How Workaholism Can Hurt Your Career

Published: Dec 05, 2006

By Peter Weddle -- More and more Americans are working more and more hours. Some believe they must put in the extra time in order to hang onto their jobs, while others think that spending lots of time in the office or on the road is the key to career success. Sadly, the former are probably right—employers are squeezing the life out of the work-life balance in order to meet Wall Street’s profit expectations—and the latter are definitely wrong. Here’s what I mean.

Americans now spend more hours on the job than English, French or German workers and even the vaunted salarymen of Japan. According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workweek in the U.S. now drags on for 49 hours, which means Americans are working 350 more hours per year than their counterparts around the world. Worse, recent surveys indicate that American workers are also cutting back on or even eliminating their vacations in order to meet their employers' demands.

Not surprisingly, this behavior is wrecking havoc with our lives. Spherion conducted a survey several years ago that explored where people are spending their time. It polled 600 people and found that a staggering 51% spent 7 or more hours of personal time each week thinking about work. When asked what part of their lives this behavior most adversely affected:

  • 32% said family and relationships,
  • 27% said health and fitness, and
  • 20% said their sex lives and hobbies.

    In other words, over-doing work is a harmful addiction, and there is even a Web-site that provides support for those who are afflicted. It’s called Workaholics Anonymous (

    The recognized consequences of workaholism are bad enough, but there is another side effect of this condition that is not as obvious, but just as hurtful. Ironically, focusing all of your time and effort on the workplace can hurt your career. Why? Because such all-consuming behavior precludes your investing the personal attention and thought required to manage a career successfully, especially in these difficult and unpredictable times. There are only so many hours in the day, and workaholism commits them exclusively to the service of your employer and leaves little or no time for you.

    Setting the course for your career and taking the actions required to implement that plan are not trivial tasks. They require considerable skill, knowledge and commitment. They are not something you can do on an ad hoc basis, when you decide to make a move to another employer, or on an emergency basis, when your employer decides that it’s time for you to move along. As with anything important and complex, managing a career—at least, doing so successfully—is a full time, on-going obligation. In short, it’s work, and you must make time for it just as you do for your work on-the-job.

    Now, employers have been telling us for years that we are in charge of our careers and personally responsible for their direction and success. Until recently, however, the tools for responding to that dictate were all but nonexistent. Most people did not have access to either the information or the resources necessary to develop a clear course for their career and take the steps necessary to make it happen. The Internet, thankfully, has changed that. For the first time in history, working men and women actually have what they need to be bona fide personal career managers.

    What should they do? I believe they should invest the time and effort to work at six discrete activities. These activities provide both the forward momentum to move you toward your personal employment objectives as well as a safety net for the unexpected turns in a career. They entail:

  • Using the job agent technology on employment Web-sites to look for career advancement opportunities every day for the rest of your work-life.

  • Visiting corporate Web-sites and independent research companies online to conduct research on prospective employers and identify those where you can best continue to grow and develop in your work.

  • Joining online discussion forums and electronically networking every day to expand your range of contacts and access to opportunities in the world of work.

  • Learning and following the rules for the safe storage and transmission of your resume on the Internet.

  • Tapping the rich information and developmental resources available online to ensure that you are always “interview ready” in your profession, craft or trade, your industry and the world of work, in general.

  • Doing your homework to find and then investing the time to use those job boards and career portals that can best advance your career—today, tomorrow and into the future.

    This 6-step plan can be helpful to you, whether you are about to graduate from college, are still looking for your first job after college, have years of experience in the workplace or are a senior executive in transition for the first time in your life. It includes all of the offensive and defensive steps you should take to find good jobs consistently, perform at your best in those positions, and continuously advance your career. It is not, however, an ala carte menu. In other words, you cannot pick and chose among these activities and expect to be successful. No, this plan is a single, integrated strategy which must be executed in toto, if it is to deliver the outcomes you seek in the world of work.

    Workaholism is an illness that is often shrugged off because we think it is the price we must pay to secure and advance our careers. It is so all-consuming, however, that it ends up abusing our careers as well as our lives. If an employer expects you to adopt such behavior, therefore, it’s in your best interests to refuse. Then, use the 6-step plan above to look for a job where you can excel in your work and in the management of your career.

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