Workaholism: The Health Benefits of Taking a Vacation

August 8, 2007

Forbes.com recently listed the Top 10 Healthy Reasons to Take a Vacation, citing workaholism as a culprit for most professionals' inability to relax.

Forbes.com recently listed the "Top 10 Healthy Reasons to Take a Vacation," citing workaholism as a culprit for most professionals’ inability to relax.

Creating a Balance

A workaholic is defined as someone who has an unhealthy addiction to “work, career, or a belief that they are the only one who can do the job right.” Workaholism is the inability to stop working. Whether you are “in the office, at home, in bed, or socializing, if you find that you cannot stop thinking about work or talking about work then it is very likely that you are or you are about to become a workaholic.” Wikipedia likens the behavior to that of stress and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, “popularly characterized by a neglect of family and other social relations.”

The site All About Life Challenges offers the following suggestions for finding a balance between your professional and personal life and combating the effects of workaholism:

• Set limits on the hours and attention you devote to your job.

• Set aside quality time for your personal relationships and pleasures.

• Use your creativity toward accomplishments other than work, perhaps hobbies.

• Be sensitive to the needs of your family and friends.

A recent article in Psychology Today touched on the topic, describing three types of workaholics: the “all or nothing workaholic,” who does things perfectly or not at all; the “relentless workaholic” who has trouble stopping; and the “savoring workaholic” who obsesses over details to the point of paralysis. Americans, the article states, actually work 200 hours more per year now than we did in the 1970s.

Use It or Lose It

So what can you do to combat the effects of workaholism? Take a vacation. Yet so many are reluctant to do so.

According to Forbes, the average working professional will accrue 14 vacation days this year, compared with 12 days in 2005, yet 35% of the more than 4,100 US adults surveyed said they would not use all of their time off.

A 2004 survey by Harris Interactive reiterated this fact, noting 30% of employed adults give up the vacation time they have earned, resulting in the loss of 415 million earned vacation days three years ago.

Just Say “Ahhhhhh… ”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) posted the results of a survey conducted by Northwestern National Life regarding stress on the job, revealing, among other findings, that 40% of workers reported their job as being “very or extremely stressful.” The survey results also suggested that certain environments are more conducive to causing stress, which can be further exacerbated by an individual’s coping style.

As Psychology Today puts it, “Americans are going through a cycle of overwork that began with the recession of the early ‘80s then shifted into high gear in the late ‘80s with a series of technological advances—fax machines, desktop computers, cell phones. We have lots of tools and we don't even know how to use them all, but they still wind up bestowing on us a false sense of urgency.”

Women’s Health lists a slew of encouraging factoids that may make the idea of taking a vacation that much more appealing. Among the most convincing? “Vacations increase work productivity by 25%.”

Clearly, we want to relax, it’s just a matter of finding the time to do so. Next time you hesitate booking that extended weekend, think about where those unused vacation days will go. And whatever you do, turn off your BlackBerry, forego your laptop, and leave your work at home.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Don’t Take a Vacation From Health

Do You Need a Vacation?

Reduce Stress — Take a Vacation

Your Pre-Vacation Checklist