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Workaholism: The “Pretty Addiction”. Nancy D. Losinno, EAP Manager. Alcoholism vs. Workaholism Trivializing an illness?. Alcoholism : an illness as defined by the AMA; a family “disease” Key elements of alcoholism: tolerance, progression, stereotypical withdrawal syndrome;

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Workaholism:The “Pretty Addiction”

Nancy D. Losinno,

EAP Manager

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Alcoholism vs. WorkaholismTrivializing an illness?

  • Alcoholism: an illness as defined by the AMA; a family “disease”

  • Key elements of alcoholism: tolerance, progression, stereotypical withdrawal syndrome;

  • Associated with irresponsibility, instability, homelessness, etc.

  • Seen as a “character defect”

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Workaholism:Is it an addiction?

  • Is there tolerance, progression, or a withdrawal syndrome?

  • Workaholism seen positively: a strength of character, a virtue, elevates status to others, corporate/organizational “climbers”, a person “doing what they love”

  • Has implications for the family/marriage

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Creating a climate for Workaholism

  • Financial demands & excessive consumption: overtime, extra jobs, competing for promotions & $ increases

  • Chaotic home situations: family/marital conflicts, childrearing, alcoholism/SA

  • Job/Organizational issues

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Perfectionistic boss

Downsizing fears

New “work ethics:” always being on & connected, up to the minute

Fear of being replaced by younger workers who are more savvy with technology

The glamour of technology makes work addiction appealing

Blurring of lines between home & work; taking work home, telecommuting, home offices

The lure of the laptop: being plugged in & ready for action

Technology ensnares us & can be hard to resist

Job/Organizational Issues

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Causes or “Enablers”?

  • Enabling: a key concept in the addiction field; defined as someone/something that allows an addiction to go unchecked, offers excuses

  • Other Enabler: Puritan work ethic values hard work & productivity & extols it as antidote to “sin” & evil

  • “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”

  • “Hard work never killed anybody.”

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Workaholism:Organizational vs. IntrapsychicProblem

  • Work addiction vs. Addiction at work: different meanings

  • Work addiction is primarily a psychological problem not environmental or organizational one.

  • Is related to issues of low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, needs for perfectionism in self & others

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Portrait of the work addict

  • Not a “team player”

  • Has a strong need to control, makes it difficult to solve problems & participate in give/take

  • Has a “one track mind”—their own way is the best way

  • Chronic overload creates resentments, irritability and impatience

  • Workaholics create their own stress & impose it on others

  • WA have higher than average rates of alcohol abuse, divorce, stress related illnesses

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Could you be…“The Boss from Hell?”

  • Constantly micromanages out of refusal to delegate

  • Pushes/hurries employees to stress & burnout

  • Makes unreasonable demands in hours, expectations & deadlines

  • Overly critical & intolerant of mistakes

  • Unpredictable, erratic moods

  • Overschedules and mismanages time

  • Applies/interprets policies inconsistently

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The Childhood of the Work Addict

  • Clinical evidence suggests WA as a consequence of family dysfunction in childhood that is continued into a dysfunctional adulthood

  • ACOA/Family Hero: perfectionistic, manager/controller/”responsible kid”, self-esteem based on “doing” rather than relationships, can’t relax

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The Workaholic as Parent

  • Often preoccupied with their own thoughts, “mentally absent”

  • Always “rushing around”, irritable, cranky, lacking humor

  • Focused on “adult pursuits”: colleagues, intellect, ‘trying to earn a living’

  • Involvement with the family is on their own terms

  • Child tries to become like the parent in order to win their love and approval

  • Child measures his worth based on what he does, not by who he is…can never meet parent’s expectations

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Through the Eyes of a Child:Growing Up with a Workaholic Parent

  • Child can’t point to a bottle as cause of parent’s abandonment

  • American work ethic prohibits child from finding fault with parent for overwork

  • Logical conclusion: …something must be wrong with ME, I’m unlovable

  • WA are not physically & emotionally available to their children & do not take an active role in their child’s development

  • Easier for parent to function as “mentor” than parent—there is more distance as mentor

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How am I doing as a Parent?

  • Give your kids The Parent Report Card…kids love the opportunity to evaluate their Mom/Dad & sparks discussion for “ways to improve”

  • Strive to be a “good enough” parent, a concept by Bruno Bettleheim

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Repairing Relationships…With Children

  • Really believe that devoting time to relationships is a good investment

  • Save reading or work until children are asleep, help with homework, play games, be silly & spontaneous, have meals together, show interest in child’s activities, hobbies, friends, problems.

  • Avoid “bringing the job home” via bad moods, unloading/displacing anger & frustration

  • Practice “family rituals” which provide anchor for children (mealtimes, holidays, special occasions, etc.)

  • Avoid making your children old before their time by saddling them with responsibilities that are beyond their developmental capability

  • Let children know, by example, that it is okay to relax and do nothing. It is also okay to sometimes fail, and not be perfect.

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The Workholic as Spouse/Partner

  • Non-workaholic spouse complains of being ‘alone’ in the marriage, feels abandoned, unappreciated & plays second fiddle to needs of job

  • WA is physically & emotionally remote, sexually uninterested

  • Marital relationship is serious, lacking fun

  • Family time dictated by work schedules; vacations may be postponed/avoided around job needs

  • Is unaware of the unreasonable adjustments they are asking family members to make around their needs and the needs of job

  • Lets the other parent do most of the parenting

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The Workaholic…in Love

  • WA usually demand a great deal of their marital partner (understanding, patience, deferral of needs, “adjusting”)

  • WA tend to avoid confrontation & engage in “silent treatment”

  • WA may engage in extramarital affairs, particularly with an office-mate

  • WA may develop alcoholism or substance abuse out of unresolved emotional issues & as a coping mechanism to relax, discharge emotional tension

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Repairing Relationships…With Your Spouse/Partner

  • Stop the blame game, get professional help, be willing to address family-of-origin issues as well as possible depression, alcoholism or substance abuse. Cultivate the “language of feelings.”

  • Cultivate joint activities that are enjoyed by both, and do not have anything to do with work

  • Set boundaries on cell phone intrusions, Blackberries, resist temptation to net-surf or check email; do not take laptop on vacation

  • Remove cell phone and/or computer from bedroom

  • Create tech-free days & tech-free zones in the home

  • Create a “day of rest” when enjoyable, non-competitive activities can take place

  • Be willing to address destructive communication patterns (door slamming, shouting, name-calling, sarcasm, threats, “gunnysacking”, walking out/not returning, etc.

  • Be teachable, therapy may take many visits & hard work to bring the marriage up to acceptable standards

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Checks and Balances…To Overcome Workaholism

  • Schedule a checkup with your doctor. Maybe you need physical evidence that overwork & stress is unhealthy. Follow his/her advice.

  • Consider some “talking therapy” to identify your feelings; trace patterns of perfectionism, issues of inadequacy, inability to relax, needing to be a “hero”, etc.

  • Are you addicted to the “adrenaline rush?” Do you substitute addictions?

  • Let yourself “have a dream.” Many workaholics create self-punishing regimens because of childhood patterns of emotional and/or physical abuse. Learn to re-parent yourself and stop the vicious cycle.

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Balancing Work & HomeSome ideas to remember

  • No matter how hard you try, you cannot be all things to all people. Despite your grand efforts, some people will still push your “not enough” button.

  • You are still a good person, even if you leave your office with work unfinished. Remember that your other responsibilities (family, health, etc.) are just as important and you need to tend to other parts of your life too.

  • Pick someone who will hold you accountable for the changes you are trying to make in your life. Be willing to share your struggles with this person, and be willing to take their advice.

  • If family or marital conflicts make you want to avoid going home, make a plan to find resolution. Use your EAP, find a therapist, just do something to start a positive forward motion.

  • If you cannot sleep well or must use alcohol or other substances to fall asleep, you may have a sleep disorder. Call EAP to get a sleep screening and/or a referral to special sleep centers for diagnostics.

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  • Your BNL EAP Manager: Nancy Losinno, X4567 is available Mon-Fri 8:30-5:00. Walk-ins accepted but appointments are preferable.

  • 24/7 crisis coverage is provided by external EAP vendor Magellan Behavioral Health 1-800-327-2182 or visit their website at

  • You are covered for five free counseling visits with a community-based EAP clinician utilizing the services of Magellan. Call EAP Manager Nancy Losinno for a referral to providers who are accepting new clients.

  • This service is available to employees, and their household members for five visits per person/per identified problem/per year.