Self Development
Don't Be Addicted - Not Even To Your Work

by DP Sabharwal
Addiction is addiction, even if it is work addiction. How do you define work addiction? How the transition has happened from Farmer Time to Factory Time to No Time, what are the symptoms of work addiction, consequences thereof and finally the way out - all aspects explained in detail.
Ask anyone, the response will always be the same: Yes, Addiction is bad. In fact, addiction is considered so bad that one does not even bother to ask: addiction to what?
It wasn’t so in the past. Then the word addiction was, many times, used in a good or positive sense, which basically meant ‘to habituate, to attach closely or to devote such as describing a faithful dog as addicted to his master.’ In today’s world, the word addict is used in hushed tones since it carries unpleasant social and medical baggage with it.
I have asked a number of people as to the word to which they associate addiction with. The responses have been: Grass, pot, hashish, charas, ganja, chillum, liquor, smoking etc. The word however, has many other connotations as well. An individual may not be associated with any of these things, but can still be addicted to many other things like seeing the movie the first day, first show on every Friday, playing the stock-market passionately, going to races every weekend, watching TV for hours together come what may, surfing the internet etc. There is yet another area to which large number of people, particularly young ones are getting addicted to. Well, it is Work Addiction. How bad it is can be gauged from the fact that people associated with it are referred to as workaholics, no doubt a derogatory term.
It is rather difficult to give a precise definition of work addiction or work-alcoholic, but it can be described accurately by certain traits such as:
  • One who arranges everything around his work.
  • Has no fixed working hours, at-least no time for pack-up.
  • Does not have a hobby or any outside interests.
  • Burns the candle from both the ends.
  • Even holidays are planned and centered on work-meetings.
The Transition
Work addiction is a rather recent phenomenon. Earlier one followed the ‘nature’s rhythm.’ and worked for definite hours and used to be dictated by the so called Farmer’s Time, in which the work hours ceased automatically when the cows returned home. With the onset of industrial age, one started following the ‘Factory Time’ which basically meant being guided by the hooters that were blown in the mornings and the evenings with well-defined precision. Then came the present age of ‘No Time’ since every time is work time.
Many factors have contributed to such a scenario. The first and foremost is the ease of communication and instant connectivity. The second factor is that the world has become a global village. Earlier one used to take a month or so to travel one way to England by ship. Now one can go there and come back within a day. The third major factor is that the work place is no more the conventional work-place. It has shifted to homes courtesy computers and lap-tops. The fourth factor is the capability and ease of doing too many things at the same time, a situation known as multi-tasking. The scene is thus complete to allow an individual virtually “No time to stand and stare!”
The Happening
It is good to work. No doubt about it. In fact the saying “Work is Worship” is worth its weight in gold. But then while it is good to work, it is bad to do excessive work. It is something like the saying, ‘Eat to live but don’t live to eat.’ Yet, there is an ever-increasing population that is getting sucked into such a work culture. Why it happens is easy to see, the main factors being:
  • Inner desire to excel and to continue excelling even when at the top.
  • Today the companies are becoming lean and mean, thus forcing a few to do the job of many.
  • Desire to earn more and still more in shorter time-frames.
  • To get recognition and identity at young age.
  • The fact that it is always daylight somewhere in the world, hence the generation of extra works due to internet connectivity.
The Symptoms of Work Addiction
One does not become work-addict over-night. Like a conventional alcoholic, here too one takes time and moves into the groove of workaholic gradually but at a rather fast pace. As per Diane Fassel, the author of ‘Working ourselves to Death’ there are three well defined stages:
In stage one, the individual thinks of work all the time. He is a compulsive list-maker of what all to do and then works overtime regularly to complete all the tasks listed therein. Being hard pressed for time all the time and being subjected to the pressure to meet the demands of time, the individual automatically moves to the second stage where one starts putting aside all other activities not connected with work. Such things include personal relations and social interactions like attending birthday parties and marriage functions. At this stage, one starts getting tired physically. In addition, sleep disorders set in leading to blackouts in certain cases. One becomes irritated and staring into blank spaces, as if thinking tends to become a normal habit.
Headache, backache, high blood pressure and ulcers manifest the third stage. The obvious result is ever present stress, tension and depression, bad and deteriorating health, no social life thus no proper growth. All this ultimately leads to an early burnout.
The Way Out
The saying that “Wise are those who learn from the mistakes of others, only the fools insist on making their own mistakes,” is equally applicable to the case of work addicts as well. The way out is a simple two-step formula.
Firstly be aware. Don’t get the temptation to be sucked into the whirlpool. Be informed of the dilemma: “To enjoy the good life, you must earn a good salary. But to earn a good salary, you can’t have a life.” Therefore, think what is important to you: Life or good salary. And in doing so be very clear as to what is good and how much good is good? Moreover, remember that good is only the first stage of the three stages of Good, Better, Best. Thus while remaining ambitious, put reins to your being over-ambitious.
The second step no doubt is not as simple as the first one. But then it is the life savior and says “Once sucked-in, learn to get out”. It is difficult, but not impossible and I have seen a youngster known to me since his thumb-sucking days, doing it almost six years back.
A topper from one of the prestigious IIMs, Mukul got a dream job with a multi-national offering him a package of 22 lakh per annum that was almost three times the salary of his dad, a gazetted officer with more than 30 years of service. I met him after he had been in the job for almost a year. First thing I asked him was, “ How about a treat in a five-star with Champagne?”
“Treat is no problem uncle, but time is. Go with dad and enjoy at my expense, but I wont be able to accompany you,” said Mukul matter of factly.
In the discussion that followed, he informed me that he had never felt the pleasure of getting a handsome salary cheque in his hands since the amount went directly to his bank. Then he never had the time to go out and burst the money even on clothing. In fact he used to ask his mom to go and get the shirts and trousers for him. His working hours were not fixed. He had a definite hour to leave home, the car would arrive at the doorstep exactly at eight, but there was no fixed time to get back home. What was worse that he hardly enjoyed any holiday. It was almost a routine that on almost every Friday evening, while leaving office, he would be handed over the ticket and the destination to go abroad over the weekend for business.
Realizing that it was leading to a fast burn-out and that he was burning the candle not only from the two ends but from the middle as well, he decided to chuck the job and go in for another one that allowed him some time of his own. Of course the time came at a premium. His salary in the new job was almost 40% down, but it was acceptable to the young but sensible lad of just 27 summers!
The Final Word
Life is meant to be lived, outdoors and with other living beings and not in the confines of a room in the company of inert things like the telephone, mobile, files, computer and the likes. Remember that life is not a matter of milestones, but of moments. And finally try to get the real meaning from the lines of an anonymous writer:
A horse can’t pull while kicking, that fact I merely mention,
And he can’t kick while pulling, which is my chief contention.
Let’s imitate the good old horse and lead a life that’s fitting
Just pull an honest load, and then there’ll be no time for kicking.
Wg Cdr DP Sabharwal (Retd) is a post-graduate in Aeronautical Engineering from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He worked in the Indian Air Force for 25 years on fighter (Hunter, MiG-21, MiG-29) aircraft and helicopters (Chetak, Cheetah, Mi-8). He sought voluntary retirement in 1995 to pursue a career in teaching and writing.

A Fellow of Institution of Engineers and the Aeronautical Society of India, Sabharwal is visiting professor at engineering and MBA institutes and a Corporate Trainer on behavioral skills. Author of 22 books including 'A Finer You' a book on personal grooming, manners and etiquettes; he is settled in Bangalore (India) and can be contacted at