My Name is Clark Kent and I’m a Workaholic


By: Dr. Adam Stoehr, May 2010

Hello, my name is Clark Kent and I’m a workaholic.  It has been 12 months since I missed an important date in my kids’ lives.  It has been12 months since I thought about work on a Sunday afternoon.  It has been 12 months since I worked beyond what is reasonably expected of me to meet my job requirements.  The last 12 months have been glorious and I feel fully engaged and satisfied in the workplace. 

If you consider yourself a workaholic, please don’t take offence at the following opinion piece.  Recognize that your actions may be having an effect (similar to that of kryptonite on Superman) on employee engagement, employee satisfaction, and the overall morale of your organization.

For some reason, we tend to celebrate the idea of the workaholic.  Some people share their stories about weekends spent at the office, or pulling all-nighters, as if they were an achievement.  Some organizations even reward this kind of behaviour.  These stories become legend as if they were cover stories in the Metropolis Daily Planet newspaper.  I’ve heard on many occasions, “You should work more like Lois. She works 24/7 and she is really dedicated to the cause.”  Unfortunately, working more doesn’t mean you get more done, it just means you work more. 

A common side effect of workaholism is what I call the quasi-Superman syndrome.   Quasi-Superman syndrome is when good people chase problems with the sole purpose of being a hero.  They may even create a crisis (sometimes unconsciously) to get praised as a hero for solving it.  This desire for hero recognition is so strong that they may not even look for more efficient ways of solving problems (like using root cause analysis and process improvement tools for example).   Creative/strategic problem-solving takes a back seat to brute force problem-solving.  Quasi-Supermen and Superwomen are running around the office with their capes on, saving the day in an attempt to seem important.

The real problem is that this behaviour can be like kryptonite on overall employee engagement, satisfaction, and morale.  A work environment driven by workaholics can spin into a vicious cycle of guilt, resentment, conflict, poor morale, and low engagement (refer to figure 1).  People who leave at 5pm feel inadequate for only working a “regular” 8-hour day.  The guilt makes other people stay late out of obligation regardless of need and independent of productivity.  This creates some Superman vs. Lex Luthor type resentment and can escalate to conflict.   This then effects morale and breeds more of the desire to be a workaholic, which starts the cycle all over again. 

 

Vicious Cycle of Workaholism


Figure 1

In order to increase satisfaction, engagement, and morale levels we must expose the myth of the workaholic.  They aren’t heroes.  They are not faster than a speeding bullet, in fact they tend to have lower levels of job performance (at least relative to the time devoted to work) than non-workaholic employees (i).  They simply spend too much time on inconsequential details rather than moving on to the next important task.  They are not more powerful than a locomotive, in fact they tend to feel anxious and upset when they aren't working, and have higher levels of stress and more health complaints than other employees (ii).  They are not able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, in fact most of the time they have difficulty delegating or sharing tasks with team members more suited for the job (iii).  They should not be rewarded for this behaviour. 

The real hero is home enjoying life because they have figured out a way to get the work done in good time.
If you feel you are a workaholic, or know someone who is, here is a five-step program to help:

  1. Admit that you are a workaholic.
  2. Recognize that cooperation and teamwork can give you strength.
  3. Examine the past and how you can improve.
  4. Channel your energy into tasks that link with the strategic direction of your organization.
  5. Help others that suffer from the same workaholic behaviour to break the vicious cycle.

My colleague Clark Kent completed these five steps 12 months ago, and the levels of morale, engagement, and satisfaction have gone up, up, and away!


References:
i Marcia Miceli et all, Ohio State University, Workaholic Research
ii Ibid.
iii Ibid.

Author Information

Adam  Stoehr, PhD

Adam Stoehr, PhD