On workaholism and workaholics

By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist

 The number of “workaholics” in the USA is on the rise, according to a USA Today article that provides most of the info for this column.
“New technology, globalization, and today’s intensified business pressures” all exacerbate the problem, as does the fact that workaholics tend to be praised as “highly motivated hard workers” rather than scorned like alcohol/drug or porn addicts, though the damage to health and personal relationships is similar, the article said.
True workaholics have a hard time enjoying social activities unrelated to work. It is difficult for them not to think about work. They are almost always the last to leave the office. And technology enables them never to truly leave the workplace even when they do leave the office, the article said.
The article classifies high earners as individuals aged 25-34 who earn more than $75,000 annually, and those 35 or older who earn more than $100,000 annually.
I was surprised the percentages were even this “low,” but “about 60 percent of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours per week; 35 percent more than 60 hours; and 10 percent more than 80 hours.” Two-thirds surveyed said they’d be healthier and have better relationships if they worked less.
True workaholics have few, if any, really deep friendships (they don’t have and won’t make the time). They’re nervous when they’re not working, a mark of classic “addiction.” Truth be told, it’s easier for them to be at work than to be at home. They derive their self-esteem from their work. They fear “slowing down,” the article said.
One jerk (I mean workaholic) bought a satellite phone to take on his honeymoon in Tahiti. He felt so anxious away from the office that he cut the trip from 10 to 5 days. He says he is driven to “improve.” But I wonder, “Improve what?”
Genuine workaholics work, and work, and work, lest they ever have quiet time to ask, “Why?” They live to work; they do not work to live.
I’m shooting at myself when I say, I doubt a Christian should be any prouder of being addicted to work than he/she would be of being addicted to alcohol.
Attempts at a “cure” vary. One Internet comment to this article quotes a highly successful CEO of 30 years, married to his first wife, and with great relationships with kids and grandkids. His secret? “I never let myself have the luxury of working more than 55 hours a week. I knew that work would take all the time I offered, but the price was too great. So I figured out how to do my work in 55 hours a week and then passionately pursued my other interests and relationships.”
Sounds like he’s pointing to a rare thing called “balance.” Or maybe to something Jesus said, or, at least, would agree with: “A person’s life does not consist in the abundance of his hours at work.”

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at