We all know the stereotype of the workaholic – that one employee who is always the first to arrive in the office in the morning, the last to leave, and the most productive throughout the day. These individuals feel an internal drive to be on the ball 24 hours a day, and like a junkie in need of the next fix, they often report that they feel a sense of anxiety when they try to disengage from work.
For some workaholics, this addiction to staying productive stems from a strong internal drive to be successful, while others work out of fear of being laid off if they’re not the strongest player on the team.
While they may admit that they work hard, they view the behaviour as absolutely necessary and struggle to see that constantly checking their e-mail at home or putting in extra hours can quickly become counter-productive.
While we have long known that workaholics are at a particular risk for experiencing exhaustion and burnout at work, but the biggest challenge of leading these individuals is actually the fallout from work-family conflict.
A recent research study found that individuals who were rated as workaholics by their partners or spouses rarely saw themselves as a workaholic, and perceived their work and life as successfully balanced.
When their workaholism progresses to the point of causing family conflict, they are often aware of the conflict itself, but rarely correctly reconciled the source.
In essence, they know something is wrong, but struggle to accept that their precious work is the problem.
This sense of conflict then follows the employee to work, decreasing their productivity and increasing their risk of burnout even further.
Given these very serious potential consequences of workaholism, it is vital that leaders remain aware of just how easy it can be for these employees to work themselves into a state of conflict, stress, and burnout.
Effective organisational leaders must simultaneously ensure that these employees maintain their overall well-being while still encouraging the drive and dedication that makes workaholics excel in their positions.
The most important factor to leading workaholics and safeguarding their family engagement is establishing boundaries regarding work hours.
Organisational leaders should refrain from praising or rewarding excessive work hours or overtime, and instead actively promote seeking a work-life balance.
Frankly discussing the potential risks of workaholism from a perspective of concern for the workaholics’ well-being can help to shift their mindset from work-centered to family-centered, though it is likely to be a long process.
If the workaholic continues to resist embracing balance, restrictions on overtime and after-hours work may have to be established.
For some workaholics, simply requiring approval for overtime or taking work home can provide leaders with an opportunity to assist these employees in controlling the amount of work they take home, while others may ignore these guidelines altogether.
In these instances, asking the IT department to restrict access to organisational networks or e-mail accounts during off hours may be necessary.
Of course, none of these strategies will work if organisational leaders place such high demands on these top performers that completing the work within normal hours is impossible.
Unsurprisingly, a recent research study found that providing workaholics with additional resources to help them complete their tasks during the day may actually be the best method for helping these employees to relax.
When organisational leaders ensure that workaholics have sufficient personnel, equipment, and support at work, they often report significantly higher rates of job satisfaction, perceived job importance, and senses of fulfillment in their career, as well as reductions in frustration and burnout.
In sum, when organisational leaders remain mindful of the workload they place on their workaholic employees, take steps to ensure they have the resources they need to complete their tasks while at work, and actively encourage employees to disengage from work and engage with their families during the evenings and weekends, these top employees are often able to reach their peak levels of performance while remaining protected from the high burnout risk that workaholism brings with it.
Simply embracing realistic expectations with regards to work load and work hours for these highly valued employees can ensure they remain productive, engaged, and loyal to their organisation.
Head of Training and Development