting your performance—you might need to address the problem. The challenge, however, is that workaholics are often blind to the negative aspects of their ‘addiction.’
“It is important for that person to see that this isn’t an admirable trait, but a sign that something is off kilter,” Rao says. “There is a sharp difference between working hard and spending all hours at work. This difference has to be clearly spelled out and communicated—but this must be handled with care.”
Your colleague might be a workaholic because they fear losing their job; because they desperately need a distraction from their person life; or because they’re running away from family complications. Never ask the reason, as it’s none of your business—but do offer an ear to your co-worker. Tell them that if they need someone to talk to, you’d be happy to listen.
Here are some other suggestions that can help everyone involved:
Don’t be peer-pressured into becoming a workaholic. First and foremost, try your hardest to avoid getting dragged into their world, Woodward says. “Don’t get baited into the workaholic’s schedule. As my cross country coach used to say, ‘run your own race.’ The point is you don’t want to get into a constant state of competition with someone who runs an entirely different pace than you do.”
Prioritize. “When collaborating with a workaholic, set clear priorities for the tasks at hand,” Woodward says. Workaholics are driven to overdo it, so do what you can to keep him or her focused on a limited set of priorities with defined tasks.
Ask questions. “Ask lots of questions, but in a non-emotional, non-confrontational way,” Rao says. These questions should be designed to help the other person see for himself what he is missing. “For example, ask if he gets to see his kid’s soccer games,” Rao suggests.
Set boundaries. Workaholics tend to have few boundaries, which can be problematic when working on a team. They are the ones who will e-mail you in the middle of the night, looking for feedback on something, Woodward says. “Set clear boundaries around appropriate communication times and be sure to enforce them.”
Discuss goals. “If I want to help them for their sake, I would talk to them about their goals, and why they work,” Robbins says. “I would then try to show, if it’s true, how being married to their job isn’t getting them to their goals.”
Offer help. Don’t overload yourself, but if you have some free time, try to offer specific help that makes it easier for the workaholic to leave early, Rao says. “You can say, ‘I’ll finish the rest of this report and have it done before I leave. You should take off now.’”
Encourage extracurricular activities. Invite your colleague out for drinks or for a quick lunch and talk about all the fun you had over the weekend, “but also point out the interesting experiences you had that enhanced your creativity on the job,” Woodward says. “The best way to subtly nudge the workaholic colleague into dipping their toe in outside life is to tie it to work in some way, so as to at least get them to try. If they can see how being healthy or spending some time traveling may help them in their work, they may take a stab at it.”
Don’t be an enabler. Workaholism can be an addiction. “The last thing you want to do is enable the workaholic by legitimizing their belief that they are overloaded,” Woodward says. “They often overload themselves. Avoid offering to chip-in on a weekend, because it won’t matter. The workaholic will find something else to fill the void. The best thing you can do is show them what they are missing in the world around them.”
Celebrate non-workaholics. “People always want to be admired, so gently express admiration for those who are balanced, leave work at a normal hour, spend time with family and friends, and have outside interests that they pursue with passion,” Rao says. The workaholic might realize that incorporating balance into his or her life could earn them some special recognition.
Be upfront about their overall impact. If you want to change things for the sake of the workplace, explain to your co-worker the effects their work habits are having on the culture, and ask him or her to help figure out what to do, Robbins says. “If one of the effects is that they’re finishing too much work and it’s just piling up since everyone else can’t process it fast enough, I would explicitly ask them to spend less time working.”
Remind your workaholic colleague that time doesn’t always equal results. “They have to find that sweet spot that allows them to maximize productivity while also maximizing their personal time,” Woodward concludes.