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Avoid Creating a Workaholic Culture

Written by Terri Wallin

Before jumping into a particular type of culture, there are some questions and fundamentals about culture in an organization that are important to state. When you inherit or grow into an organization as an executive leader, how much attention do you pay to the culture? Based on my experience as an executive leader and transformational leader consultant, many leaders don’t focus on the culture. It should be a major priority for the chief executive.

Because many executives don’t spend time determining the type of culture that helps the organization achieve its vision and objectives, the culture often just happens through the behavior of the leaders. The executive leader, whether intentionally or not, impacts and should own the culture completely. Since the executive owns the culture, it is wise to be purposeful about what is desired in a culture and how executive behavior shapes it.

Working late at nightIf a leader is a workaholic and either proud or unaware of it, the culture will become a workaholic culture. Staff will begin to behave differently in order to be more in synch with the leader. How do I know? I was that kind of leader and drove every team very hard until it became clear to me that it wasn’t healthy for me or the team and certainly not the business. A workaholic team is often high producing but the unintended consequence is a higher level of burn-out, high illness and absentee rates, etc. – for the employees and for the leader. Another side effect of workaholic cultures can be a cut throat, dog eat dog competition – where working harder and faster becomes the game.

In a recent Washington Post article “Workaholic USA: Our culture is making us sick, stressed and a little stupid”, it speaks to the workaholic problem. The writer, Brigid Schulte, goes on to claim that Americans work longer than most other countries, about 50 hours per week or more. She also quotes that the auto industry under Henry Ford moved working hours to 40 hours/week. He had found that working people longer hours than 40/week caused expensive mistakes.

So not only do people push themselves too hard making it hard on their bodies, but eventually serious mistakes are made. There are articles on workaholic cultures and there is a case where an intern worked 100 hours a week and died, posing the question of the workaholic behavior as contributing to the cause of death.

There are companies on Wall Street attempting to change the workaholic nature of financial companies. One of these companies “Credit Suisse (CS) is the latest investment bank to tell its analysts and associates that they should specifically shun the office from 6 p.m. on Friday night until 10 a.m. on Sunday morning”. So there are some companies actively trying to change the corporate culture.

In the article “Why women must fix our workaholic culture” written by Arianna Huffington, she cites example after example of major companies with executives and employees experiencing the negative effects of being workaholics. She states in this article that “for far too long, men have equated success with working around the clock, driving yourself into the ground, sleep deprivation and burnout”. She is seeing that women in the work force in particular are trying to change this culture. She speaks to women using “third metric” principles, which help with life balance. She has written and published on the subject where a combination of methods helps with work/life balance, such as “meditation, yoga, sleep, renewing ourselves and giving back”.

If you have a workaholic culture and wish to change it, the following ideas help:

  • Assess your work habits and if you are a workaholic, determine whether or not you wish to continue being a workaholic. If you don’t change, the culture won’t change.
  • Once you have decided to change, begin to work differently. Here are some ideas:
    1. No work e-mail sending or responding from Friday at close of business until Monday morning.
    2. Endorse and model a 40 hour work week.
    3. Set realistic expectations for projects including appropriate timelines.
    4. Take into consideration what is on an employee’s plate before loading on more responsibilities.
    5. For some businesses it may work to have a 4 day work week and if so, consider it.
    6. Offer telecommuting as an option for employees – it can be a day a week or more depending on how realistic it is to complete work remotely and whether or not performance can be measured from a distance.
  • Consider incorporating rewards for healthy behaviors – paying or contributing towards exercise classes; providing healthy snacks on site and/or in vending machines; providing an area outside where employees can go to take a break or rest that is appealing for a walk or just a change in environment, etc.
  • Model work/life balance consistently and talk about it with employees in terms of the benefits.
  • Reap the rewards of truly being able to smell the roses!

What culture do you have in your organization? Is it healthy limiting burn-out for you and your employees or fostering it? If you are unsure of your culture and would like it evaluated, we can help!

2 comments

  1. Your article reminds me of a workshop I attended many years ago with Judge Ziglar, Zig’s brother. He said, “if you work 70 hours a week, you’re an F-O-O-L”. He was so right on.

    Comment by Jackie Nagel on May 29, 2014 at 6:01 am

  2. Thank you Jackie for your comment. Having been a former workaholic, I agree!

    Comment by Terri Wallin on May 29, 2014 at 10:24 am

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