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Are you a workaholic?
5 Tips: Dealing with workaholism
March 29, 2004: 1:44 PM EST
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Be honest. Did you work over the weekend? Finding it hard to relax and spend time with your family? Haven't taken a vacation in years?

If you answered yes to these questions you might be a workaholic. Workaholism has become a serious problem for many Americans.

In fact, according to the latest numbers from the International Labour Organization, U.S. workers put in an average of 1,815 hours in 2002 compared to major European economies, where hours worked ranged from around 1,300 to 1,800.

Are you working too hard? Here are today's five tips:

1. Identify the workaholic.

Lots of us work hard and take pride in our job. So how can you tell if you fit the profile of a workaholic?

Depending on your profession, there will most certainly be times of the year when your work will take precedence. For example, over the next few weeks, accountants have no choice but to get their work done as they gear up for April 15.

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CNNfn's Gerri Willis shares tips on how to deal with being a workaholic.

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But if your work ethic goes beyond this, that could be a sign of trouble. Dr. Bryan Robinson, a professor at the University of North Carolina and author of the book "Chained to the Desk," says workaholism is clearly a disorder, like alcoholism or an addiction to gambling.

The workaholic is unable to lead a balanced life. Everything and anything is about work. In fact, workaholics get a rush from working hard.

Ask yourself, when you're on the ski slopes are you thinking about a deadline for next week? Are you constantly canceling family activities?

Workaholics Anonymous asks, is work the activity you like to do best and talk about the most? Have your family and friends given up on expecting you on time? Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else? Or do you always feel guilty? Guilty for not being with the family? But then feeling guilty for not doing work?

Shannon Waller of Strategic Coach says technology has contributed to the problem of workaholism. More and more people can't seem to disconnect from technology. In fact, some say that people who are always on their Blackberry wireless devices are now referred to as "Crackberries." These are people who will stop in the middle of whatever they are doing just to check in.

2. Know the risks.

First and foremost, you don't want to miss out on the important years with your family.

Dr. Robinson says studies have shown that divorce rates are 40 percent higher for marriages where a spouse is a workaholic. Studies have also shown that children of workaholics have higher depression and higher anxiety, even more so than children of alcoholic parents.

Waller gives one example of a client who knew she needed help when she actually forgot her son's 16th birthday. That was the wakeup call she needed to turn for help.

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Ed Manley of Workaholic's International Network (www.workaholic.org) says you can't ever get back the formative years. Just as important, workaholism is one trait that you do not want to pass onto your children.

Try setting a different example. Take the time to play with your child, and talk to your child about your own habit of overworking. Also, be aware that long hours at the office with too little sleep can lead to serious health risks.

Dr. Robinson says there is a huge link between workaholics and cardiac problems. He also says working too much can cause high blood pressure as well as psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and depression.

Robinson makes reference to a Japanese phenomenon called "karoshi." Karoshi means "death from overwork." In the 1980s, several high-ranking business executives in Japan were suddenly dying without any previous signs of illness. And by some estimates thousands drop dead from overwork in that country each year.

Meanwhile, Waller says back here in the U.S., workaholics also tend to skip workouts and this can lead to weight gain. Another part of what contributes to being overweight is that these workers will constantly go out for client dinners instead of eating at home with the family. And, typically when one goes out for dinner they will eat more. It's also not uncommon to find alcohol at many of these client dinners or gatherings. This can lead to another problem all together: alcoholism.

3. Make your work even better.

When someone is overworked, creativity, productivity, communication and cooperation drops off a cliff. This is according to Strategic Coach, a company that works with businesses and entrepreneurs.

In fact, studies show people are more productive when they take some time off and clear their heads. Think about it. Some of the people who run the biggest companies in the world are able to lead a balanced life. This is something management should also pay attention to since it will benefit them if their employees are in good health.

Strategic Coach tells its clients there are three kinds of days. Focus days, when you are at your most productive. Buffer days, which are when you are organizing your workload and delegating authority in order to get ready for some free time. And, finally, free days. During your free days you are to do no work related activities for 24 hours, midnight to midnight. It is during free days that you'll be able to gain a clearer perspective. For more information, click here to go to www.strategiccoach.com.

4. Take baby steps.

If you find it difficult to take some time off, start slowly. Begin with leaving the office early one evening, then take off a full day, followed by 2 days, etc. Try leaving the briefcase at home when you are going out with the family.

Also, focus on what you do best. Think about what other talents you have, besides work, and make time to do them.

Going for help is another option. Workaholics Anonymous has a 12-step program to help you on the road to recovery just like any other addictive problem. The program also has several tools of recovery.

Among them is prioritizing. Decide which are the most important things to do first. And try to stay flexible, reorganizing priorities as needed. Try substituting. This means you do not add a new activity without eliminating from your schedule one that demands the same amount of time and energy.

Underschedule and allow more time than you think you need for a task, allowing enough time to be able to accept the unexpected. Take time to play without making it into a work project, concentrate on one thing at a time and accept the fact that impatience, rushing, and insisting on perfect results only slow down the recovery. Click here to visit workaholics-anonymous.org for more details.

5. How to help the workaholic.

If you are the spouse of a workaholic or a son or daughter who understands the problem, be patient and supportive while letting them know how important they are to you.

Make it a point to convince him or her to take some time off. Try booking a non-refundable or very expensive plane ticket. This way he/she may feel required to go. And if you are planning family activities make sure it is something they will enjoy doing. Just because you and the kids want to go walk around the mall, he/she may not find shopping fun.

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Remember, while change is always possible, Workaholics Anonymous says it may take a lot of time and a lot of patience. It is not a good idea to "push" somebody into a program or to tell them to stop being a workaholic. You may even consider getting help for yourself to learn how to deal with the problem.

Workaholics Anonymous says family members or friends are welcome to attend meetings. Also, consider filling co-workers in on the problem. Sometimes hearing from a boss or co-worker that it's ok to take a day off makes a difference.


Gerri Willis is the personal finance editor for CNN Business News. Willis also is co-host of CNNfn's The FlipSide, weekdays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (ET). E-mail comments to 5tips@cnnfn.com.  Top of page




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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.