The office needs smart workers, not workaholics


Jan 15, 24 | by: Sanjeev Jha

Over three years ago, Wayne Bento felt something was off. From being able to handle stress by letting it dissipate, he was now holding on to it. The chief operating officer of Bengaluru-based marketing communications company Veeville worked intensely for long hours. “I’d start working as soon as I woke up, constantly checking on work communication until bedtime,” says Bento, 39. He traced the origin of his downward spiral to 2019, when dengue affected his ability to deliver an important project on time. “My team at the time botched it up to a point where we had to restart the whole process from scratch,” he recalls. He felt helpless and upset over losing control. When the pandemic hit shortly after, he started overworking. “I put on weight, my temper was frayed, and my life, work and personal, was deeply affected.”

Supported by his company, last year, he took a 45-day break at an Ayurvedic centre to destress. Still a recovering workaholic, Bento is gradually slowing down, admitting it is a challenging process.
Such experiences are not unheard of in the corporate world, where long working hours are par for the course. But most do not realise the signs or dangers of being a workaholic, a term that describes those who feel an uncontrollable need to work incessantly and prioritise it above everything. “Working hard is generally considered a positive attribute in society, and early on in life we understand that giving our best is a good behavioural trait,” says Bengaluru-based counsellor Shabari Bhattacharyya. Workaholism, she explains, is currently not classified as a diagnosable addiction disorder.

“Many people mistake workaholism with being passionate and dedicated to their job. One is working compulsively and one is working with excitement,” explains Bento. “It’s important to realise in which direction it is heading before it’s too late.”

Do workaholics derive pleasure from work? Some research suggests they do. But a recent study published in the Journal Of Occupational Health Psychology found that workaholic employees were unhappier than those who disengaged with their work routinely. In other words, a workplace thrives when its occupants are able to strike a work-life balance.

Other potential repercussions include depression, burnout, anxiety, lifestyle diseases, isolation, and family conflict. Workaholism develops for varied reasons—a competitive environment, being a perfectionist or liking being in control of situations, social conditioning, or an escape from other problems.

Bengaluru’s Kavya Shankar, 33, believes her workaholism stemmed from wanting to escape a challenging home environment. She started doing part-time work at the age of 14. “I was unhappy to go home. At work, I felt in control and would take on extra shifts and work Sundays,” says Shankar, who has a wellness and life coaching business, Breakthrough Transformations.

Few years ago, Shankar realised she lacked an identity beyond work. At parties, she felt like she was wasting time. Anxiety was a long-time companion. “I did not invest time in relationships with family or friends. I am 33, and have barely dated,” she says. “An ex-partner asked me that if I spent Monday to Saturday at work, and Sunday to prepare for the week ahead, then where did ‘he’ or ‘we’ exist? I didn’t like what he said, but it made sense.”

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