THE BLOG
11/06/2014 04:43 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Let's Fix It: Save the Workaholic

2014-11-06-sleep.JPGIf I could fix one thing about modern business, it would be to save workaholics from themselves. I agree with Maynard Webb, former COO of eBay, in his October 13, 2014 edition of #FixIt, where he cautioned against being too loyal to your company -- because your hard work isn't going to buy you undying loyalty from your company. Companies don't last forever, so you can't expect a job for life anymore. Even the most dedicated workaholic may get a layoff notice when the company decides to downsize.

Oh sure, a few companies resisted this practice, even sneering at it as an out-of-control American practice, but most have since joined the cause. For example, the Swedish telephony company Ericsson prided itself on never, ever laying people off just to save money; however, when the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s, the policy went out the window in a flash. Even people who thought they had jobs for life, whose jobs were their lives, found themselves out the door.

Getting a pink slip can be devastating for anyone. To the workaholic, it can feel like being at ground zero of a nuclear strike. No matter how hard you work, no matter how many hours you clock, no matter how productive you are, you have no guarantee that leadership won't put your job on the chopping block.

What your leadership wants is someone who's consistently productive, not someone who burns brightly for a little while before burning out. They are impressed by reliability -- by people who do what they say they will do. They're not impressed by employees who are so tired they keep making mistakes, who are constantly distracted by personal problems, or who can only give 28 percent.

For over 20 years, my professional mission as a speaker and author has been to help people produce greater results in less time. The question that keeps me up at night is, "How do people create maximum value in minimum time and get out the door by 5:00?"

I'd love to see exempt workers clock no more than 50 hours per week (the boundaries have blurred so much that people are "always on"). If you're a non-exempt employee, how do you create greater results in your 40 hours? In my experience, people who regularly work 60 hours a week tend to be no more productive than people who work 40 hours, because they have to fix too many mistakes due to fatigue, fuzzy-headedness, and lack of focus. And I've seen people who work 25 hours a week produce greater value than people who work 40. Worse, according to a British study, people who work more than 11 hours a day also increase their risk of coronary events (heart attacks and strokes) by two-thirds. That's scary. And then there are all those caught in a spiral of depression due to overwork. In Japan they call these negative effects karoshi, death by overwork. We have it in the U.S., too, but we have other words for it -- exhaustion, massive coronary, and burnout.

To paraphrase comedian Jeff Foxworthy, if you can't stop thinking about work when you should, then you might be a workaholic. If you spend more than 12 hours a day at work six or seven days a week, then you might be a workaholic. When you're incapable of setting boundaries between work and free time -- even when your family and friends fuss at you -- then you might be a workaholic.

Only emergency personnel should be on call 24 hours a day.

Another hint (I'm thinking of a speaker colleague of mine) is finding yourself alone, because you've driven away your family, spouse, and friends, who just couldn't compete with your love affair with work. And for what? More toys? A Hawaiian vacation alone? A pink-slip at age 45 when the company hits a rough spot, or just wants to start over with lower-paid newbies?

Maynard Webb admonishes you to become the CEO of your own destiny. You might not be ready to strike out on your own, but you can at least slow down. How NOW?

1. Write a personal mission statement about how you will evaluate success at the end of your life.
2. Hit the brakes hard; don't just ease up on the accelerator.
3. Savagely triage your to-do list, cutting out everything but the most important, highest priority items that only you can do.
4. Delegate as much as you can. Hire an assistant to handle your email and administrative tasks.
5. If you can't seem to cut back yourself, if everything looks equally important to you--a problem workaholics often face--then have someone help you, someone who won't let you fool yourself about what really matters.
6. Commit to getting out of the office ON TIME one day a week, starting this week.
7. Schedule free time for yourself--and treat it like any other appointment.
8. Set a date night with your spouse, and keep it.
9. Take your weekends, so you can go to your child's games.
10. Play catch, go to a movie, and take a hike with your child--in ONE weekend.
11. Take a big, long, elaborate vacation in the next three months.
12. Call your mother, your father, an extended family member, a friend, or a loved one every day (not just your immediate family).

Let's face it: why else are you working? If you burn out young or die in harness, what was the point? So you could accumulate money you didn't have time to spend? Work is a part of life, but life isn't work. It's great to have passion for your work and life, but you can't sacrifice one for the other. If you do, you'll soon understand the reason the words "miser" and "miserable" share a common root.

*Photo provided by Microsoft

© 2014 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, is America's Premier Expert in Productivity™. For over 20 years, Laura has worked with business leaders to execute more efficiently, boost performance, and accelerate results in the workplace. Her company, The Productivity Pro, Inc., provides productivity workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. Laura is the bestselling author of six books, with over 20 foreign editions, published by Random House, Wiley, and Berrett-Koehler, including her newest work, Execution IS the Strategy (March 2014). Widely regarded as one of the leading experts in the field of performance and workplace issues, Laura has been featured on the CBS Early Show, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times. Connect via her website, Facebook, or Twitter.