Working? Or Dodging Life?

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Working? Or Dodging Life?

He is every employer's dream. Never misses a deadline, hands in immaculate reports, stays at the office long after his colleagues have punched out, and even gives up his vacation to put the finishing touches on a project whose due date is months away.

"I really enjoy my work and even when I am away from the office I am constantly thinking about new projects," said Mr. Park, a 40-year-old researcher. Although his boss is more than happy with Mr. Park's work, his preoccupation with work is costing him dearly when it comes to personal relationships. His friends rarely call him and even his family stopped trying to include him in their activities a long time ago. "I can't remember the last time we went on a family vacation together," he admitted.

A workaholic becomes emotionally crippled, unable to find a balance between work and play. With a compulsive need to gain approval and success, workaholics are addicted to control and power. Very often, workaholics depend on their work to define who they are, feeling that their personal worth is measured by how much they produce and little else. Like many other dependencies, work becomes the "drug" that keeps the workaholic preoccupied and therefore numb to other emotions such as intimacy.

When Youm Jin, 48, the CEO of Yahoo! Korea, announced last month that he would step down at the end of April to spend more time with his family, he explained that his "being a near workaholic has cost the family too much." That came as a surprise to many Koreans. In a society where Confucian ethics of hard work are highly praised, it is difficult for people to realize that they are workaholics and recognize it as a problem. People look up to workaholics for their intensity and productivity on the job. Society also respects workaholics for the material comforts they are able to bring their family; larger paychecks are the rewards for all the hours they put into their work.

However, contrary to most people's view that these workaholics make the best employees, there are many traits that actually make workaholics poor employees. Because they believe they can do a better job than their co-workers, they are arrogant and are not team players. A related characteristic is the need to be in control all the time, refusing to delegate work. This can lead them to take on too much work, and consequently to burn out from fatigue and mental distraction.

Workaholics are often so obsessed with details that it takes them many more hours than necessary to complete a job, making them inefficient workers. They cannot always be counted on to produce a high quality product because they become preoccupied with getting one thing perfect, letting other tasks fall by the wayside. Exhaustion, an inevitable by-product of long-hours of work, affects their mental alertness, and can lead to costly mistakes.

Merely cutting back on work hours will not necessarily solve the problem for workaholics. For example, if your mind is still on the report that is due the next day while you are hiking with the children on Sunday, being away from the office makes no difference.

Aside from becoming alienated from family and friends, workaholics can also expect to compromise their health. "Just as alcoholics need to maintain a certain amount of alcohol in the blood to feel comfortable, workaholics, when not working, feel insecure, lonely and even guilty," said Lee Jung-kwon, professor of family medicine at Hanyang University Medical Center, Seoul.

When faced with a crisis situation, the body responds by excreting extra adrenaline and the heartbeat and respiration become rapid. If a person is subjected to continued stress, he becomes accustomed to it, coming to regard such stressful state as normal and perhaps even "enjoying" the stress, according to Dr. Lee. Although a workaholic may feel a high from this work-related stress, over time it exacts a toll on his health.

Indigestion, headache and insomnia are common among workaholics and the risk of serious conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease and even sudden death are significantly heightened for people who cannot find a respite from work.

Very often, a workaholic is the last to realize that a problem exists. Ask your spouse or a close friend if they think you are a workaholic. If the answer is a resounding yes, here are some ways to "cure" workaholism, as suggested by the American Institute of Preventive Medicine:

- Gradually cut down on the number of hours you work. Avoid radical changes but take measurable steps, such as making it a rule not to work on weekends.

- Schedule time for recreation and relaxation as though they were an important commitment. Set aside some time for fun, however brief, every day.

- Get some physical exercise every day. Walk, do some stretching, or participate in other non-stressful, non-competitive activity.

- Avoid talking shop over lunch. Meet an old friend and talk about something unrelated to work.

- Choose a hobby that contrasts with the kind of work you do. If you work on highly technical mental problems all day, take up a handicraft hobby such as woodworking or needlework.

- Select leisure activities carefully. You need at least one activity you can share with family or friends.

- Refuse to feel guilty when you are not working. This is probably the most important step of all.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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