Workaholism: A Sign of Passion -- or Dysfunction?

Last Updated Mar 24, 2010 10:25 AM EDT

Workaholism: Heroic or Unhealthy?


Back when more of us were employed in manufacturing, the end of the work day was clear. When you stepped away from the widget production line, you were done. But in an age when more and more people work with ideas rather than things, it's becoming increasingly easy to let your work-life invade your personal life. Some argue this isn't a problem, but rather a sign that you are passionate about your work. Why build a high scheduling wall between what you get paid for and what you don't if you enjoy the one as much as the other?

Gen Yer Rebecca Thorman brings another perspective to the issue on her blog Modite this week. In her view, it's natural to work nights and weekends in the knowledge economy as inspiration hits outside normal business hours, but the drive to work continuously - even in the pockets when we're not inspired and could benefit from a bit of loafing is driven by ego and is simply dysfunctional.

Both philosopher of work Alain de Botton and the neuroscience of creativity point to the need to give our minds plentiful pauses and distractions, she argues. In celebrating the workaholic, we're killing our productivity:


"Periodic breaks relieve our conscious minds of the pressure to perform -- pressure that can lock us into a single mode of thinking," argue the authors of Creativity and the Mind, a landmark text in the psychology and neuroscience of creativity. Their research suggests that regular breaks enhance problem-solving skills significantly, Wired reports.

We're working all the time, not because we need to, or even because it's effective, but because our jobs require us to show up, be seen, and scrub through the afternoon slump. But the truth is, no one is working at 3 pm. That should be nap time, argues De Botton. (Interestingly, those who nap have a higher capacity to learn).

The culture of workaholism, worn with a badge of narcissistic and perfectionist pride, isn't mixed with a lot of real work, he says. In our squeeze for uber-efficiency, we're making a giant mess of inefficiencies.

Do you agree with Thurman that workaholism is mostly about ego, not passion, and kills creativity in the long run? Or is her post just sour grapes from someone who isn't passionate enough about her career to understand why anyone would drive themselves 24-7?

(Image of workaholic doing his thing by patpompak, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.