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Workaholics often have work/life balance issues

Work/Life Balance: Are You A Workaholic Or Do You Just Love Your Job?

.You work long hours. After dinner you whip out your laptop to take care of unfinished business. When it’s time for bed you’re thinking about what’s in store for tomorrow. Your mind is so active you find it hard to fall asleep.  Work/life balance seems to be an elusive concept.

Sound familiar? For many of us, it does. Does that make you a workaholic? What can you do about it?

Someone who just can't stop thinking about work may have work/life balance issues

A recent article by Nancy P. Rothbard and Lieke ten Brummelhuis in the Harvard Business Review explored the differences between being a workaholic and just working long hours. Furthermore, it considered whether there are differences, particularly health differences, between workaholics who are engaged in their work and those who aren’t.

Workaholics and work/life balance

Workaholics have a compulsive drive to work hard, thinking about work constantly, and feeling guilty and restless when they are not working. Workaholism is often associated with working long hours, but the two are distinct: it’s possible to work long hours without being obsessed with work, and it is possible to be obsessed with work but only work 35 hours a week or less.

Workaholics can suffer a number of adverse mental health impacts such as stress, anxiety, depression and sleep problems. What’s more, as we’ve pointed out in previous blog postings, behavioral and physical health problems often go hand in hand; workaholics have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Study findings

The authors conducted a study with 763 participants who were surveyed about their work tendencies, work motivations and  hours worked per week. Participants also completed a health screening which provided information about their biomarkers, such as waist measurement, triglycerides, blood pressure, and cholesterol. In aggregate, these biomarkers are a reliable gauge for an employee’s risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes — what is referred to as Risk for Metabolic Syndrome (RMS)

The study found that work hours were not related to any health issues, while workaholism was. Specifically, employees who worked long hours (typically more than 40 hours a week), but who did not obsess about work, did not have increased levels of RMS and reported fewer health complaints than employees who demonstrated workaholism. Workaholics, whether or not they worked long hours, reported more health complaints and had increased risk for metabolic syndrome; they also reported a higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more cynicism, more emotional exhaustion, and more depressive feelings than employees who merely worked long hours but did not have workaholic tendencies.

What if you love what you do?

Workaholics often recognize that they’re obsessed with their work, that their work/life balance is off. Their excuse is that they love what they do. Does that matter?

The study differentiated between those who were engaged in their work – enjoyed what they were doing and were easily absorbed in it – and those who weren’t. The study revealed that both types of workaholics reported more psychosomatic health complaints (e.g., headache, stomach problems) and mental health complaints (e.g., sleep problems, depressive feelings) than non-workaholics. However, non-engaged workaholics had higher RMS — a 4.2% higher risk — than engaged workaholics, suggesting that loving your work can mitigate some of the risk of obsessing over it.

The author’s conclude with two key findings:

  1. When it comes to effects on health, working long hours is not as bad as obsessing over work.
  2. Workaholics who love their jobs are somewhat protected from the most severe health risks. However, they still reported more depressive feelings, sleep problems, various psychosomatic health complaints, and a higher need for recovery than non-workaholics. These are all signs that well-being among workaholics, regardless of how much they love their job, can be impaired.

Fixing your work/life balance

The authors offer several steps to reduce stress and possible health conditions learned from their study.

Begin with acknowledging when your relationship to work is unhealthy.  Does work feel like it’s out of control?  Is it undermining your outside relationships?

Regain control over your work behavior. One way to do this is by setting clear rules for how many hours you will work each day. This can help you accept that there is a point at which you’ve done enough work for the day. If you have trouble “switching off,” you might want to stop working two or three hours before bed. Taking up enjoyable non-work activities, such as seeing friends, watching a movie, reading a book, or learning a new skill, can also help you psychologically detach from work.

Consider why you work excessively and compulsively. The author’s found a striking difference in work motivation between engaged and non-engaged workaholics. Engaged workaholics worked because they enjoyed their work or found their work meaningful. These are intrinsic motivators. Non-engaged workaholics were more likely to work for extrinsic motivators such as money and status. Intrinsic motivation is associated with more optimism, effort, and persistence.  Extrinsic motivation often instigates anxiety and undermines persistence, making failure more likely.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health, offering innovative solutions to help people and organizations achieve their full potential.

For more information on how we can help your company call 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

Work/Life Balance: Is That What Millennials Really Want?

To be a better employer – a better company – it’s important to give your employees everything they need to be better, too. A central concept in that regard is to avoid the cultural pressure of overworking employees, helping to provide a better work/life balance.

The research – and common sense – says that a proper work/life balance will also reap benefits for the company in terms of productivity, longevity and workforce satisfaction. Just look at the results of MetLife’s 16th Annual U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Study:

  • 81% of respondents say having a work/life balance makes them more productive.
  • 79% say a work/life balance makes them a more engaged colleague.

In addition, a new World Services Group study found that among the 1,500 young professionals surveyed, work/life balance was the biggest priority in their professional lives, beating out wealth and leadership opportunities.

Rocks balancing on top of one another

Photo by Matthew Cabret

Today’s workforce is changing. By 2020, according to the Governance Studies at Brookings report How Millennials Could Upend Wall Street and Corporate America,” more than one third of American adults will be Millennials. And by 2025, they will make up 75% of the workforce.

So the real question for today’s employer looking to do right by his or her employees: How to Millennials define work/life balance?

Balance Has Nothing to Do with It

The MetLife study mentioned above provides some insightful analysis. A proper separation between work and life – the paradigm of the previous generation – has been dying for years, they say. Today’s employees, primarily Millennials, no longer seek a balance of work and life but, rather, an integration. They want complete fluidity at work, at home and in every aspect of their lives.

“Think of your life as a symphony.”

The World Services Group study (also mentioned above) reveals that today’s employees see their lives as a whole, of which their career is one valuable part. They like to work hard and be productive, as long as doing so doesn’t interfere with their ability to live a full life. Respondents consistently emphasized the high priority that Millennials place on achieving the flexibility to control meaningful priorities between their work and professional lives.

Finally, Steven Cohen, a partner at 21Mill.com, a platform that helps Millennials perform better at work, uses this analogy in talking to his Millennial clients:

“Stop thinking that your life needs to be balanced. Balance implies things need to be equal in order to be successful. Think of your life as a symphony, instead. A great symphony is played with many different types of instruments, each played at different levels of intensity at different times during the performance. Your commitments, just like instruments in a symphony, need to be adjusted to whatever is most important at any point in time. The goal is not to have work/life balance. It’s to have work/life harmony.”

A Closer Look at Their Hyper-Connected World

Ryan Jenkins is a speaker on Millennials and Generation Z, and another partner at 21Mill.com. In his article in Inc.com, he says that growing up in a hyper-connected world, where a smart device has never been outside of arm’s reach, has forced Millennials to rethink and redefine work/life balance in very specific ways:

  • The Long Term

Millennials aren’t driven by the thought of working hard for the next 40 years and then retiring. Rather, they want to build a life and career that can withstand the continuous reinventions and pivots that the 21st century will bring, whether they retire early or not at all.

  • Engagement

Millennials view work/life balance as being fully engaged with the task or activity at hand. Work/life balance isn’t about physical time and place; it’s a state of mind (even if they occasionally need help from leaders to turn off the distractions to ensure they can be fully present).

  • Freedom

Millennials want work/life balance to be free and flexible so they can prioritize whatever is most important that day. To them, a more fluid approach ensures less stress.

  • Making It Personal

Millennials want a healthy mix of achieving professional goals and time to pursue personal goals. Again, this is about freedom and flexibility. This could be staying an extra day on a business trip to explore the area or completing work early so they can attend a child’s school function later that day.

What Can Employers Do to Help?

Taking care of employees – both professionally and personally – is at the heart of every Employee Assistance Program (EAP). A customized, comprehensive EAP, like the ones offered by Espyr, can provide all the assistance your employees need – Millennials or not – to achieve their version of a work/life balance.

For example, a good comprehensive EAP will make available a host of work/life seminars on topics such as stress management, team building, coping with change, working with difficult people and maintaining a positive attitude.  A good EAP will also offer a wide variety of other services that allow work/life integration to be possible, including:

  • Legal and Financial Consultation
  • Childcare Information and Referrals
  • Eldercare Services
  • Academic Resources
  • Special Needs Services and Referrals
  • Concierge/Convenience Services

If you’d like to learn more about helping your employees live a more balanced, harmonious life – and improve their work productivity in the process – call Espyr at 866-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.