Where I’m located just outside of Washington, DC, at any given moment, I’m a stone’s throw from a workaholic. Boundaries don’t tend to be the strong suit of the political establishment, the legal profession, or the military, all of which have a strong presence in the nation’s capital. “Normal” working expectations include accessibility by phone or email in the evenings, over weekends, and on holidays and “work-life balance” sounds like a fairy tale — distant and fantastical.

It’s common for me to hear clients say things like, “They aren’t hiring anyone new but the workload has increased,” “I can’t turn off my cell phone; my boss expects to get me at all times,” and “I don’t know what a normal schedule is anymore.” These women and their partners are stressed, overworked, burnt out, and in some cases, workaholics — aided and abetted by a workplace environment that encourages workers to stay plugged in all the time.

Most people don’t take the concept of workaholism seriously enough. A “socially acceptable” condition, they see only the positive attributes: hard-working, diligence, conscientiousness, while ignoring the true costs: distance in relationships, constant fear of what will happen if you stop over-doing, risk of burn out, negative impact on your children, and serious health consequences. Spouses of workaholics often report feeling lonely, frustrated, isolated, worried, and silenced by others, who may see them as ungrateful for complaining needlessly.

The truth is that workaholism — like any addictive behavior — has the ability to destroy families and to rob otherwise good people of leading a fulfilling life. And ironically, it negatively impacts the workplace that helped it to thrive in the first place, leading to fatigue, burnout, poor productivity, and resentment.

So what to do? If you or someone you know may be a workaholic, I highly recommend the book Chained to the Desk by Bryan Robinson. Robinson offers a thorough context for understanding just how corrosive workaholism is, gives information for spouses and children, too, and makes treatment suggestions. Cognitive therapy and mindfullness are mentioned as effective treatments for workaholism.

If you’d like to explore either of these treatment options, please reach out at elizabeth@alexandriawomenscounseling.com or by phone at 703-868-8609.