The only requirement for membership in Workaholics Anonymous is the desire to stop working compulsively.
Most people have heard about 12-step programs for addictions to alcohol, narcotics and gambling. But you may not be aware that a similar program for workaholics has been operating under the radar in several Canadian cities since the mid-1990s.
Workaholics Anonymous is an independent, international group established in the United States in 1983. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop working compulsively.
The organization is financed by member contributions and the sale of books from its website. It is staffed by volunteers who are known to each other and to the public by only their first names.
WA Media Outreach Coordinator Michele says workaholism is like any other addiction. “When you start engaging in any kind of activity, whether it is sex, drugs or work, that becomes detrimental to something else in your life, that’s an addiction.”
And an addiction to work is not limited to stereotypes like hard-driving senior executives. Even kids can easily become workaholics. “We encourage it by pushing kids into too many activities so they are constantly busy and have limited downtime,” she says.
Because it is often difficult to distinguish hard-working people from workaholics, many people do not recognize when they have a problem.
How to tell? A key indicator is that workaholics believe work is more important than anything else in their lives, including family and friends, says Morley Glicken, Director of the Institute for Personal Growth in Tucson, Arizona. As a result work for work’s sake and think about work regardless of what they are doing or who they are with.
He says not everybody who works long hours is a workaholic. “Some people work long and hard because they truly love their jobs, but they still manage to have a rich personal and family life.”
How pervasive is the problem? In 2009, Statistics Canada reported that one-third of Canadians self-identified as workaholics. But Michele thinks that may only be the tip of the iceberg. “Technology like smart phones means people are on call 24/7 and many people are even afraid if they take vacations they will lose their jobs.”
Workaholism can take many forms, but WA focuses on work-compulsion and work-aversion. Work-compulsives find it difficult to turn away from work and, consequently, lose sight of their personal lives. In contrast, work-aversives often place such high expectations on themselves that they have trouble even beginning their work. In either case, workplace productivity suffers.
WA offers support through meetings in over 50 cities including Vancouver, Toronto, Hamilton, Thornhill and Saskatoon. Meetings are typically small (under ten people) and in keeping with the focus on anonymity, no statistics are kept.
Telephone meetings, online meetings and a 24 hour phone line are also available regardless of where members reside. In addition, WA holds an international conference every one to two years. The therapeutic process is similar to other 12-step programs and involves:
- Admitting the inability to control an addiction or compulsion;
- Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member).
- Making amends for these errors;
- Learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior; and
- Helping others who suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.
Michele acknowledges that other forms of individual or group therapy can also help people beat an unhealthy addiction to work. Nevertheless, the entrepreneur and self-confessed workaholic says WA has been a great help to her. “Over the last six years, the method of self-exploration has significantly improved my mental and physical health.”