The Dangers of Being a Workaholic

08 October 2018 Steve Merritt

Man Working On Holiday

As part of Mental Health month the Hedley Scott team want to join the global conversation focusing on ways to reduce mental health in the workplace. Our latest blog discusses the mental, physical & social effects of being a workaholic.

Obsessive workers are easy to spot. Their almost religious devotion to productivity and advancement means long days, late nights, missed weekends, and copious amounts of caffeine. If this description applies to you, then there's a good chance you're a workaholic -- and it's a dangerous lifestyle. Working hard is nothing to be ashamed of, but like any good habit, moderation is important. The extreme effort you put into your job might help get you a raise or a promotion faster, but its consequences aren't worth the benefits. Understanding the impacts of, and solutions to, your behavior is the first step in establishing a healthy work-life balance.

Mental Health

Stress is epidemic in today's working world, and with it comes a mound of health problems. While this physical and mental response to threat is supposed to be useful, it's also meant to be brief. Prolonged stress reactions erode the body in virtually every area. Being a workaholic negatively affects your brain. The seemingly endless pressure leads to irritability, depression, and anxiety. You'll likely experience insomnia as your mind races to plan the next big project or rehearse a presentation for the 20th time. If you keep working incessantly, harm to your nervous system isn't a possibility -- it's a guarantee. The only variable is how long it takes for your brain to finally succumb.

Physical Health

Extreme work habits can also damage your lungs and heart, especially if you already have health conditions such as asthma or cardiovascular issues. Assuming you have a relatively clean bill of health, there's a possibility it won't stay that way for long. The increased breathing and heart rate associated with a stress response can take a huge toll, leaving you open to future complications like heart attack or stroke. Finally, your overzealous desire to work can ultimately prevent you from working. The chronic stress of being a workaholic may seriously weaken your immune system. This leads to more sick days and less productivity, which likely leads to more stress, and the cycle will just continue.

Poor Nutrition

Constantly being on the go makes it difficult to find the time to cook a decent meal. It's not uncommon for workaholics to eat prepackaged or fast food because of the convenience. Eventually, your body will disagree with this lifestyle. A major issue with stress is that many people don't know how to properly cope. While there are plenty of good ways to alleviate stress, drugs and alcohol aren't on that list. Don't expect to have a high level of productivity while you're impaired.

Coffee and energy drinks are a multi-billion-dollar industry, fueled by people who want a physical and mental boost. While caffeine helps you focus, its effects are short-lived. Eventually, you'll feel too tired to be fully productive, leaving you with a choice: trudge through your day after a caffeine crash or keep consuming more. If you're a workaholic, chances are you'll opt for the latter approach. As with general stress, caffeine affects the hearing and brain, often leading to headaches or high blood pressure. Similarly, caffeine in large amounts is also addictive, much like its more illicit counterparts.

Personal Life

Even if you successfully avoid the long list of mental and physical consequences of being a workaholic, there's a good chance your friends and family will suffer anyway. Constantly working or being at work inevitably leads to social isolation. Relationships and friendships could fall apart, as the people around you feel neglected.

Breaking the Cycle

If you're truly concerned about being a workaholic, there are ways you can prevent it from destroying your health or social life. The most obvious option is to simply take a break. Go on vacation or at least try and reduce your workload. If you overwork, chances are you're taking on more responsibility than your employer expects, so there's room for sacrifice. If vacations or work adjustments aren't possible, then you should evaluate your situation and consider taking a medical leave of absence. Avoiding work may be the last thing you want to do as a workaholic, but after a short amount of time, you'll be happy about your decision. Setting time limits is important as well. Designate certain hours of the day as work-free, such as lunches, dinners, and late evenings. This will let you breathe during the day, preventing interruptions outside of work hours. Finally, exercise as much as possible. Even 30 minutes of cardio per day is an effective way to relieve stress, due to the mentally uplifting endorphins released by your body. Of course, try your best to maintain healthy eating habits to complement your exercise routine. Breaking the cycle of workaholism isn't easy, but it's something you need to do. No promotion, raise, or award is worth destroying your mental, physical, or social well-being. With the right mindset and dedication, you'll be able to find a solid middle ground between wellness and productivity. Your mind, body, family, and friends will all thank you.  

World Mental Health Day – October 10 — is a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. An initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health to raise public awareness of mental health issues worldwide. To make a mental health promise go to Mental Health Australia.