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Are You Addicted to Your Job?


October 19, 2015
By Stephanie Conn

803 words – MR

Addicted to your job?

Multi-tasking is the norm these days. Doing one thing at a time is not stimulating enough to hold our attention. We are rewarded for being continuously productive.

What is worse is that it has become easier to take work home. Many police officers I contacted for a study reported that they worked from home, including talking with other officers about work-related business outside of their shift. Text messaging and emails have made working while off duty easier than ever and, therefore, much more common.

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I’ve had clients go out of their way to justify doing work outside of work. “It relieves the stress I would face responding to everything once I get back to work,” they say, or argue that “It only takes a few minutes.” Although this may be true, it does not offset the disruption it creates in your other life roles.

Interruptions take you out of your personal life and personal life frame of mind, and won’t likely be well received by your family members. This can lead to a number of problems such as burnout and relationship strain. In fact, incidence rates of burnout are increasing due to the lack of work-life balance. Burnout refers to the exhaustion and cynicism that occurs when you’re continuously exposed to stressors on the job.

I have also seen relationships suffer (and end!) because partners were not willing to be as committed to their personal life, including their family, as they were to their work life. What makes it worse is that the partner committed to work was generally not happy.

It wasn’t a situation where work was so gratifying that the personal life paled in comparison to it. They just felt an unhealthy commitment to their work at their own expense. It takes on qualities of an addiction where they just can’t stop and, if forced to, seem to go through withdrawal. They don’t know what to do with their time and are antsy to get back to work.

I have had clients go to work on vacation days because they didn’t know what to do with their free time. Police work can be especially addictive due to the “high” you get from running code to a call or engaging in a foot chase. You may wish to chase this high outside of work by retelling the story or, at a minimum, thinking about it.

There are signs that you may be addicted to work: working longer hours than you intend to on a regular basis, others complaining of the amount of work you do, refusing to cut back when asked by others, seeking comfort from anxiety by working, thinking about work when you are not there, and a lack of non-work activities and friends.

You may also find that your health is suffering due to the long hours and stress. If these signs apply to you, then it is time to make some changes. It won’t be easy, but, like withdrawal from a substance, it gets easier with time and support.

The first order of business would be to unplug from work. This means not checking emails or responding to work text messages while you’re not at work. At first, you may have to tell your co-workers that you won’t be available by phone or email to avoid conflict due to your nonresponse. I realize this is easier said than done and may not be an option for some positions. If it is not an option to completely eliminate this, set some limits around frequency. For example, only check them two or three times a day instead of hourly.

The next order of business is to occupy your time doing all of the things you have been missing out on: spending time with family, exercise, household tasks, rest and hobbies. Expect to experience withdrawals, likely anxiety, restlessness and a desire to check your work email or think about work. Expect and accept that it will happen and then redirect your thoughts back to your personal life.

You may have to do this a hundred times but it will be easier when you practice catching yourself in work mind and returning to your personal life. It might help to announce to your family and friends that this is your plan so that they can support you and help keep yourself accountable.

I work for myself so I know firsthand how hard it is to draw a line between work and non-work mode, especially when your work is so gratifying. I am lucky to have a husband that helps me stay accountable to myself to be in my personal life.

I challenge you to consider your circumstances and, if you recognize any of the signs for work addiction, make the changes to have a rewarding life outside of work.