Make Office Workaholics Anonymous
He is in early and the last man out. He is the ‘office workaholic’. Addicted to work, he is an employer’s role model for the rest, but is he a good role model? No, and here’s why:
Take a vote, how many of your colleagues want to spend all their waking hours at work? There will be very few, and of those, most would have raised their hands only to look more virtuous in the boss’s eyes.
When companies sign on people, they bind them to some service rules that include the ‘usual’ work hours. There will be exceptional days, of course, but the 7-hour or 8-hour workday is usual, normal, what you expect to devote to the workplace on any day. That is why it is laid down in black and white.
What is the alternative? To work like a slave, 24x7. The contract symbolises the equality of the employer and the employed. It denies the employer — theoretically — the freedom to take the employee for granted. And it has taken a long, bloody struggle for workers to get here.
The contract proves that an employer, whether a tiny firm or the meanest, mightiest corporation, needs a skilled person to get some work done, and the employee, a free citizen, has agreed to do that work in exchange for money. The employee makes himself available to the employer for fixed hours written down in the service conditions, and no more — normally.
The contract reminds the employer that the employee has a life outside their office walls. He has family, friends, interests, activities and daily chores. And the employer has no claim on the employee’s me-time. You, my employer, may not ask my spouse to type out your notes or my child to tidy up your desk. You may not question my need to learn a foreign language or my choice of novel or my reasons for going cycling in the mountains, or my need for nine hours of sleep.
You, my employer, may not ask my spouse to type out your notes or my child to tidy up your desk. You may not question my need to learn a foreign language or my choice of novel or my reasons for going cycling in the mountains, or my need for nine hours of sleep
But along comes the office workaholic — the word ‘office’ is key here because this article is about a very superficial and selfish type of worker — and spoils all that. He sets the workers’ movement back by more than a century. He devotes more hours to work than the employer bargained for and cheapens the value of work. Since quality of work is always hard to measure, the office workaholic shifts the game to quantity — the number of hours spent in office or on office work outside.
If this workaholic lives outside a family, he has already sacrificed a general human need and he builds pressure on the rest of the team to compromise on family time. If he has a family, the workaholic indentures it to the employer invisibly.
Here’s a simple example. The workaholic has to pick up his child from an evening class. At the last minute he calls up his wife to say he’ll be late, as usual, and she should make the trip instead. She has had a long day at work as well, but now she must alter her plans to perform his duty. By doing this she subsidises her husband’s cost to his company.
The employee who chooses to devote all his time to his employer round the year is either very inefficient or just shamming. He is a player who kicks balls into goals after the final whistle. But when he is deemed to have scored, the referee’s conduct also comes into question
What’s so virtuous about being a workaholic anyway? And what is workaholism? Is it commitment to work or the office/employer?
I can imagine Leo Tolstoy tearing up the pages he wrote (and, man, did he write!) and starting over again. That would be his pursuit of perfection. Is a copywriter charging by the word in an outsourcing shop 12 hours a day more committed to his work than Tolstoy?
At a university, a researcher ponders over a problem for days without break but does not arrive at a solution, and a teacher takes two extra classes daily with an eye on his next raise. Which one of them gets to wear the ‘workaholic’ label? The extra classes teacher, of course. He is more ‘useful’ to his employer.
But are we obliged to live for our employers? Is an employer’s profit the burning cause of our life?
The employee who chooses to devote all his time to his employer round the year is either very inefficient or just shamming. He is a player who kicks balls into goals after the final whistle. But when he is deemed to have scored, the referee’s conduct also comes into question.
What do you think of bosses and HR who endorse goals scored in an empty stadium when the other players have called it a day? What corporate values are they espousing? They know they cannot order staff to work longer hours without breaking the law, but by cheering the workaholic aren’t they shifting goalposts, pushing people to ‘voluntarily’ make sacrifices in the employer’s interest?
It’s time for ethical employers to rethink their position on office workaholics.