How minor workplace shifts can turn work addiction into life addiction

For many, the workplace is more than just a place you go to forward your career. Work is a refuge, order in the chaos, a bastion of security, personal outlet and money-maker. There are processes, there are rules, there are deadlines, and for the most part, these things work together in synergy for a positive outcome. Who wouldn’t love that?

There is nothing wrong with loving your job. Being around like-minded people all day and doing something that you’re passionate about (or at least interested in) is positive. If that’s you, well done, you’ve achieved something so many aspire to!

On the flip side, if you’re spending vast amounts of time working at the expense of spending time with friends and family, neglecting your hobbies or never getting to your personal to-do list, you may have a problem. Shutting off from work acts as a refresh button. It gives your mind time to process and look for solutions to problems you may be facing. Without downtime, your mind will be in a constant ‘on’ phase which drains your mental resource, leaving you empty for friends, family, and yes, work too!

If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, you’re a workaholic – and we all know that addiction of any sort is unhealthy, and destructive, and never ends well. And like all addicts, workaholics are the first to deny their compulsion.

“It’s just who I am,” I hear you say. And maybe you’re right. To a point. Workaholics have some common personality traits. They tend to be agreeable, a bit neurotic, and very creative. If that’s describing you, you’re a likely candidate for throwing away your personal life in favour of your work life. The best way to manage your situation is to acknowledge that you’re prone to over-extending yourself and to put some rules in place to protect your downtime. Switch off devices at a certain time and make sure your boundaries are clear to your colleagues and managers.

It’s true that in this 24/7 always-on world of ours, simply turning off is often easier said than done. If you are finding it difficult to unplug completely, have a look at your working environment. Are there opportunities to take a break during the workday? Take some time to critically audit your current workspace and office culture. Are there spaces you can go to get away from your desk? Is your team happy for you to take some time and work away from the office? Often the opportunities are right under our noses and if they’re not, you should create them!

Work-life balance has been a buzzword since, well, forever. It’s one of those things we talk about but never actually manage to achieve – workaholic or not. But what about work-life blending? A more 21st-century concept brought about by the very thing that’s causing our workplace anxieties: technology. Mobile devices supported by excellent connectivity means that the ability to work wherever, whenever no longer needs to bring you to your knees; now you can cleverly mix your work and your life goals to achieve both. Really successfully actually.

More and more companies are offering flexible workhour solutions, and it’s no longer just a come-in-early leave-early or work-from-home remedy. They know that some days you have to be there for your family, or pet, or yourself, and that a few days of working in a completely different location is as restorative as taking a break. It’s become such a trend that organisations like Forbes are creating indices that rank the top companies offering remote jobs.

So, get a handle on your work addiction and find a way to make it part of your lifestyle, rather than hampering it. Consider remote working options; whether a hot desk for a day at a cool co-working environment, or even better, take your work to where you want, or need, to be. Get out of the city, or even the country, and take a working holiday. As long as you’re available to your team, you can go hiking, or sailing or visit that aunt you never get to see.

Many people believe that focusing on themselves is a negative thing, that only self-absorbed people do it. This is fundamentally untrue. To give your best – and that includes at work too – you need to be in a position of personal power. You no longer need to be part of the working dead, addicted to a job that drains you. You can, and should, have control over your personal and professional life. You can do this through self-assertion, finding ways to do the work you love in ways that fulfil you, leaving you committed but not addicted. Of course, the more energy you can give your employer, the more latitude they’ll be willing to give you to embrace a work-life blend.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So, take the time to make work work for you, not the other way around.

Andrew Robinson is co-founder and executive director of SiSebenza. His business strategy is built on a conviction that Africa offers the best opportunities for entrepreneurs chasing returns. The continent is daunting but exciting and success hinges on finding the right deals. You can connect with Andrew on LinkedIn.

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