Are you a workaholic?


You know the type. You might even be the type-the DVM who routinely puts in 12-plus hour days, never takes vacations, can't bear to delegate, feels anxious and purposeless when not on the job.

You know the type. You might even be the type-the DVM who routinely puts in 12-plus hour days, never takes vacations, can't bear to delegate, feels anxious and purposeless when not on the job.

Experts report workaholism represents a continuation of the college lifestyle where working long hours to succeed is the norm. The "nose to the grindstone" pattern simply continues into professional life.

But working more isn't synonymous with working better. In fact, the opposite is often true.

Not synonymous

"Most workaholics tend to create work for themselves that isn't needed or useful to begin with," says human internist Lee Lipsenthal, founder of Heal Thyself Programs in San Anselmo, Calif. "That's not good for you or your patients."

Workaholic DVMs often don't connect well with clients and patients because they're focusing on the next 12 things they want to do.

"In essence, workaholics are in a revved-up state of burnout. Instead of functioning efficiently, they're likely to be irritable and rushed. Therefore, their decision-making, diagnostic and treatment-planning capacities are diminished."

Work addiction, unlike alcoholism and other compulsive behaviors, tends to bring status, financial reward and even awe. Small wonder, then, that workaholics don't realize they have a problem until a crisis occurs-a spouse leaves, a neglected child gets in trouble, a serious health problem develops.

Hard worker vs. workaholic

Workaholics don't generally know that they're overdoing it. They tend to think they're not working hard enough, notes psychiatrist Jeffrey Kahn, president of WorkPsych Associates, an executive management consulting firm in New York.

Work addiction risk test

How do you determine if you're a workaholic? Take the work addiction risk test on page 58. If you score in the "You are highly work addicted" range, read on.

Experts advise to start by asking yourself why you're overworking. Most compulsive workers are driven by anxieties and fears about things like not being good enough or not making enough money or making an error or being sued.

How to recover

Next, think about where your time is going, says Kahn, co-editor of Mental Health and Productivity in the Workplace: A Handbook for Organizations and Clinicians (Jossey-Bass, 2003).

"Are you spending enough time with your family and pursuing personal interests? How about on the aspects of your work that you like as opposed to the parts that take up most of your day?

To wean yourself off the work treadmill, try some of the following:

  • Make one change, today

"It's hard to reverse the habits of a lifetime, especially well-rewarded habits," says psychiatrist Ronald L. Hofeldt of Salem, Ore. "Begin by taking incremental steps. Decide what you can to today that will make a difference. It could be meeting a friend for lunch, leaving the office on time or opting out of a committee."

  • Nurture your relationships

Pay attention to the emotional needs of the people around you. Take walks with your partner, plan romantic dinner dates. Spend time with your children.

  • Schedule some leisure

"Workaholics are often driven by the sense that it isn't noble to take time for oneself. They're confused by the difference between self-interest-which helps us survive and thrive-and being selfish-which is egocentric," says Hofeldt.

Fantasize about spending a day reading a book and sipping a Starbuck's coffee? Do it!

  • Do what the Joneses do

Participate in your children's activities, coach and support soccer games, join the PTA. A caveat, though. "Compulsive workers who get involved in community activities tend to transfer workaholism to community helpism," cautions Lipsenthal. "You might end up spending fewer hours in the office but excessive hours doing work for the church. It's about finding some balance and that means spending time away from the work process."

  • Take care of yourself

While veterinarians take an oath to improve the health of animals, don't neglect your own. Get regular physical exams and if you do become, ill, get attention immediately. Join a health club, take up a sport, watch alcohol intake and eat healthy.

  • Delegate

"Admit that you can't do everything yourself," says Hofeldt. "Hand some tasks off to staffers and listen to their suggestions."

  • Seek help

"It may be worth getting a psychiatric consultation by someone who can look at the depression and anxiety issues that might be part of the workaholism picture," says Kahn.

If you're motivated by a desire to make money, talk to a financial planner about how to manage with less income.

Other workaholism antidotes: Join a support group for workaholics, vary your routine and set boundaries between your professional and personal life. Take vacation time. Even a few days here and there can help.

"Medicine is a great career, but it's a terrible life if we make it our whole life," says Hofeldt.

Ms. Garfinkel Weiss is senior editor with Medical Economics magazine, a sister publication to DVM Newsmagazine. This article originally appeared in Medical Economics December, 19, 2003 edition.

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