It's even more of a problem in the '90s

ADDICTED TO WORK

February 03, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

The turning of the decade -- from the over-achieving, money-hungry '80s to a supposedly kinder, gentler '90s -- has not brought an end to the scourge of workaholism.

Instead, more support groups are springing up for "work addicts" and more books are being published about the dangers of

working too hard.

The average work week for a full-time American worker increased from 42.5 hours in 1980 to 43.5 hours in 1990, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For workaholics the numbers are far higher: 50, 60, even 70 hours a week are not uncommon.

And there's no sign it's letting up, says Diane Fassel, a Boulder, Colo., management consultant and author of "Working Ourselves Death: The High Cost of Workaholism and the Rewards of Recovery" (Harper). She says the cost of compulsive overwork can include divorce, family breakup, stress-related illnesses and eventually death.

"There's this belief that we are nothing if we're not constantly active and busy, and that's not going away," Ms. Fassel says.

She sees the 1980s legacy of workaholism coming through in these '90s types:

* Single baby boomers who use work as a substitute for dating and other intimate relationships.

* Parents passing on to their children workaholic values, shuttling them from place to place and never allowing them to be kids.

* Recent graduates and recession victims in their 20s and 30s whose income is not keeping up with their expenses, and who have to moonlight or put in more hours to save for a house.

Christian Komor, a Grand Rapids, Mich., psychologist whose practice concentrates on work and other stress, distinguishes between states of "being" and "doing."

"Simple daily things can be compulsive rituals to the workaholic," Mr. Komor says. "The core issue is fear of rejection and abandonment. You fill all your time with doing things, because if you don't, you will be rejected. This fear stays with the workaholic all the time, at home and at work."

Getting rid of the compulsion means learning how to "be" vTC instead of "do," Mr. Komor says. "It's to say 'I'm OK the way I am. I don't have to be running and doing.' It's a different qualitative experience."

But getting off the fast track and recovering from workaholism is no easy task.

Neither Mr. Komor nor Ms. Fassel advocates quitting one's job. They say work addicts have to learn to deal with their real feelings and put work into the proper perspective in their lives.

Consider Paul, a Grand Rapids sales engineer, who joined a chapter of Work Addicts Anonymous after his wife sought help to deal with family problems brought on by his compulsive commitment to work.

"I used to come home and just kind of gaze over dinner, thinking about work the whole time," says Paul, who declined to give his last name because of the anonymous nature of the group. "At work, every problem was my problem. I tried to control everything."

Work Addicts Anonymous, a peer-support group based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, helped Paul find a balance between family and work life, he says.

Here are some suggestions for people who want to recover from workaholism:

* Admit you have a problem and open yourself up to help.

* Consider your options, such as leaving your job for a while, changing positions at your company, eliminating the stressful aspects of your job or otherwise limiting work.

* Enlist a buddy who is not a workaholic, with whom you can share feelings and work out a daily program for gradually diminishing the time devoted to work and worrying about work.

"It's a detox, just like alcohol, and you have to do it gradually," Ms. Fassel says. And, like alcoholics, workaholics find recovery rather than a cure, and they need to be on guard for signs of relapse.

* If your workplace culture is workaholic, take care of yourself rather than becoming a workaholic to fit the culture. This might mean leaving your job, developing a network of people at work with whom you can talk, or making lateral moves that mean less money but also less stress.

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