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  • Writer's pictureThrive Inc.

Are You a Workaholic?

So many of us in the current circumstances are working increasingly longer hours from home, often at the expense of our mental and physical wellbeing. Historically, we worked to pay bills, live a comfortable life, and save for the future, yet now it seems to be our entire identity. Many of us even feel guilty if we don’t work, regardless of the implications it may have on our health! So why do we do it?

Workaholism is an addiction, and like all addictions, there are often underlying reasons for doing what we do. Many people think that they are being more productive by working longer hours, but it isn’t always the case. It’s up to us to step back, pay attention, and assess our relationship with our work if we want to cultivate a balance.

Join us this week, where we’ll be sharing seven ways that you can tell if you’re working too hard and too often (and yes, there is such a thing!). We’ll share a simple technique you can use if you find it difficult to say no and we’ll explain why taking more breaks and unplugging from work is essential to wellbeing. It’s time to shift your focus!

If you want to learn how to deal with conflict more effectively, as always, we are both available for individual one on one and couples coaching. For the next couple of months, we are also offering free virtual training to organizations. Our goal is to support you, your team, and your business both at work and at home during this pandemic. Get in touch with us to find out more!

If you enjoyed the show, please share the podcast with your family and friends, or post a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. Rating and reviewing the show helps spread the word, which means less friction and suffering for everyone, and who doesn’t want that?

Learn More:

  • How to tell if you’re a workaholic.

  • Why being intentional about unplugging from work is so important.

  • How to regain balance in your life.

  • Why working longer hours doesn’t always mean you’re being more productive.

  • How to use the DOC formula to make better choices.

  • Why you might struggle to say ‘no’, and how to get better at it.

  • How to be proactive instead of reactive.


Full Transcript:

CrisMarie: Welcome to The Beauty of Conflict, a podcast about how to deal with conflict at work, at home and everywhere else in your life. Hi, I'm CrisMarie.

Susan: And I'm Susan. We run a company called Thrive, and we specialize in conflict resolution, communication and building strong, thriving teams and relationships. Conflict shows up in our lives in so many ways. Most people, unfortunately, are not very good at handling conflict. Most people have never been taught the right tools for dealing with conflict, and then it leads to unnecessary friction, arguments, passive aggressive emails, tears, hurtful comments, stuck-ness, all kinds of things we don't want. We're on a mission to change all of that.

CrisMarie: We've spent the last 20 years teaching our clients how to handle conflict in a whole new way. We're here to show you that conflict doesn't have to be scary and overwhelming. With the right tools, you can turn a moment of conflict into a moment of reinvention. Conflict can pave the way into a beautiful new system at work, a new way of leading your team, a new way of parenting, a new chapter of your marriage where you feel more connected than ever before. Conflict can lead to beautiful things.

Hi there. We got a lot of comments on our last episode; people are relating to working longer and longer hours for those businesses that are essential and working remotely. So we thought we’d do some more context of workaholism, because people may relate to that. And even the ability to say no, which is a struggle for a lot of people, so they say yes.

You know, in America we have kind of almost perverted work, it used to be that work was to pay the bills, have some meaning and purpose and save for the future. But it’s become our identities, who we are, and it can be very hard, you know, it can extend to longer and longer work hours and really be how I identify my value.

Susan: So we thought we would spend some time talking about that, because this is – I mean I even think people struggle right now, like we have to reopen. Yes, some of it is because our economy needs the support, but also I think people are driven, that’s how I got my meaning and purpose, was my role as the worker who brought home a paycheck. And it is really difficult to imagine not doing that.

CrisMarie: Yeah. There’s been studies by the American Addiction Centers that talks about workaholism, because it is an addiction. And I have to admit I have this addiction and sometimes very hard to interrupt and make good choices. So I thought I’d read you the seven qualities, if you have four of these on a pretty regular basis, you according to their definition would be a workaholic.

And the first one is intensely focusing on ways to create more time in the schedule for work. Number two is regularly working longer hours than originally anticipated. Three, using work as a coping mechanism for guilt, anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness. I know I do this one.

Susan: And if you’re three for free, I mean based upon even how she schedules my time, I see that.

CrisMarie: I’m trying to make you a workaholic. Could you please be a workaholic?

Susan: I don’t think – I think I’m failing right now, but go ahead, keep going.

CrisMarie: No, but this one, that three, using work as a coping mechanism, I know when I feel feelings of helplessness or I’m anxious. I’m like, okay, I’ll get on my email, there’s always something I can do. I’ll develop a presentation. I’ll write a blog. And that is a way that I make myself feel better. So it’s not necessarily, I think, a negative thing, but it’s an overdone strength, I think where it swings the other way.

Susan: I mean I kind of wish I had a little of this. I think I do have it around exercise though and overdo it. So I can relate to it, but sadly not around work, what does that say?

CrisMarie: Okay, those are the first three. Four is ignoring concerns of family and friends about the amount of time spent working.

Susan: Yes, you do that. I have told her before this is – I’m going to go golfing, you should not – this is on a weekend. I want you to actually enjoy yourself, and I come back.

CrisMarie: And I’ve spent three or four hours.

Susan: And she’s usually pretty mad at me at this point, again, because I’m not working, but okay.

CrisMarie: Yes, you’re out playing, I can’t believe it. Feeling stressed if – this is five, feeling stressed if one is unable to work. And I have to admit if I go too long, like oh my gosh, this presentation is coming and we haven’t mapped it out, I get quite anxious, and then pressurize you to.

Susan: And I think this is one that’s actually come up for a lot of people during this time at Shelter in Place, this feeling of stress that they’re unable to work. Instead of applying it to what can I be doing that could support, they’re like, “But I can’t do this.”

CrisMarie: That’s where the addiction would come in more. It seems like some people I’ve talked to are struggling with that.

At the very beginning of Shelter in Place, when all our speaking were cancelled, our off sites, and what shifted this, I actually – we found a way to work. Which was really good, which was just, we’re not going to worry about money; we’re going to just be of service and be on Facebook and LinkedIn. But it felt different, it didn’t feel addictive to me, maybe I’m justifying it. But it felt more like I was being of service, so it had that heart based in it, engagement, that really…

Susan: The fact that we were engaging in things that were giving us meaning and purpose were true, there might have been times when it was like okay that we had to keep doing this every single day no matter what. That might be where we, you know, is it really in service, but important to look at.

CrisMarie: Okay, six, frequently compromising mental, physical wellbeing at the expense of working. And I have to say, I was working on a client, this is many years back, but I was staying late, it was like 9:00pm. And you know those times where you’re doing something on the computer and you’re like, “I have to go to the bathroom. Oh no, I’m not going to go to the bathroom.” And I had a back injury at the time and so I was like, “I just have to stop; I have to go to the bathroom.” But I couldn’t stand up straight because I’d been sitting long.

And I didn’t stop to kind of stand up straight and stretch; I didn’t do any of that. I walked down the hall, thank God nobody was at the client. Walked down the hall, kind of hobbled over, eventually being able to stand up by the time I got to the bathroom. But that’s really not taking good care.

Susan: No, I would agree. And where I can recognize this is when I’m with a client, like we’re doing an offsite, I can go for hours sometimes without noticing it. Or when I lead programs where I’m engaged in them, and then it’s like I don’t even get, I might go from first thing in the morning until 10 or 11 at night with maybe a 45 minute break in there. When I can tell it’s the worst is when I get to the end of it and I’m so exhausted that I never even knew how tired I was.

It’s better if I’ve been paying attention along the way. I mean it’s one thing to be exhausted from a good day’s work, but it’s another to just be unaware of that fatigue for days in a row, which I think is different.

CrisMarie: And those are programs where I was just thinking about, you have a lot of engagement, it’s really positive. But you’re still sacrificing your own mental, physical wellbeing for this [crosstalk].

Susan: For me I really had to discover that I needed to do some other things to make sure I was paying attention to that, like doing my own body awareness, breath, mind, yoga, things like that in the morning. Because then I could actually gauge, have I been paying attention or not?

CrisMarie: I was thinking, this probably started for me very early on. Actually it started in high school, I had all these senior friends when I was a sophomore, and they all left, and I felt incredibly lonely. And the way I coped is I got into AP classes and I would just study. I would study through dinner, mom – I can’t believe she did this; she brought dinner down to my little study room that I was in. And it was definitely not taking care of my mental and physical wellbeing. But really what was driving me is I was incredibly lonely, and that was the way I was coping.

So it goes back up to the second one, using work as a coping mechanism, because even when I got to rowing it would be like, no, no, I don’t care if I’m injured. I had ice bags on my shoulders, my knees, my back, my ankles in a bucket and I’m like, “I’m still rowing.” So that would be – I’m just seeing the earlier remnants of this. Okay, the last one…

Susan: So far, where are you six for six? She’s got one more, let’s see.

CrisMarie: Experiencing – oh, I might have just outed myself there, experiencing negative health effects due to the working. And that was, I guess, rowing for sure, I kept, you know, I was injuring myself, and it didn’t matter, I was going to keep going. Of course, I was what, 19, 20, so I was indestructible in my mind. It’s kind of like even you kind of being exhausted at the end of something would be.

Susan: I would say that’s probably the closest that, I think I’m pretty good, but when I’m in an engaged situation that I’m not paying attention to, I can just totally lose that.

CrisMarie: One person who I was coaching, this just really broke my heart, he had had heart issues and then also neurological issues, so brain issues. And he came back to work early and then of course got engaged in these long days. And his neurologist and heart guy or heart doctor, could be a woman, said, “You really have to keep balance and not work so hard.” And he was so terrified of telling his bosses this that he was literally sacrificing his health for his work. And I just could not convince him enough.

Susan: Well, I think of even another woman I was coaching who, in at least two different coaching sessions I’ve had with her, she has not had any meals. And it’s her little kids that are coming in, bringing her some eggs, or bringing her, you know. And we can kind of laugh, I mean it’s kind of cute that her kids are bringing her food and there’s some, you know, that they’ve made them food.

But it’s like, okay, a couple of times I’ve pointed out to her, “This isn’t the first time that, so you know you tend to not take care of yourself.”

CrisMarie: I think I know who you’re talking about and she is a skinny Minnie because she probably doesn’t eat. So she sacrifices, yeah, for work.

Susan: And fortunately her kids want her to take care of herself, so they will bring in the food, but.

CrisMarie: So if you have four of these out of the seven, you’re likely a workaholic. And I am acknowledging my own workaholism, not because I think it’s a, look how great I am, I’m a workaholic. What I’ve started to do is look at what’s driving it. And for me it really is, I think, a fear of I’m going to be shamed or abandoned. I’m going to be rejected, all those, oh my gosh, I’m not going to belong, I’m not going to be able to take care of myself, those deeper feelings that drive me to work.

And it’s humbling to actually recognize I have a little kid inside that’s really the driver, you know, that actually creates this behavior that I’ve got to work. And it can sound so good and don’t I look good, I’m getting so much done. But if peel the back the onion, it’s really these fears.

Susan: You really have to begin to explore, you know, what is really going on here? What’s the real issue?

CrisMarie: Again, these are not necessarily bad things, but taken to extreme they are harmful to you. And so really uncovering the real issue, the workaholism is a behavior, but what’s the motivation, is it anxiety? Is it fear of rejection? Is it craving approval? And until you actually start to unravel the root cause, you’re really not going to be able to change the behavior. And so being more curious when you’re in it, this is kind of what we talked about last week.

Susan: I was thinking about it because like I said, the one place that I could really recognize where I have shown clear signs of workaholism are when I’m doing these personal growth and development, or I’m leading them.

CrisMarie: Yeah, or an offsite.

Susan: Yes, but why, I want to go to the personal, because it used to literally be, I think I was way outside of myself in them. And I think it was some exploration, what is the reward for me? Why are they so willing to kind of step, and I think I have to be on? And I realized, you know, because there was such a, I think it would be the oxytocin one; I’d have an experience of connection that I did not know how to create.

CrisMarie: We talked about this last week; oxytocin is the trust hormone, or the cuddle hormone. It’s the connection.

Susan: And I think for a long time that was the path that I could create connection. And so it really wasn’t – I mean I think I have gotten much better at recognizing that. I don’t want it as a drug. I actually want it as something I have in my life. And actually I think I’m a better leader of a program when I’m not trying to get my need fixed through oxytocin because of the connection. But I am helping them understand how they can make better connections, but it’s not to feed my own addiction to it. But I needed to create more connections and associations in my life.

And when I’ve actually done that, I have my relationship to you now. That’s probably part of why I really like to work and live with my partner, it helps feed that part of me in a healthier way than just trying to create it, you know, program leader, or this, or that, it was a little more exhausting.

CrisMarie: Well, you’re saying how it’s helpful. I work and live with you because I can bring you into my world of work. I’m teasing, I’m teasing.

Susan: It hasn’t worked yet. Actually though it’s true, I mean now we are doing some separate things which I find, I like it when we work together, but that’s not necessarily critical.

CrisMarie: And this is also – we talk about when we’re coaching people we have a system of, where do you go out of balance? And you have the parent, adult, child and masculine and feminine, this is transactional analysis. We have a model where we tend to go out of balance in one of those, and mine is the adult make, which is all about responsibility, getting things done, and so I can get stuck in that.

And really what helps me balance is actually getting in touch with my little girl, which is more playful energy. And when somebody told me that, when I first realized that I was like, “You have got to be kidding, no way.” But I have –that’s actually the second step here is to pay attention to your personal life and create more hobbies and joy and things that you like doing. And that’s when I started acting, I started hip hop dancing. And that brings me much more into balance.

So when we’re coaching people we help them identify, are you stuck in an out of balance? And how can you come back into balance? Because it shifts your whole brain chemistry and gives you more kind of context. As opposed to this narrow world of work, which is this is the only place that I can get my purpose and meaning.

Susan: Yeah. So we are bringing this up because it does seem like for some who have been working throughout this time, that pattern of addiction to work is pretty high.

CrisMarie: Or it can be.

Susan: It can be. And even you’re going back now, so how are you going to go back? You might feel like, oh my God, we’ve had financial crisis, I’ve got to work really hard. Just watch yourself getting into a pattern that may actually not be serving you, more of an addictive pattern to work than what may be more helpful and productive.

CrisMarie: And so under covering the root cause, what are you really trying to fulfill with all this work? Pay attention to your personal life, and if you do coach with us, we’ll help you identify your imbalance and your out of balance, and then coming back into balance. And don’t worry, might not all be little girls here. And then set a discipline schedule, meaning create a schedule and stick to it.

And we’re going to talk about how to say no in a minute here. But also be intentional about unplugging, don’t keep your phone on and keep checking your emails, logoff on your email, turn off your work phone and really shift your focus.

Susan: Because I believe, and I’m not sure where this research came in but we were talking about this, that people think longer hours are more productive. But there’s actually tons of research out there that five hours of work a day…

CrisMarie: It was actually the Melbourne Study that, from Australia, and they actually repeated it and it’s 25 hours is the optimum cognitive, that’s where you can still have your juicy cognitive function.

Susan: At 25 hours a day, we don’t even have that many, some of you, I’m sure, count it up, could I do that?

CrisMarie: 25 hours a week, and they find that even though you may think I’m getting so much done, your brain is not in its optimum performance state. So you’re working against your natural ability.

Susan: And we were talking about that because we think probably when you’re – may have to travel to a meeting, you might travel to work, you have to walk across the campus where you work to get to another meeting. And then there’s just the time that you actually are not working that you say or think you are, because we all have that.

CrisMarie: Well, you go over and you chat with somebody, it’s walking down the hall, all those are mini breaks that actually help you digest your day, put things in context, give you creative ideas.

Susan: And it could be that even people who say they’re working 60 or 70 hours a week, it’s probably not 60 or 70 hours a week. But right now it is because you really have – if you’re at home you probably are not doing any of those things that would normally give you a natural rest.

CrisMarie: And maybe it would even help you, maybe you’re the parent that’s saying, “No, I’ve got to take care of work.” But you do have kids and the other spouse is taking care of the kids. Maybe it would be helpful to actually take a break and you take care of the kids for a little while. I know that might be hard to even imagine, but to share that workload might be beneficial for you in the long run.

Susan: Okay, so the other thing that we wanted to talk about is this idea, because we have found in our coaching and talking to people, that a lot of people struggle with saying no. And this is not just women, I mean there’s research about women really struggling with that, but it’s actually both, men and women.

CrisMarie: We do seek approval because we want to be a part of the tribe, we want to be accepted. That’s how we survived. And saying yes and staying together, we increase our probability of staying life, that’s kind of in our DNA. When we say yes to something we underestimate – this is a study, that we underestimate our own workload. So we tend to be overoptimistic about how long something’s going to take.

And I think there was this college study where they did this and the people estimated, I can get that done in five days, and it was actually 35 days. It was like an extra 30 days, they were way off on their estimates.

Susan: And there’s been other studies that demonstrate that same type of thing. So, often people will say yes maybe to an additional project, because they think, okay, I only have four other things that I’m doing right now, I can add it, it shouldn’t be that hard. But they actually haven’t really done such a good job of looking at what the four things that were on their plate were.

CrisMarie: So the idea of when you say yes to a project or a meeting, you’re actually saying no to what you’ve already committed, and what you have already said matters to you, both from a work perspective, and also a personal life perspective. So there’s a productivity that you’re actually infringing on and your own wellbeing.

Susan: I have to say I have coached people that have said yes to things simply because they’re afraid to say no, and they don’t care about them. So they’re…

CrisMarie: You mean they say yes and they don’t care about…?

Susan: Well, they don’t see the intrinsic value of why they even said yes, but they’re doing it.

CrisMarie: So they must feel like, oh, I have to, my boss will get upset. The client will get upset.

Susan: Yeah. And then a project comes along that they’re really excited about and they say yes to that one, even though they’re still supposed to do this work over here. And then they feel burned out and they can’t do what they’re passionate about. It’s like, well, you really can’t do what you’re passionate about because you kept saying yes to things, and not really prioritizing very well what you needed to be doing, so.

CrisMarie: Yeah. I think it was Steve Jobs who said, “Focusing is about saying no to things. And even scrapping projects that have been worked on for a long period, but if they’re not really bringing that value, having the courage to say, “No, that doesn’t fit.”

Susan: This is not a good project to continue.

CrisMarie: We were doing some research on this and there was this DOC formula to help you figure out.

Susan: And think DOC like in Work docs.

CrisMarie: D.O.C.

Susan: D.O.C, not like dox, like Botox, that would be the non-workaholic person.

CrisMarie: So the first question to ask is the D, does it distract? Does it distract you from your day-to-day responsibilities, or is it a complement to what you’re doing? Is it completely different and you’re going to have to do a complete context shift? Because that will really inhibit your productivity, if you’ve got to do something that’s completely different. Versus does it kind of ride along what you’re doing? So that distract is that context shift and really, because your brain takes a while to spool up in a different subject area.

Susan: And there might be a time where that’s okay, but what we’re talking about here is use this as a case for awareness, knowing what choice you’re making, yeah.

CrisMarie: Yeah. The other is objectives, we all have, or typically in businesses you have annual objectives, you have quarterly objectives.

Susan: Or KRs.

CrisMarie: Yeah.

Susan: PKRs.

CrisMarie: No.

Susan: [crosstalk], okay.

CrisMarie: Does it fit your business objectives? That’s what you want to ask. If it doesn’t, you’re not going to meet your business objectives because you’re taking this time to do this other thing.

Susan: We often, when we are working with larger businesses and organizations, we try to help them get to the point where they can look at their biggest strategic efforts. And narrow it down into three things that really help people know what is most important to our business. So that if they get asked to do a task, companies that are good at this, all of their people know when to say yes and no. Because it’s so, no, that would not be useful to our Southwest Airlines.

CrisMarie: Objectives.

Susan: It’s like, “No, we will not be on time if we do that.” And it’s amazing how having really strong clear objectives like that can help you with that yes and no.

CrisMarie: Susan rattled that off pretty quickly, because we use it as an example all the time. But Southwest Airlines is really clear in their strategic anchors, which are on time, low cost and customer loyalty. And so you can ask a flight attendant, a baggage clerk about, “Would you consider doing this as an airline?” And they can say, “No, that would hurt our on time performance,” or, “No, that would hurt our customer loyalty.” They know those anchors.

And so many businesses that we see are so convoluted and people can’t tell what are their priorities, because they get so complex. And companies that do this really well are highly successful. Okay, so that’s the objective, does it for the objective.

The C in DOC, D.O.C. is consider the upside of doing it, meaning is there an upside? Will you maybe develop a new skill that will help you get a promotion, or build an ability? Those are some reasons why you might want to say yes and not no.

Susan: Yeah. So these are all things that can be useful any time you notice yourself struggling with saying no, and looking at, okay, what’s going on here? And why might there be a good reason for me to say no? Because any one of those, D, O or C, could give you a good reason to say yes or no.

CrisMarie: And so really be checking when you say yes, recognize you’re saying no to what you’ve already said was important. And making that conscious, recognizing too, you probably are overly optimistic in your ability to get it done, and you might actually have a cost to you.

Susan: And recognizing that there is – it’s so easy to think, I’ve got to do this because I’m a team player. And the reality is, that sometimes saying no, you actually help the team, it really does help the team. If someone is clear and knows, we’re not going to do this well, I’m going to say no, you might be surprised.

CrisMarie: Well, you actually force the discussion on priorities, which too often teams are not aware of their priorities and they’re just in a reactive mode as opposed to a kind of a grounded, “We’re going to figure out what’s most important right now.”

Susan: And so maybe the lesson in all this too is when you get to either a yes or a no, pause, don’t just say yes and don’t just say no.

CrisMarie: And the reason we’re bringing up this ability to say no is because in the workaholism it’s so easy to just say, “Yes, yes, yes.” And you’re not taking care of yourself, so we really want you to be more conscious, one, of what’s happening when you engage in work, how are you feeling? Be aware of that. Be curious about what’s going on, to find that underlying root cause. And then look at what you’re saying yes to and may be better served to say no to. Okay, take care.

If you want to learn more about what we discussed today, or how to deal with conflict more effectively, Susan and myself, CrisMarie are both available for individual one-on-one coaching. We also offer couples coaching, which now as we live and work 24/7 together, may be more important than ever.

Susan: We continue to do our team facilitation, both live and now virtually. Let’s get real, until you’ve had a tough conversation over Zoom, you may not be building the trust you need on your team. For the next couple of months we are offering free virtual trainings to organizations. Our goal is to support you, your team and your business, both at work and at home during this pandemic.

CrisMarie: Right now you can find short videos on my, CrisMarie’s LinkedIn and Facebook with tips, tools and inspiration. To contact us, email, that’s

Susan: Okay, stay safe, stay healthy and remember, together we’re better and stronger.

CrisMarie: Take care.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

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