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How to Tell if You're a Workaholic

How to Tell if You're a Workaholic

Editor’s Note: Crosswalk's Singles Advice is an advice column for singles featuring an anonymous question from a reader with a thoughtful, biblical reply from one of our single contributors.

As a young single, I don’t have kids or a spouse to keep me busy, so I spend most of my time at work. It doesn't really bother me much, but some of my friends have started calling me a “workaholic” or saying I work too hard. Are they right? How can I tell if I’m a workaholic?

This is a great question that I’ve been thinking about lately myself. Since I work from home, and especially with social distancing measures in place, I’m free to spend all of my waking hours working if I so desire. To be honest, sometimes that is exactly what I do.  

“Workaholic” is a term that gets tossed around often, but it doesn’t actually just mean that someone works a lot. Rather, workaholism refers to a work addiction.

Sometimes, long hours are necessary, either to make ends meet or for short bursts to meet an important deadline. Sometimes, individuals love or are passionate about their jobs and enjoy putting in longer hours from time to time.

However, with workaholics, this drive to work more and more is a compulsion, and quickly devolves into unhealthy behaviors.

Signs of Workaholism

There are specific criteria that point to workaholism. According to this article by Psychology Today, researchers from the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen have come up with the following seven criteria that may be signs of workaholism:

1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.

2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.

3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.

4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

6. You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.

7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

If you answer “often” or “always” to any of the above, according to the scale, you may be a workaholic.

Dr. Melissa A. Clark in this article with the American Psychological Association gives these three signs of workaholism: 

1. Feeling compelled to work because of internal pressures.

2. Having persistent thoughts about work when not working.

3. Working beyond what is reasonably expected of the worker (as established by the requirements of the job or basic economic needs) despite the potential for negative consequences.

Does Your Work Give You Worth?

Dr. Barbara Killinger, who has studied workaholism for thirty years, defines a workaholic in this article as a “work-obsessed individual who gradually becomes emotionally crippled and addicted to power and control in a compulsive drive to gain approval and public recognition of success.”

This definition brings another aspect of workaholism into play. Workaholics often tend to base their worth as human beings in their work success.

However, as Christians, we know that our worth is found in Christ alone. We have worth as God’s creation, made in His image (Genesis 1:27), and not of ourselves, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:9). This is part of what makes workaholism so harmful; it leaves us trying to create our own worth, when in reality, everything we have is a gift from God, and He already loves us.

Is Work More Important than Other People?

Dr. Killinger answers the question of the difference between workaholism and working hard in this way: “A hard worker who is emotionally present for all family members, co-workers and friends, and who manages to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal responsibility is not a workaholic…Workaholics, in contrast, lack this wisdom. They are obsessed with their work performance and hooked on an adrenalin-high.”

Is working too much getting in the way of caring for others in your life? Do you put professional advancement before your duties to others?

Is Work More Important than God?

This may not be one you’ll find in journals of psychology, but if work is taking precedence over a relationship with God, this is a sign of a serious problem. 

What this will mean is different for each person. But there are a few key questions we can ask ourselves. Where do I find my worth? Am I more worried what my boss thinks than what God thinks? Am I compromising my morals to achieve? Is my identity in my job more important than my identity in Christ?

Workaholics Eventually Fall Apart

Psychologists agree that, even though workaholics are often extremely energetic, such intense activity and stress can’t be kept up forever. Eventually, they will break down and engage in increasingly harmful mindsets and behaviors, as further explored in Killinger’s article.

I’ve experienced this firsthand. In college, I took the full credit load every semester. I worked multiple jobs and unpaid internships simultaneously. No grade below an A was acceptable. I was determined to finish my degree an entire year early. And I did.

But I met each and every one of the seven criteria for workaholism above. Everyone told me to stop piling on responsibilities, to slow down. I didn’t. And it came back to bite me. I worked so hard I ended up in the hospital, my adrenaline reserves completely depleted, my body so overworked that I was literally falling over unconscious multiple times a day. 

I’m still recovering as a workaholic, overcoming the guilt that plagues me whenever I’m not working and intentionally spending time with friends and family or engaging in hobbies. I’m nowhere near as “productive” as I once was, but I’m learning to remember my worth comes from a God who loves me. I’m learning how to say no to certain opportunities, to slow down and enjoy life.

Work Can Be an Idol

If you think you might be suffering from workaholism, it’s a good idea to talk to a counselor or other professional. 

However, regardless of whether you specifically suffer from a work addiction, it is always important to remember to put God first. Work, whether you spend six hours or sixty at it every week, is capable of becoming an idol, replacing God as the most important thing in our lives.

Colossians 3:23 reminds us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” We are, indeed, supposed to work diligently, but it is for the Lord’s sake.

As long as the Lord is foremost in our minds in all things, we are far less likely to fall into the trap of work addiction. Hope that's helpful, and good luck with unraveling these truths for yourself!

Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. Her passions for Biblical study and creativity collide in her writing. Her debut novel Wraithwood releases Nov. 7, 2020. She has had 150+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids. Find out more about her here and on social media @alyssawrote.

Disclaimer: any single editor replying to reader questions through this advice column is a Christian seeking God's direction through his Word. We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. As we explore issues with you, we will seek God's guidance through prayer and the Bible.

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Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Bignai

Alyssa Roat studied writing, theology, and the Bible at Taylor University. She has worked as a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., the publicity manager at Mountain Brook Ink, and as a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services. She is the co-author of Dear Hero and has 200+ bylines in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids.