Are You Struggling with Work Addiction?

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With our growing use of e-mail and instant messaging services like Slack, experts are making a case that maintaining a work-life balance is much more difficult today than in the past. For instance, over half of all adults questioned by TV news show 60 Minutes stated they spend time outside of work monitoring their e-mails, with this number rising to 70% for younger generations.

What these stats show is that our current workplace culture may be encouraging early forms of work addiction, where individuals either feel anxious or guilty when they aren’t available to work or respond to messages. As a result, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) today are treating a different type of addiction: Work addiction.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the Regis College Online Master of Social Work program.

How LCSWs can play a vital role in restoring work-life balance to workaholics.

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Vacation & Time Off

Is vacation a luxury that can’t be afforded, or something employees choose to give up because they believe working is more important?

Vacation Time
In the United States, 26% of employees work 45 to 59 hours a week. This is higher when compared to Canada and Great Britain, whose percentage of people that put in that range of hours is 22% and 20%, respectively. The U.S. also has the two countries beat in terms of employees that work beyond this range. 12% of Americans put in 60+ hours per week, compared to 8% of Canadians and Britons. This has had a negative impact on vacation days, and this impact has been going on for some time. In 2000, the average of 20.3 vacation days per year began to decline.

Work Martyrs
A Survey by the Project Time Off Coalition found that 39% of employees – nearly four in ten – “want to be seen as a work martyr” by their boss. 52% of females and 43% of millennials surveyed fell into this category, as opposed to 29% of overall respondents. Furthermore, 55% of work martyrs in these categories pressure themselves to check in with work while on vacation, compared to 31% of all workers.

Reasons Millennials Hesitate to Take Time Off

There are numerous reasons why millennials eschew vacation. Some of these reasons revolve around company loyalty or long-term ambition. Others are based in negative emotions, such as guilt or fear of being replaced or falling in bad standing with their boss. Economic factors such as the inability to afford a vacation also prevent millennials from taking time off. Other millennials cite the work itself as reason enough to stay away from vacation, concerns that translate to fear of workload upon return or a belief that nobody else can do their job. While non—millennials share some of these rationales for not taking vacation, a higher percentage of millennials provide these reasons for staying tethered to their desk.


Work-Life Balance

Work addiction, or poor work-life balance, comes with signs and symptoms that didn’t exist decades ago.

Poor work-life balance may be a sign of workaholism, aka work addiction. Research shows workaholism correlates to negative issues like poor sleep, work-family conflicts, psychosomatic symptoms, reduced job satisfaction, reduced life satisfaction, and reduced work performance. Recent estimates show 1 out of every 10 Americans are workaholics.

Constantly Connected
According to the 2015 Workplace Flexibility Study, 37% of employees say their manager expects to reach them outside of the office. 33% of this after-hours connectivity are a combination of email and phone use. 23% is phone only, and 9% is exclusively done via email. That said, the tendency to stay connected transcends these percentages. Gallup data states 6 out of ten workers check their email outside normal business hours.

Signs of Poor Work-Life Balance
There are several tell-tale signs that indicate your work-life balance may need improvement. Several of these indicators are physical in the form of aches, pains, and tiredness due to insufficient sleep. Some physical indicators go beyond the body, such as a messy home or office space. A lack of priority organization, a constant need for perfection, and an inability to put your phone down can also knock the work-life balance off its axis. Other signs of poor work-life balance include a lack of patience and increased relationship friction with family and close ones.


Tips for Managing Work-Life Balance

Pursuing a proper work-life balance is a choice, and the first step in choosing it is to make it a priority. This is done by being mindful of minimizing “wasted” time on digital screens, separating yourself from your phone after hours, and reorganizing the value of non-work goals. You can also encourage co-workers into deploying these balance-restoring tactics and ask them to keep you accountable, so your balance doesn’t fall into disarray.

Because the life of an employee intertwines with the lives of their families, friends, and communities, the effects of work addiction can often reach beyond the individual employee. A social worker can help a person make visible progress in various ways. Some of these methodologies include providing the individual with informational and educational materials, providing the person with one-on-one or group counseling, offering the individual support group referrals, or providing them with clinical therapy.

Today’s highly connected workplace has undoubtedly increased communication options for employees, managers, and businesses. However, the negative effects of being constantly connected have become more evident, with employees becoming reluctant to take time off and choosing to check work emails while vacationing. But work-life balance doesn’t have to be an elusive target. LCSWs can be part of the solution, helping individuals identify unhealthy work-life habits and encouraging positive change.