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Work in a healthy way. Choose wisely!

As a child, Marcin saw his dad only at weekends, in fact only on Sundays. He felt sad that the life of one of the most important persons to him revolved around work. Using an analogy to shops open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Japanese call this phenomenon ‘seven-eleven husbands’.

The term describes men who get up at dawn and come back at dusk, who treat the family home as a place to sleep and recuperate after hard work and who are emotionally cut off from family life. Marcin himself was now in the situation when he was combining his final year of studies with work. He found a job in a big consulting company and his team included people working 10-12 hours a day. They seemed to be chained to their desks. Marcin is wondering whether this should also be his standard. He thinks he would not be able to find time for anything else, and yet he enjoys so much going out with friends, volleyball training and his life so far in which there is room for spontaneity and fun. He feels strong resistance against this. He does not want to follow in the footsteps of his workaholic father.

Do long working hours mean that you are a workaholic?

Not every person who works a lot is a workaholic. Sometimes the boundary can be blurred, especially when you start your first job excited about the possibility of development and the ability to gain experience and learn from others. Also, you may entirely focus on work when it is interesting and you perform it with passion. To diagnose workaholism or work addiction additional signals are needed, such as treating work as a remedy for a bad mood and unpleasant situations in life or the inability to stop working despite evident negative consequences for your health or personal relationships.

Does it mean that working several hours per day is not harmful for us?

Temporary blurring of the boundaries between work and private life may not cause significant damage, but ultimately you need to impose limits on how many hours a day you work. The insidious effects of such long-term and uncontrolled workload may come later. They can include health problems, difficulties in maintaining close relationships, high stress levels, professional burnout or even depression. It pays off to have a good work-life balance.

What is work-life balance? Is it enough to work 8 hours per day?

Work-life balance does not mean that you devote 8 hours per day from Monday to Friday to work. First, you need to examine your own needs and priorities. You should ask yourself what is important to you in life? Do you live for work only? What are your interests outside work? Do you find time and space for these activities? Marcin, who observed his team at work, doubted whether he would have a life after work if he were to become like them. He knows that he would not find time for his friends, trips or training. He would not want to follow in his father’s footsteps.

Is it easy to fall into such a family model?

This path is not a convoluted one. We adopt the behaviour of our parents and the people we value quite easily as they are our role models. We grow up believing that this is how you work and it is normal. Children of workaholics often become workaholics. However, Marcin resists this pattern. He can access his sadness about his father’s absence. His life is different. He likes and appreciates his balanced lifestyle. You have to choose wisely in life.

What does it mean to choose wisely?

Philip G. Zimbardo and John Boyd in their book ‘The Time Paradox’ have the following recommendations: ‘Work hard when it’s time to work. Play hard when it’s time to play. Enjoy listening to Grandma’s old stories while she is still alive. Make deep contact with your friends. Look at your children with eyes full of wonder as they look at the world. Laugh at the jokes and absurdities of life. Devote yourself to your passions and desires. Save up for a rainy day and collect enough of it so you can spend it on a sunny day.’ It is a wise quote, but perhaps not everyone would want to live that way. It is worth adding ‘as long as you want to!’. You need to notice what is important for you and be aware of your values. Your choices and actions will have a solid foundation. You will feel internal consistency and see meaning in what you do, for example, in taking a day off to go to cinema and for ice cream with your younger sister on her birthday.

Reference literature

Malinowska, D. (2014). Pracoholizm. Zjawisko wielowymiarowe. WUJ.

Zimbardo, P. G., Boyd, J. (2008). The Time Paradox. Atria Books.

About the author

Diana Kusik, PhD – assistant professor at the Emotion and Motivation Psychology Lab of the Jagiellonian University Institute of Psychology, ACC ICF coach and organizational development coach and consultant. In her research, she focuses on excessive work. She is the author of a monograph on workaholism, ‘Pracoholizm zjawisko wielowymiarowe’ (WUJ, 2014), and a guidebook for therapists working with people excessively engaged in work  entitled ‘Kiedy praca szkodzi’ (ETOH, 2017).