Workaholic Quiz

By Barbara Reinhold

People who go to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol eventually become pariahs, losing themselves and their jobs, as they go. But too many work-addicted people are being mightily rewarded, even though it is, in the long run, the root cause of tremendous physical, emotional and economic pain.

How do you spot a workaholic?
How do you know if your boss with the non-stop demands, your spouse who seldom makes it home to dinner, your co-worker—or even you—are work addicted? Use this quiz to see how many of the characteristics often associated with work addiction apply to you or someone you know. Mark "Yes" next to each description that sounds familiar:

Yes   No 1. Arriving early, staying late, doing more than what's required to do a good job.
Yes   No 2. Failing to delegate tasks.
Yes   No 3. Perfectionism.
Yes   No 4. A fast pace, irritability with anyone who isn't "working hard enough."
Yes   No 5. Inability to take time off when sick; unused vacation days.
Yes   No 6. Lack of boundaries; work spills over into everything else.
Yes   No 7. Difficulty putting things in perspective; can't tell what's important.
Yes   No 8. Diminished relationships; people at home are mad or distant.
Yes   No 9. Lack of hobbies and/or social life.
Yes   No 10. Inability to relax.
Yes   No 11. Constant thoughts about work.
Yes   No 12. Underdeveloped sense of humor.
Yes   No 13. Impatience, criticism or hostility close to the surface when dealing with subordinates.
Yes   No 14. Inordinate desire to please higher-ups.
Yes   No 15. Being absolutely convinced that working hard is fun, but that you could stop anytime, when everyone else knows it's a compulsion for you.
Total Number of "Yes":



What's your score? Your boss's? Your spouse's?

Here's the acid test: Show this quiz to your partner, co-worker or friend and see how someone who knows you well answers about you. And assume that in this case the person has truer answers for you than you do.

If you scored between 10 and 15, you need to take a hard look at how much of your life has been taken over by work. Unless you scored less than 3, don't consider yourself home free. You, too, have tendencies to let your work overgrow your garden.

Why does it matter?
Because work addiction has the same long-term prognosis as any addiction. Good judgment in complex situations requires the following:

  • going to work rested
  • having people to whom you can confess and unload negative feelings
  • taking care of yourself physically
  • having down time to replenish your creativity and clear perspective

Few workaholics find the time or self-awareness to do these things. But in many companies they're well-compensated and promoted, thus imposing their mad expectations on others, often causing the healthy people to jump ship. In short, they wreak havoc in the organization that they’re leading.

What are the antidotes to this poison?
Start with a heavy dose of feedback. When the addicted person is your boss, starting the feedback chain is delicate; don't go it alone under any circumstances. It's still tricky with a co-worker or friend, but it’s easier. With a direct report, it's part of your job. And if it's you? That's the hardest one of all.

But there are lots of resources.
There's always bibliotherapy. Two good books are:

  1. Overdoing It: How to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself, by Bryan Robinson (Health Communications, 1992)
  2. Working Ourselves to Death: The High Cost of Workaholism and the Rewards of Recovery, by Diane Fassel (Harper, 1990)

Conclusion/Resources
This is serious stuff—a matter of life and death, eventually, for the employee and for the work unit. It's time to stop rewarding this highly approved addiction, the one that's draining the vitality and resilience from organizations everywhere.

These AMA seminars can help you achieve greater work/life balance:

There's help in cyberspace, too.
There are 12-step groups everywhere (an amazing number of workaholics are adult children of alcoholics). A master list of 12-step programs is available at http://www.12steps.org. Browsing here will take you to other linked sites, organized by geography, type of addiction, etc.

Author Bio: Barbara Reinhold, Ed.D., is an internationally known coach, counselor and organizational problem solver. She is Director of Career and Executive Development at Smith College, the online career coach on Monster.com's Executive Zone and the author of "Free to Succeed: Designing the Life You Want in the New Free Agent Economy" (Plume, May 2001). Her Website is www.barbara-reinhold.com

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