“What was that line you used to admonish workaholics with?” Paddy asked.
“No amount of success at the office can make up for failure at home,” I suggested.
“Yeah, that’s it,” Paddy said, then asked, “Do you think workaholicism is as bad today as it was when you and I were working full time?”
“I’m really not sure,” I admitted, “but my suspicion is that it may even be worse these days because of a wider sense of job insecurity.”
“I remember you used to tell your workaholic colleagues and clients that working outrageous hours was short-sighted,” Paddy said.
“Actually,” I corrected him, “I used to say being a workaholic was short-sighted in the extreme. Over my career I knew an awful lot of burnt-out, unhappy executives and professionals whose health, family and personal relationships suffered severely -- sometimes irreparably.”
“Did you ever know anyone who actually worked himself to death?” asked Paddy.
“No, I didn’t know of any personally” I admitted, “but I believe that there have been people who worked themselves into an early grave. And, as I said, I knew lots who worked themselves into ill health and divorces.”
“Were the workaholics you knew the most successful people?” Paddy asked.
“Quite the contrary,” I countered. “Over the long haul, most of the really successful people I knew and dealt with had appropriately balanced lifestyles. And the opposite held true, too. Over the long haul, the workaholics I knew were never the most effective or successful people in any walk of life. Workaholics tend to eventually become narrow-minded, unhappy, and insensitive, all of which prevents them from reaching their true potential. And as I already mentioned, they eventually burn out.”
“But you often worked some long hours,” Paddy commented, “as I’m sure did a lot of your colleagues and clients.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but only when it was really necessary. I never worked extra hours because of blind ambition, lack of self-confidence, or just to keep up with the Joneses.”
“Do you really think that a lack of self-confidence is a main contributor to workaholicism?” Paddy asked.
“Perhaps a search for self-esteem would be more accurate,” I suggested. “But the fact remains that a person’s job should never be his or her main source of self-esteem. Although satisfaction in your career should be one source of self-esteem, it should never, I repeat, be the main source. The satisfaction that should count the most is that which is realized from being a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend, a good neighbour, a good person to share a laugh with, or, for that matter, to share a tear with when necessary.
“Anyone who chooses work over a weekend at the cottage, a child’s special event, playing cards with friends, a nice dinner out with a special person or persons, or taking the time to read a good book, is headed for trouble. And anyone who always chooses work over a quiet evening at home with a glass of fine wine and a good DVD is already in trouble.”
“But you were pretty passionate about your work,” Paddy pushed.
“Yes,” I agreed, “but I prefer to characterize it as saying I was serious about my work; and I’ve always had lots of outside interests. Most importantly, I always, without exception, put my family first.”
“You were on the radio and TV a lot, and wrote hundreds of newspaper columns,” Paddy observed, “wasn’t that important in stroking your ego?”
“I think,” I said, “that it stoked my pride more than my ego. I would always prefer to be recognized as Anne’s husband or Matthew’s and Alan’s dad than ‘that guy on the radio.’ As I said earlier, a person should never look solely to his or her job for fundamental emotional gratification. That should always stem from family, community, outside interests, and friends.”
“What’s the worst example of workaholicism you ever heard of?” asked Paddy.
“That’s easy,” I answered, “the partner in a downtown professional firm who slipped out of his wedding reception for a couple of hours to go to the office.”
“How long did the marriage last?” Paddy asked incredulously.
“Longer than it should have,” I suggested, “but I understand it did break up after a couple of years.”
“Pretend I’m in this workaholic trap, or feel I’m about to be,” Paddy said. “What would you tell me to do?”
“The first step,” I said, “would be to have a family conference and seriously examine your priorities. Then a decision has to be made about what actions to take; some of which might be very difficult, such as lowering your standard of living, changing jobs, or moving; you might even have to change your career.”
“I can’t imagine anyone’s employer would be happy with such choices,” observed Paddy.
“You might be surprised,” I said. “My experience has been that employers may be more understanding than people expect they would be. They’ll be more interested in keeping a valued employee than in being annoyed.
“The results of taking steps to thwart workaholicism are usually better than anticipated. And I can guarantee you that the results of not taking such steps will always be worse than expected.”
“What was that catch phrase again?” Paddy asked.
“No amount of success at the office can make up for failure at home.”
“On that, I’m going home,” Paddy said, gulped down the rest of his coffee and, I assume, went home.