Do you work harder than Paris Hilton’s publicist? It could be time to get some balance! We show you how.

By Liz Caxton

You love your job and you live your job; it defines who you are and what you’re all about. You’re not worried that you work late every night and at the weekends, and you think it’s acceptable to spend almost every waking hour thinking about work. If this sounds like you, according to those in the know, you should be concerned – maybe even very concerned.

In the good ol’ days you received an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, these days the practice is not quite so clear-cut. Down-sizing is still a very real threat for some and so in a desperate bid to ensure you’re not seen as the office slacker, you may end up contracting workaholism: the scourge of the running scared!

Research shows that Australians are working longer hours than ever.

Unlike drinking, smoking or taking illegal drugs, in some organisations workaholism is not only sanctioned by your employer, it is absolutely compulsory. Not that you’ll ever find this stipulation written in a contract or job description. Workaholism is often incubated and encouraged by making employees feel as if they are letting the team down if they do not put their job above all else – including their family and the rest of their life. What starts off as enthusiasm for and commitment to the job can, in some, quickly become an addiction.

Becoming or being a workaholic carries no social stigma, indeed it is more often than not regarded as a positive attribute. Those of us who are not workaholics are likely to be nervous of those ‘first to arrive, last to leave’ colleagues when a promotion is in the offing. After all, if management are looking for someone to promote it’s going to be them isn’t it? Unfortunately, frequently yes. Despite the somewhat appealing ‘work smarter, not harder’ slogan, this is often still the case.

You can’t really blame your employer – look at it from their point of view. For the sake of making this seem a little more interesting, imagine the organisation you work for is an illegal drug manufacturer, and that your boss is a street dealer looking for more victims to draw in and become addicted to the drug he or she is trying to flog. Now, if you were your boss whom would you target? Yes, those who are already experimenting with the drug, those already addicted who need to feed their habit and those who are want to be in the ‘in’ crowd. You’d bypass those who are obviously too strong-willed to taste the drug in the first place.

Hence, those new to a job are often a ‘target’, after all there are attractive rewards to be had: promotion, increased salary, increased status, increased lurks and perks, etc. Who wouldn’t want to at least taste the drug with so much on offer?

So, as in all aspects of life, those with the addiction, or signs of addiction, are singled out and ‘fed’. However, again like all addictions, there is often a price to pay. From a health point of view, workaholics have an increased risk of high blood pressure, insomnia and a weaker immune system.

On a personal level they are more inclined to be overly irritable, display passive-aggressive behaviour patterns, be susceptible to alcohol/drug abuse and become socially isolated.

Call it irony, call it obvious, but on a professional level the workaholic is often less productive than they’re un-addicted colleague. Workaholics think they are achieving, but in reality are often wasting time on unnecessary tasks because on one hand they are keen to be seen to be working long hours, whilst on the other they cannot physically bring themselves to leave the office at a regular hour. Their job defines who and what they are and without their job they fear their lifestyle will be less comfortable.

Working long hours and never ‘clocking off’ will undoubtedly affect your health both physically and mentally. However, it can also adversely affect your family. A partner/spouse/mother who is permanently unavailable, both physically and emotionally, is not an attractive option for most of us.

So, after reading this you’ve recognised yourself? How do you shake the workaholic mentality? As with all addictions, it’s not easy and you need to want to do it – patronising, but true.

Admit to yourself that you’re not super-human. You can’t expect to do everything yourself and neither can anybody else.

Take an objective look at your life and set yourself boundaries between work and home life. Stick to them.

No job is worth killing yourself over – if your employer expects too much of you, insist it’s not feasible and if they don’t accept your view, look for another job.

Consider and cherish your family – if you have children, make time for them. No child wants a parent to walk in exhausted and irritable 10 minutes before bedtime. If it was important for you to have children then the least you can do is spend ‘quality’ time with them – everyday! The same applies for a partner/spouse: spend time with them or they’ll look for someone else to spend time with.

Finally, in the words of Daniel Petre, author of Father Time (a book questioning work patterns and the importance of balancing life): “Work’s only one part of your life, and it’s not the part for which you’ll be remembered. Your most important legacy is at home, not at work.”