What’s Wrong with Being a Workaholic?

So I was talking with someone last night who identifies as a workaholic. He didn’t see any problem with it, so I was trying to share my own experiences and show him that being a workaholic isn’t exactly a good thing. He asked me to put together my arguments against it and send them to him – so I decided to collect my thoughts into a blog post and send him the link. 🙂

As I’ve already hinted, being a workaholic is something that I’m already familiar with.

It was exactly 1 year ago today that I applied to the job I am currently working at. I absolutely love my job! As I’ve shared before, I believe that God worked things out for me to work there, and I have been extremely blessed to have a position that I truly enjoy. It is a very rare occasion that I come home thinking, “I’ve had a bad day.” I enjoy who I work with, and I enjoy what I’m doing – to the point that most of the time, it doesn’t even seem like work.

While having a job that I enjoy is an enormous blessing, at times I have had to stop and ask myself, “Do I enjoy it too much?”

The first couple times that I took off work, I felt like I was going through withdrawal! I hardly knew what to do with myself, and I looked forward to going back. That’s when I realized I was becoming a workaholic.

So what’s wrong with being a workaholic?

Here’s a list of points that I came up with:

1. God Rested

God could have created the earth with a simple word. But instead, He took six whole days to do it. “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done” (Genesis 2:2).

God doesn’t have to rest. But He chose to take off a day. Why?

To set an example for us:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11).

While God created us to work, and it is good to work hard and even to find enjoyment in work, there is also a time to take a break and relax.

In Mark 6:31, after the disciples had returned from their mission trips, Jesus wanted them to have some time for relaxation before starting up their busy schedule again. “And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.

Psalm 127:2 reminds us of the importance of rest through sleep:

“It is vain for you to rise up early,
To sit up late,
To eat the bread of sorrows;
For so He gives His beloved sleep.”

Solomon noted that when work is the all-consuming priority, you have to wonder, “What’s the point?”

“For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity” (Ecc. 2:22-23).

2. Right Priorities

For me, I realized I was becoming a workaholic when I was desiring work even more than spending time with family. And that’s not the order of priorities we’re supposed to have.

The order of priorities is supposed to be God, others, then myself.

When you’re a workaholic, work is about yourself (more on that later). So work is supposed to come last.

If you say that work isn’t about yourself, but about meeting your needs or the needs of your family, remember what Jesus said:

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:33).

Jesus isn’t saying that it’s wrong to think about those things, or that it’s wrong to work to supply those needs. But He is saying that it’s not necessary to worry about them or stress about them. Our first priority should be the LORD, and if it is, then we know that God will supply whatever we need to accomplish His will.

For others, work is all about earning money, to spend or to save. Jesus warns about us about the dangers of this kind of greed, whether it’s conscious or unconscious:

 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).

Do not overwork to be rich;
Because of your own understanding, cease! (Proverbs 23:4)”

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Heb. 13:5)”

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24).

So what is your priority? The things of God or the things of the earth?

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

The call throughout the Scripture is to live our life in light of eternity. You could be the most hardworking employee in your company, but what does that get you? Recognition from your employer, perhaps. Esteem in the eyes of your co-workers, perhaps. Compensation for your overtime, perhaps. But all those things will not last.

Our priority should be on the LORD and what He wants of us. So when we are getting to the point of being workaholics, we have to ask ourselves, “Are we doing what God wants?”

3. Addiction = Idolatry

When I was in college, I was addicted to school. Every moment I had, I wanted to read my textbooks and work on assignments. It wasn’t even that I had to. Many times I worked ahead, but I wasn’t content to stop then. I had to keep working, to stay as far ahead of schedule as possible. In many ways it was a good strategy, because when I hit a difficult project, I had more time to figure it out than most of my classmates.

The problem was, it was becoming an all-consuming addiction. Every spare moment that I had, if I didn’t know what to do, I was doing school.

And when I got my job, the same tendency carried over. It didn’t help that it was a job I could do on my own time from home. In my spare time, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to work.

That’s addiction.

When you wake up, what’s your first thought? When you go to bed, what’s on your mind? When you have a spare moment, what is your desire to do?

If there’s a theme that runs through your answers to those questions, that is probably what you are addicted to.

And if you are addicted to something other than God Himself, that thing is an idol in your life.

When I was in college, I came to realize that schoolwork was an idol in my life. And when I realized that, I was challenged to purposefully set aside Sunday to not do any schoolwork. It was difficult, especially at first. Everything in me was screaming to work on my projects. What if I fell behind? Just experiencing how difficult it was to even take a day off, made me realize all the more that it was an idol in my life.

The lessons that I learned during that time helped me greatly when I started my job. They kept me a little more focused on the right priorities, so that I wasn’t struggling with wanting to work overtime as much. I know that I have the tendency to want to be a workaholic, and so I am careful to keep myself from giving in to the temptation of overworking too often.

Even still, those first few times that I took off from work – like I said before – I felt like I was going through withdrawal! Being a workaholic is no different than any other addiction: whether you’re a workaholic, an alcoholic, or a chocoholic, you are craving something and placing a higher priority on something than you should. And that equals idolatry.

It’s a slippery slope. It’s hard to avoid, especially when you enjoy what you’re doing. But God must come first.

You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5).

“For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ (Luke 4:8).”

4. It Takes Too Much Time

There is a time for everything. There is a time for work, and there is a time for rest. You may have heard the famous saying, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It’s true! I hardly know what to do with myself in my free time, because I’ve been so used to school and work over the past few years. And I’ll be honest – I’m not exactly known for being the most fun person to hang out with. I think at times my siblings have been tempted to think that I have become a “dull [girl].”

When you are a workaholic, your mind is always on your work. It doesn’t have time to be on anything else! And if it does happen to think on something else, it doesn’t have the freedom to think on it for very long before it gets redirected to the next work-related task.

We need variety in our time!

Think of what Solomon wrote in the most famous passage of Ecclesiastes:

“To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born,
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace” (Ecc. 3:1-8).

And I think I would add to that: “A time to work, and a time to play; a time to be busy, and a time to rest.”

A Time to Play

We shouldn’t just work for the sake of working. We need time to enjoy what we’ve worked so hard for!

“I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God” (Ecc. 3:12-13).

A Time to Rest

Constant busyness is wearing on you. Physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. We need rest. Even God rested from His creative work. Even Jesus went off by Himself to recharge and pray.

Solomon knew that our work was hard, and towards the end of Ecclesiastes he wrote: “And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh” (Ecc. 12:12).

But Jesus has the answer to this weariness. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest “(Matt. 11:28).

A Time to Meditate

We are told in countless Scriptures to set our hearts and minds on the LORD, to think on Him, and to meditate on His Word.

But I have to admit: when I’m at work, it’s hard to do that.

I’m reminded of what the apostle Paul wrote about being single versus being married:

“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wifeThere is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husbandAnd this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

This passage isn’t meant to say that marriage is wrong. But it is pointing out that when you get married, another factor is thrown into your life that competes against God. Now you have to care not only about how you can please the LORD, but how you can please your spouse.

I think the same principle can be applied to work. When you get a job, especially a full-time job, another factor is thrown into your life that competes against God. Now you have to care not only about how you can please the LORD, but how you can please your boss.

And yet we must be careful never to mix up our priorities. God first, others second, yourself last.

Remember the parable of the sower. What was one of the things that caused the seed to be unfruitful? “Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18-19).

The more you are at work, the more you are focused on the things of work. So if you are constantly making a choice to overwork, you are often making a choice to put your mind on the things of the earth, rather than on the things of the Lord. I’m not saying that’s always the case – I’m just saying that’s the tendency. It’s much easier to focus on the Lord and on others when we set aside specific time to do so. But if most of our time is being spent at work, even when we don’t need to be working, what does that say about our priorities of spending time with the Lord and our families?

Can we meditate on God’s Word day and night when our minds are on work day and night? Can we be the body of Christ when we never have time to be with the rest of the body?

5. It’s Selfish

If you are a workaholic, you need to sit down sometime and ask yourself a serious question, “Why?”

As one duo of authors put it:

“… the selfishness of the perfectionist (workaholic) is much more subtle. While he is out in society saving humanity at a work pace of eighty to a hundred hours a week, he is selfishly ignoring his wife and children. He is burying his emotions and working like a computerized robot. He helps mankind partially out of love and compassion, but mostly as an unconscious compensation for his insecurity, and as a means of fulfilling both his strong need for society’s approval and his driving urge to be perfect. He is self-critical and deep within himself feels inferior. He feels like a nobody, and spends the bulk of his life working at a frantic pace to prove to himself that he is really not (as he suspects deep within) a nobody. In his own eyes, and in the eyes of society, he is the epitome of human dedication. … He becomes angry when his wife and children place demands on him. He can’t understand how they could have the nerve to call such an unselfish, dedicated servant a selfish husband and father. … In reality, his wife and children are correct, and they are suffering severely because of his subtle selfishness. (Frank B. Minirth and Paul D. Meier, Happiness Is a Choice (Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, 1978), p. 56.).

Why are you a workaholic?

Approval from Others

Is it to earn the favor of your boss? Is it to make yourself feel better because you do more than your co-workers? If so, that’s your selfishness at work, trying to puff yourself up.

“…love does not parade itself, is not puffed up  . . . does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:4-5).

“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23).

Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6).

Yes, those verses are encouraging you to work diligently and do your best. But they are also emphasizing that your ultimate Boss is the LORD. You are to serve Him first, and then your service to others will follow. Your goal should be to please God, not to puff up yourself in the eyes of others.

If your motive is to please men or to puff up yourself, then you are not living in love – you are living in selfishness.

If that’s not your motive, then why are you a workaholic?

Meeting a Need

I’ve already talked about the fact that we don’t need to overwork to amass great wealth or get enough money for our necessities. Some people may have to overwork for their basic needs – and that’s not called being a workaholic – but at least here in America, we generally don’t have to slave for our livelihood. And whatever the case, our trust should ultimately be in the LORD and His provision. Remember, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”?

I think that a lot of workaholics use needs as an excuse for a more deeply-rooted issue.

I was a workaholic in regard to school because I wanted to keep ahead. I wanted to have excellent grades, and I didn’t want to risk falling behind and losing those grades, so I worked harder than was expected. It seemed like a good reason, but was it?

In that case, I was motivated by pride. I wanted to stay ahead and be on top. To earn a B grade in a class was unacceptable.

I’m not trying to say that it’s wrong to want to achieve. It’s not wrong to be diligent and do your best. God encourages us to be diligent and faithful. But when your desires are so great that they won’t allow you to do anything else, you have a problem. I couldn’t even relax and enjoy time with my family because my mind was always on what project I needed to start next – or thought I needed to start next. During my last semester of school I was keeping myself 2 weeks ahead of schedule for much of the subterm. Admirable? Yes. But necessary? Not exactly. Wouldn’t it have been better to spend my free time in more fulfilling ways – spending time with the LORD, family and friends?

In Proverbs 30, Agur prayed that God would only give him what he needed – no more, no less:

“Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God” (Prov. 30:7-9).

I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, but what did it get me? Nothing besides bragging rights. My boss could care less what GPA I have; all that matters is how well I do my job.

And that’s the question that continues to come up as I think about this topic. What’s the point? Where does it get you to be a workaholic? What does it accomplish? When you really think about it, does it do you more good or more harm?

Remember what the wisest man in the world said in Ecclesiastes: “For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work burdensome; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity” (Ecc. 2:22-23).” Even Solomon realized that overworking was vanity – or “meaningless,” as some translations put it.

You might say that you’re doing it because you have to. Maybe sometimes that’s true. But I think a lot of times it isn’t. I acted like I had to do school all the time, and while it was helpful at times, it didn’t need to be done to the extent that I did it. When I drill down into the roots of what was going on, it wasn’t 100% about the need. I think a lot of it was about my pride.

In fact, I would dare to say that’s what the issue is for most workaholics.

Pride and selfishness. Those two things are at the root of the issue.

If you’re overworking to make yourself feel better about who you are, that’s pride.

If you’re overworking to lift yourself up in the eyes of others, that’s pride.

If you’re overworking to gain more wealth for yourself, that’s selfishness.

If you’re overworking because you don’t know what to do with yourself otherwise, that’s selfishness. Think about it. A selfless, loving person would know quite well what to do with himself.

If you’re overworking because it makes you feel like you have a purpose, that’s pride. And it’s idolatry, because you are finding your purpose in your work rather than in your Creator.

 

It’s not wrong to work hard. But I believe it is wrong to work too hard. As with just about everything, there has to be a balance. On one side of the spectrum you have laziness – that’s selfish and wrong. On the other side of the spectrum you have workaholicism – that’s selfish and wrong. In the middle is the balanced option: pure and faithful diligence.

 

Anyway, I think I’ve written enough for tonight, so I’ll stop talking now. 🙂

Here’s a music video and some related articles you can read if you have time on your hands and don’t know what to do with yourself. 😉 And I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section!

 

Take a Break – by me

Chlorophyll – by me

Psalm 127: A Word for Workaholics – by Bob Deffinbaugh

A Warning to Workaholics – by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Striving for Balance – Bibletools.org

Ecclesiastes 2 – New English Translation (notice the titles assigned to each section)

The Truth about Workaholics (secular perspective) – by Morley D. Glicken

The Personality of the Workaholic and the Issue of “Self”: The terrible trio of perfectionism, narcissism and workaholism (secular perspective) – by Timothy A Pychyl, Ph.D.

Are You a Workaholic (secular perspective) – by Brad Klontz Psy.D., CFP