Hard worker or workaholic? Telling the difference

Several decades ago there was a television commercial brought about by a church regarding the importance of family connection. The mother and kids packed the camper, and when they were ready to hit the road on an adventure, they tricked Dad into getting into the camper, shut and locked the door, jumped into the cab of the truck and took off down the road before Dad could escape. Mom, daughter and son chuckled at having pulled off Dad’s kidnapping.

For some, this actually took place in their families. “Lily’s” father was a workaholic. He rarely had time for family activities. If he wasn’t working he was off somewhere doing whatever he did when he wasn’t at home or at work. Her mother insisted on buying a camper so she could show her children a little about the way others live on the other side of the fence. He agreed to the camper, but balked about traveling, even if it was just a weekend at a local state park with campfires, hikes on trails, visiting with other campers. But her mother often coerced her father into a camper nursing a headache and she drove them. In a little while he became involved in the traveling, driving the truck and camper with his wife navigating with the atlas and maps they collected along the way.

Lily wonders if she is a workaholic like her father, and takes great pains watching for signs and symptoms of workaholism. She asked her husband, “Am I a workaholic or am I just a hard worker?”

He replied, “I think you’re just a hard worker.”

Should she have been comforted by that? She took the WART (Work Addiction Risk Test) with a score of 70. The risk test suggests 67-100 points is considered “highly workaholic.” What is the difference between “workaholic” and “hard worker”?

Barbara Killinger, Ph.D. writes at psychologytoday.com that a hard worker does the job that needs done, even if it cuts into his or her personal life, but when the deadlines are met, they take an equal amount of time to make up for what was taken by the work. They manage a good balance between their work life and their personal life with family and friends.

A workaholic, she says, “lacks the wisdom of a hard worker.” They “walk fast, talk fast, eat fast and over-schedule.” And eventually it all catches up with them when they struggle with “internal chaos” related to depression, anxiety, sleep problems and other reactions to the stress they may not even be aware that they are under.

In the July-August 2000 edition of the periodical, Networker, Bryan Robinson starts his article, “There was a time when I needed my work – hid it from others – the way my alcoholic father needed and hid his bourbon…”

Robinson realized that he was a workaholic, writing, “I used work to defend myself against unwelcome emotional states – to modulate anxiety, sadness, and frustration, the way a pothead uses dope and an alcoholic uses booze.” He continues, “Since childhood, work had been my sanctuary – my source of stability, self-worth, and meaning, and my protection against the uncertainties of human relationships.

Dr. Killinger writes that workaholism happens “when the Feeling function no longer informs judgment.” They lose touch with who they are and the people and the things that used to matter to them. Work becomes their addiction, the mistress for which they will sacrifice anything.

Addiction has no address, but Family Recovery Center does. For more information about the education, prevention and treatment programs for substance abuse and related behavioral issues, contact the agency at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. Visit the web site at www.familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded, in part, by United Way Services of Northern Columbiana County.


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