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Prevent yourself from becoming a workaholic

Daniel Bortz, Monster contributor

You pride yourself on being a hard worker and getting results at your job. But there’s a fine line between that and becoming a workaholic who lets a job take total control over your life. If you bring your cell phone to bed, work many more hours than your peers, and can’t stop thinking about what you need to do next, you’ve probably already crossed that line. Too much work can quickly lead to burnout, which is currently the case in jobs across the country, especially among younger professionals.

About two-thirds of millennials—the largest population in the U.S. workforce—identify as workaholics, according to the Millennial Workaholics Index, a survey by FreshBooks. “Workaholism is a real disorder,” says Denise Dudley, a behavioral psychologist and author of Work it! Get in, Get Noticed, Get Promoted. “Unfortunately, it’s probably the only addiction that we sometimes brag about. People say, ‘Oh, I’m such a workaholic!’ and they expect to get a pat on the back—but it is a real issue.”

Overworking yourself can take a serious toll on your physical and mental health. Case in point: Workers who put in 55 hours or more a week, compared with 35 or 40, had a 33% increased risk of having a stroke, according to a large study led by scientists at University College London. In addition, a Norwegian study of more than 16,000 adults found that, compared with non-workaholics, workaholics were more likely to exhibit symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and depression.

The good news is there are steps you can take to keep yourself in check and dial back your workaholic impulses.

Adjust your mindset toward work

“Workaholics often expect to receive positive feedback at performance reviews because they’re working overtime,” says clinical psychologist and executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, “but working around the clock doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be successful at your job.” Research by Stanford economics professor John Pencavel found that productivity falls sharply after a 50-hour workweek.

Puder-York says workaholics have to rewire their brains and change how they approach their jobs. As she puts it: “You can’t be defined by only your job.”

Face your anxiety

Anxiety may be driving you to work insane hours in order to prove something to yourself or others. Therefore, it’s important to do an honest self-assessment of your mental health. Are you having trouble sleeping? Are you no longer deriving pleasure from your work? Are you physical exhausted? Answering these kinds of questions can help you effectively gauge where your head is. Be honest with yourself, and don’t be ashamed to seek out professional help.  

Rethink your responsibilities

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you’re working so many hours? Is it because there’s actually too much work or is it because the workload you have is inefficiently managed?

If it’s the former, have an honest conversation with your boss to see if you can hire an assistant—or even a temp worker or an intern—to whom you could offload some of the busy-work. After all, you’re only one person.

But if you’re working so many hours because of inefficiencies in workflow, you need to take a step back and see where the holdups frequently occur. Is there a way to streamline your processes? (The answer is almost always yes.) Additionally, you should enforce a well-constructed time-management system, Dudley says, so that you’re making the most of your hours on the job. This may require setting boundaries to let your co-workers know when you’re in “do not disturb” mode. One way to do that is by putting up signage on your cubicle wall or office chair, or you can block out times in your online calendar so your availability can be seen by your team.

Learn how to unplug

If you feel like work is invading your personal life, you’re not alone. According to a recent survey from email marketing firm ReachMail titled “America’s Relationship With Work Email,” 71% of American workers check their work email between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., and 70% check it after 6 p.m. Sound familiar? It’s time to regain control over how you spend your time outside the office.

Brenda Abdilla, a Denver-based career and leadership coach, recommends workers turn off email push notifications on their smartphone. Moreover, when you go away on vacation set an auto-reply message that lets people know you won’t be checking email until you return—that way, people won’t expect a reply until you’re back.

Get someone to hold you accountable

Accountability is crucial if you’re committed to making lasting change. Abdilla advises workaholics find someone to monitor their progress. “It could be a career coach, a therapist, a life coach, or even a personal trainer,” she says. This trusted person can help intervene when they see you falling into workaholic behaviors.

Carve out time for exercise

Your physical and mental health needs to be your top priority, experts say. You don’t have to become a gym rat, though, to see positive results—your cardiovascular health will improve significantly if you get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (That’s fewer than 30 minutes a day.)

Get a fresh start somewhere else

If your job is a total ground, to the point where you hate waking up in the morning, finding a new gig may be your best move. Need a hand? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Changing jobs and hitting the rest button could be exactly what you need to stop being a workaholic.