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  • Diana Schneidman

2 types of crazy that people are unfortunately proud to be

There are two types of psychiatric dysfunctions that people are surprisingly proud of suffering from. If they knew what workaholism and obsessive-compulsive disorder are really all about, they would quit bragging.

The first is workaholism, which is not a good thing. Paul Thorne and Michael Johnson in the book Workaholism define a workaholic as “a person whose need to work has become so excessive that it disturbs physical health, personal happiness, interpersonal relations or the ability to function socially.”

Doesn’t sound good to me. The definition says nothing about how much the sufferer achieves or how much money they earn or how often they get promoted or how many new clients they attract. Workaholism is always a state of misery, of failed personal relationships and family life, by definition.

Many people want to believe that this unfortunate state equates to having a strong work ethic or enjoying one’s work and therefore feeling fulfilled, resulting in high productivity. Which is why there are discussions in many online groups in which people brag about being workaholics and try to one-up others on how many hours they put in. One individual gets up at 6 am and works till 7 pm, the next toils from 5 am to 10 pm. Well hurray for you.

In my corporate experience, workaholics are pleased to be recognized as such because they think it makes them irreplaceable. However, I see it as a pacing problem in which individuals stretch out their presence at work to make it fill their days. People proudly claiming the title don’t take their work home at 5:00 to complete in private; instead they’d visit each other in their offices starting at about 5:15 to put in face time and compare notes on how stressed and overworked each one is.

During the workday they stage boring, interminable meetings where each member of the staff drones in turn about every little activity on his to-do list, when each detail could have been handled more efficiently with a succession of brief one-on-ones with only the boss.

As a corporate writer in the communications area, I was once reprimanded in a performance appraisal for not taking pride in my work as proven by completing writing assignments too quickly. Not that my boss could find anything wrong with my product, just that it didn’t take me long enough. Then in overly long staff meetings, I would kindly offer to help others who claimed to be so stressed. This did not go over well either.

I know a younger person employed part-time in a corporate accounting department. He was an Excel pro and could program spreadsheets with advanced features that would do everything for him but tear off toilet paper in three-squares-each. He’d be given an assignment meant to last a week and finish it first thing Tuesday. They were amazed, but fortunately he left at the end of the school year to complete college out of town.

It’s really bad when workaholic supervisors believe it is OK to place excessive work demands on others because they are putting in so much time themselves. They believe it is fine to rework projects right at deadline with the assistance of salaried underlings also ineligible for overtime, oblivious to the fact that bosses are paid much more than their underlings. Actually, the bosses sometimes weaken on their demands if an employee attempts to match them hour to hour; they claim to be magnanimous in their treatment of workers but it makes them kind of nervous not to be the martyr-star.

The second disorder about which people are bragging is obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is characterized by “obsessions, which are repeated, persistent and unwanted ideas, thoughts, images or impulses,” and by “compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to perform.” In practice, these compulsions are often marked by counting and checking, such as checking the doors again and again to be sure they are locked.

I recently heard an author claim OCD tendencies for the tedious, time-consuming way he had large numbers of followers proof his project for free. He then reviewed their revisions one by one. However, I believe it is quite possible to be an effective proofreader without being OCD. You simply need a system that is thorough yet efficient and that has a clear endpoint.

As the disorders of workaholism and OCD gain in perceived prestige, we experience another benefit of self-employment. Since clients can’t see us in action, we can complete our work as efficiently and effectively as possible without driving ourselves crazy to match the craziness of others.

Originally posted 6-10-13

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