We need some critical thinking applied to this notion of workaholism. As I read a couple of quizzes to determine if one is a workaholic, I felt like I had turned into John Stossel. With most questions, my response was: "Give me a break!"
The first quiz that comes up on Google was one posted and partially created by Dr. Peter Vaill. On this Work Habits Questionnaire you need to answer 12 or more of the questions with "yes" to qualify as a workaholic. Some of the questions:
- Do you make daily lists of things to do, and/or carefully keep a calendar of appointments and commitments?
- Are you energetic and competitive?
- Can you work pretty much "anytime," "anywhere?"
- Do you really enjoy your work?
- Would you say you're a time conscious person, looking for ways to save time, sometimes irritated by delays, usually "on time" yourself?
- Do you often wake up in the wee hours with your mind so full of ideas and things to be done that it's hard to get back to sleep?
If you answered in the affirmative to most of those, you are well on your way to the requisite 12. Seeking a second opinion? Click over to the Workaholics Anonymous Web site for Twenty Questions: How Do I Know If I'm A Workaholic? where answering a mere three with "yes" may mean you qualify. A few of these questions:
- Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't?
- Do you work more than 40 hours a week?
- Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?
- Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?
- Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?
- Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?
- Do you work or read during meals?
Sounds as if they could be testing for entrepreneurs. To me, this need to label someone as a workaholic is most puzzling. A whole industry of training and books and coaching and consulting has been created that needs ever-growing numbers of people to be designated as workaholics and thus become potential buyers of the industry's services and products. I am sure these people mean well but they seem to forget that we each have the right to make our own choices and choosing to work long hours does not necessarily indicate pathology. These cookie-cutter diagnoses in which the "experts" so freely indulge are sometimes laughable, sometimes hurtful, sometimes arrogant. Many of the people answering "yes" to the above questions are happy people who serve themselves and the greater good.
In a Seattle Times article "Workaholics glad to labor while others play" these yes-sayers are called "doers." Their importance to our country is cited.
Doers built the country and the economy. Thomas Jefferson was a doer, as was Abraham Lincoln. Former General Electric Chief Executive Jack Welch is a doer. Taskmaster Martha Stewart, who boasts that she sleeps as few as four hours a night, would qualify as a doer. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos — doer, doer, doer.
A couple of excellent questions are asked.
What causes these achievers to work longer and harder than the average person? Are they joyful creators, people so passionate about their work they can't bear to be apart from it? Or are they workaholics with low self-esteem, desperately trying to prove themselves?
The writer of the article explains that either may be true (although the media are focusing more on the latter). The distinction between the two is an important one, one that the quick-draw labelers might want to learn out of respect for differences.
There are people who decide that work is truly a source of gratification for them," [Dr. Sharon] Lobel says. "When you are doing something that really aligns with who you are, there's a feeling of deep satisfaction. It's not about promotions, glitzy accounts or prestige; it's about a sense of identity and integrity and doing the right thing."
A good shorthand method of looking at the two is presented.
"You can tell if you spend significant amount of time with people whether they're motivated by fear or motivated by fun," says Janet Scarborough, a Mercer Island career counselor and coach. "Oprah is having fun. She's incredibly busy, but I think she's having a good time."
Fear or fun? I don't think the labelers are asking that critical question. To them each "yes" is the same even if rooted in very different ground.
What about those doers that impose their work habits on others? Not all doers require their employees to work the same pace.
[Lobel] and Stewart Friedman of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania found it is possible for driven CEOs who work 15-hour days — the doers — to create an office culture where employees don't feel pressured to emulate their workaholic ways.
Instead of being role models for "balance," some of the executives studied (at Ernst & Young, Allied Signal, Frank Russell and other large companies) were role models for "authenticity." The message: I'm working at this pace because this is who I am; you're expected to negotiate a balance that's right for you — and you won't be punished.
I wonder what percentage of doers creates that kind of law firm culture? Of course, it might not always be appropriate. Once again we meet the complicated balancing of the firm's economic viability, the needs of the lawyers and other personnel, and the best interest of the client. (And people who work in law firms have the freedom to find the law firm with the culture that fits their values.)
We know people are not monolithic. Our values vary. (Here's an exercise for clarifying your values.) Our motives vary. Our needs vary.
"It's simplistic to say that everyone who spends a great deal of time at work is doing so out of unhealthy motivation," Scarborough, the career counselor, says. "I think it's highly individual. For some people, balance is a value; for others, they have a driving passion to achieve something, and it can't be done in 40 hours a week."
The antidote for simplistic thinking is a healthy dose of critical thinking. Let's not call everyone with an extreme job a workaholic. That's not only simplistic but myopic. Why try to spoil all the fun?
Note (added January 17, 2007, Noon Mountain): Instead of the fear and fun distinction, Seth Godin uses fear and passion in Godin's post on workaholics.
Note (added March 8, 2011): Janet Scarborough is now Janet Scarborough Civitelli; she's a workplace psychologist at http://www.vocationvillage.com.