20 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2008
This note introduces the concept of workaholism, including its characteristics and consequences, and how it plays out in organizational careers. Drawing on the literature, the note suggests steps for reversing the workaholic addiction and ways that organizations can recognize and begin to change such addictive habits. It includes exhibits outlining the progressive nature of both the disease and its treatment. The note is useful for getting students to think about the symptoms of workaholism and to develop skills in managing it in themselves and others.
The Socially Acceptable Addiction
My husband complained about me working in the evening. So I bundled up all this stuff, took it home, closed myself in my bedroom and worked on it into the wee hours of the morning. I'd fall asleep with work piled on top of me. My husband would come to bed and find his side of the bed covered with ledgers.
Finally he quit coming to bed and slept on the sofa. It was two years before I realized anything was wrong. When we separated, I wondered why I was crying about the bed being empty on the other side. I'd tell myself how dumb it was because he had been on the sofa for the last year anyway. I started purposely leaving books and stuff on his side of the bed, so there would be something there for me to cuddle with. (Robinson, 1989)
This story would be easy to dismiss as a curiosity—the testimony of someone who works more feverishly than her job would ever ask, for reasons peculiar to her—were stories like it not so common in countries all around the world. Common enough, in fact, that the term “workaholism” has been coined to describe the condition that produces them. This condition began to receive in-depth study in the late 1980s—in Anne Schaef's book When Society Becomes an Addict (1987), Bryan Robinson's Work Addiction (1989), Judith Diane Fassel's Working Ourselves to Death (1990), and Schaef and Fassel's collaboration The Addictive Organization (1988)—and the body of books, journal articles, and other studies has grown since then. On the basis of this work, several conclusions seem beyond dispute. Like alcohol, work can be the focus of addiction; and like alcoholism, workaholism can kill.
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Keywords: career management UVA-PACS-0096
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation