Dealing With Workaholism On Web Teams

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Workaholism is often confused with hard work. Some people who work on the Web seem not only to disregard its dangers, but to actively promote it. They see it as a badge of honor—but is it really? On the contrary, it’s a serious issue that can damage Web teams.

Before we get started, let’s make one thing clear1: A “workaholic” is someone who is addicted2 to work, someone who is out of balance and out of control. Their addiction can make them work for 12, 14 or even more hours a day, every day. No weekends, no vacations, just work. Soon, they neglect their family, friends, health, sometimes damaging them all irrevocably.

In contrast, people who simply “work hard” do not expose themselves to such dangers. Putting in a few extra hours to meet a critical deadline doesn’t usually result in workaholism, provided that those sprints are rare and justified.

On Good Web Teams

Running a modern Web business can be demanding. As a result, some business owners stretch their employees as far as they can. What they fail to realize is that working 40 hours per week is enough. Any more and both the employees and the business could be harmed3, startups included.

Productivity depends not only on working hours, but on intensity of work4. Here’s a magic equation:

work accomplished = time spent × intensity of focus

Pushing people to work more hours is a superficial solution, not a viable one.

Good teams, winning teams, are fragile ecosystems. Members communicate with each other through different media (face to face, instant messages, email, project management software), and the communication is often asynchronous (thus, accommodating both early birds and night owls, as well as people in other time zones). Once a team finds its pace, that rhythm must be protected.

Members of this fragile ecosystem are connected by invisible bonds of respect and care. Teams are made up of humans. You can see this in action on a sports team: When an opponent attacks a member of the team, the rest rush to protect their teammate. That’s team spirit.

Workaholics have a much more extreme approach to work. They work far more than 40 hours per week, they disrupt the rhythm of the team, and they disregard the invisible bonds of care and respect. Just one of them is enough to damage the health of a good team.

How Does Someone Become A Workaholic?

Think of the movies that feature a lonely computer programmer, coding non-stop day and night. The character is familiar. But can computers themselves stimulate workaholism? They are, after all, absorbing and entertaining at once. Losing control seems to be a greater danger for us than for other professionals. However, a job can’t turn someone into a workaholic5. Workaholics tend to be rigid, perfectionist and born achievers.

workaholic6
“He would waste no hour.” (Image: Iana Peralta7)

Workaholics have a characteristic that distinguishes them from people who just love their work: personal8 insecurity9. Personal insecurity is associated with neuroticism, another inherent characteristic of workaholics, according to the study “Personality Correlates of Workaholism10” (PDF). Peter E. Mudrack, in his chapter “Understanding Workaholism: The Case for Behavioral Tendencies11” for the book Research Companion to Working Time and Work Addiction, connects workaholism to feelings of low self-worth and insecurity.

Insecurity comes in many guises: low self-esteem, antagonism, authoritarianism, severe fear of failure, perfectionism. The actions of workaholics express an urgent need to prove to themselves and to others that they’re better than everyone else in the room. Deep down, they hurt. Some feel like a failure in their personal life and use their job to escape from a bad relationship or to make up for an absence in their personal life12.

Sometimes people become workaholics for less complicated reasons. A big loan or a personal debt are tangible problems. If someone is in desperate need of money, they’ll work as much as they can to get it. Supporting a large family is also a huge burden. Such situations are oppressive and make some people abandon their principles and become workaholics.

In some ways, workaholism is a symptom of modern society. We live in a culture where productivity is paramount and the boundaries between leisure and work are no longer clear13. We’re raising a generation of people who not only love their work but put it at the center of their lives. The entrepreneurial lifestyle is held up as the model of how to work on the Web. Slowly, gradually, we are changing our fundamental values and criteria for success.

Are You a Workaholic?

Most workaholics wouldn’t admit that they’re one to themselves, let alone to anyone else. If you’re worried that you might be one, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • “Do I work far more than 40 hours per week?”
  • “Do I feel a continual urge to prove that I’m the best among my colleagues?”
  • “Do I recognize signs of intense insecurity in myself about work?”
  • “Are my personal and work lives balanced?”

There’s even an online quiz14 that could help you. It’s simple and short.

You could bury your head in the sand and pretend that everything is OK. But if you suspect that you’re a workaholic, then doing something about it is critical. And if you still think workaholism is cool, please keep on reading.

The Attractiveness Of Workaholics

Yes, some employers love workaholics. But why are workaholics so appealing?

  • They work longer hours than the rest of the team.
  • They don’t mind taking work home.
  • Outworking everyone else makes them seem like they care. Always taking on responsibility and being at work all of the time make them look valuable. And carrying on under any circumstance makes them a fighter.

They know what employers want, and they’re eager to give it.

Let’s take a look at two archetypal workaholics.

1. The Committed Lead Programmer

Upon conducting extensive research, an experienced lead programmer comes up with a number of different database implementations to apply to a Web project. He decides to test each one thoroughly to find the best one. This doesn’t impinge on anyone’s time except his own. He decides to take the job home and works day and night to accomplish the task. He knows it won’t be easy, but he’s committed. All he wants is to be appreciated for his dedication and work.

Pretty compelling, right? A meticulous Web worker who sacrifices his personal time to advance the project.

2. The Project Manager With Mettle

In a casual company meeting, a project manager promises stakeholders a sophisticated implementation of a service on an incredibly tight schedule. He’s not afraid to take responsibility for the project, and he promises to check every single aspect of it personally. If that requires him to push the team as far as he can, then so be it.

Stakeholders leave the meeting impressed by his loyalty and determination. At last, they have found someone they can count on.

The characters above are just a couple of the types of workaholics in our industry. There are many: the superstar designer who’s willing to present multiple design directions; the perfectionist developer who insists on flawless code, even sacrificing his summer vacations. The list goes on.

Such people look much more attractive than their coworkers who stick to eight-hour workdays. They have charisma, they work hard, and they should be praised, if not promoted.

office-night15
“Office hours” are sometimes relative. (Image: Florian Boyd16)

The Fake Glow Of Workaholism

The glow of this perfectionism is false. These practices are only temporarily fruitful, and they can eventually result in disaster. The reason is that workaholism is a shortsighted strategy, one that encourages people to express the worst parts of their personality.

Why is it shortsighted? Because the committed programmer cited above is unconsciously hurting his team’s spirit. As Scott Berkun notes17:

“Simply outworking other people can have a negative effect on others: that 5× improvement may create a -2× impact on everyone else: if the star demoralizes others and goes out of his way to embarrasses them with his talent, morale and productivity are sure to drop.”

Furthermore, even the most productive employees can’t keep working with such intensity for long. They will eventually wear out, as will their ability to think clearly. They will no longer be able to contribute to the team or make sound decisions. A successful team needs steady performance from its members more than heroic efforts. A member who temporarily outworks the rest of the team soon becomes an obstacle because they can’t work as part of the team, despite their best intentions.

And why does workaholism lead people to show the dark side of their personality? Let’s return to our second character type. The project manager who would do anything to keep his promise will end up creating too much tension by pushing the team members to their limit. Even if he pushes himself more, he will not inspire anyone; he will merely be a foolish dictator — not a member of the team, but an opponent.

When a team struggles to cope with an impossible project and infighting occurs, the incredible pressure will reduce the overall quality of the work. In such an environment, the manager could very easily get someone out of their way by derailing them, as Shanley explains18:

“Any disagreement or critique is transformed into a symptom of pathology on the part of the dissenter. Managers may imply that the individual is unstable, emotionally disturbed, or has a mental disorder. Commonly, this includes overtly stating or implying that the dissenter is “too emotional,” should “take some time off,” “has an anger problem,” is “hostile,” is “overly aggressive,” “takes things too seriously/personally” or “has a problem with authority.””

In the best case scenario, the workaholic will end up exhausted, needing weeks or even months to recover. In the worst case scenario, the team will derail and the members will be dispirited.

Workaholic Companies

Too many workaholic companies are out there, and it’s pretty easy for an employer to create one. All the employer has to do is push people to work beyond their limit and punish the ones who don’t. Big companies such as McKinsey have have sought out such people19, according to CNN.

Workaholic companies are machines that burn people out. They don’t care about creating teams. They exploit the enthusiasm of young people and dry them up. One indicator of a workaholic company is that its contractors rarely stay with it for more than a few years.

There are other ways to identify workaholic companies. A few people proudly call themselves workaholics, but most people don’t boast about it, and spotting one from the outside can be hard. However, they can be identified. Before entering a new work environment, search for the “local heroes” — the people who urge everyone else to work more, who can’t have a good laugh during working hours or who constantly talk about “the good of the company.” Can you find the individuals who, beyond a doubt, elicit unpleasant feelings from the rest of the team? They are the ones to watch out for.

Go on. Don’t be afraid to ask straight questions of potential employers during interviews. They may respond vaguely, but try to get crystal clear answers. Some employers expect you to be as dedicated as them, to put yourself in their shoes. Or they will tell you that the company is now your home and that you should do whatever it takes to make it thrive. If you hear these words, run away!

Remember that you work for money, but money alone is not enough. A job is also about being satisfied20, which comes from an effective management style, good use of the team’s various skills and a pleasant atmosphere. A workaholic company needs you more than you need it. You deserve better.

Working With Workaholics21
Workaholics tend to lose track of time — voluntarily or involuntarily. (Image credit: “Microaggression and Management22“.)

Working With Workaholics

An environment where workaholism is the norm soon gets frustrating. You will quickly find yourself with two choices: follow the others or stand your ground and work according to your own conscience.

The first option is an admission of defeat. You’re saying, “I won’t try to change the situation here because, if I do so, my job will be at risk.” While no one would blame you for taking this route, you will wither day by day, dying a slow death.

The second option brings its own problems. You must be prepared to fight for your right to work normally. Remain calm, patient and diligent, while questioning everything. You could raise the following questions:

  • How is performance measured?
  • Why are deadlines so harsh?
  • Who is ultimately responsible, and what happens when things go wrong?
  • What are the procedures for making complaints?
  • What is the past and future of the company?

If you do find yourself in a workaholic company, the first thing to do is keep sane and keep working. Try to find out why things have gone wrong. Ask questions in front of others so that they feel empowered to ask questions, too. Workaholism affects everyone, but not everyone feels free to speak up. If you never talk about it, no one will help you.

If the culture of the company as a whole promotes workaholism, then your employer might not be happy with you for pointing it out. Your employer might think that someone who works eight hours a day doesn’t work enough and will tempt others to work less. It’s not going to be easy, but it is worth the effort. If you can demonstrate that workaholism is destructive, then you’ll gradually change the culture of the company, a huge win.

Fighting Workaholism

Modern businesses need strong teams, not overworked individuals. They need healthy environments, with people who care as much for their teammates as they do for their products.

Fighting workaholism is not easy, but it can be done. How?

  • Be eager to reject workaholism. Every. Single. Day.
  • Learn to recognize workaholics.
  • Avoid workaholic companies. You won’t regret it.
  • If you are at a workaholic company now, end your workday at a reasonable time, or suffer the consequences.
  • Spread the word.

Employers are responsible for workaholism, but if Web workers reject workaholic companies, then those employers would have to change their ways.

Perhaps you’re saying, “What if I’m the employer?”

It’s simple, really. By now, you must have realized that promoting workaholism won’t take you far. So, stand up, leave your desk and see if any workaholics are destroying your fragile ecosystem. Help them to bring balance back to their life. And if that doesn’t work, then do as the smart folks say: fire the workaholic23!

(al, il)

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Yiannis is a UI/UX designer and author from Greece. He likes tweaking ideas and he fancies talking with smarter people than him. When he'll grow up he would like to be as good as his son. Also, he tweets regularly.

  1. 1

    Really good article, it’s everything I’ve been defending and more.

    There’s also a type of workaholic called Fake Workaholic, who “works” like 12 hours a day but takes 10 min breaks 10 times a day for a smoke and/or coffee and usually can’t be focused doing his job for more than an hour. I encountered several colleagues like this one but often the person that didn’t look as good in the picture was me for just leaving my work on time, even if I completed all of my tasks. “Why is this guy leaving at 6 o’clock when the majority of the team stays at least until 8 everyday?”

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    • 2

      This is so true. They muck around during the day and when everyone else has gone home they realise they should do some work. They get the label of “committed” but really they’re just incredibly inefficient.

      0
      • 3

        Yep nailed it, the inefficient overworker just reminds me of a hamster going on its wheel, usually comes hand in hand with over stress at work. They do the same job as you but work longer hours and for some reason their work is a lot more stressful than yours???? It’s almost like a badge of honour. ” I must be working harder than you because outwordly I show more pressure and I am at my desk for more hours and I never have a lunch break” Therefore I should get the next promotion, thus escalating the issue to another tier.

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    • 4

      I kind of understand but I think it also depends on that person’s working schedule. For example, I don’t have the same kind of excessive focus as other people for certain tasks and so I have to take breaks to get up and walk around, think through my problem, come back and work again. Compared to other people on my team, I still churn out just as much work if not more in the same span of the day because when I’m really focused I work quickly and efficiently. It just doesn’t last very long. ADHD isn’t an excuse though, for anyone, but just figuring out how to work with it to maximize your own productivity and then find a way to match your output to that of what’s reasonably expected from where you work. It also probably makes a difference where to work, what kind of deadlines you have, and what kind of work you’re doing.

      1
    • 5

      The fake workaholic drives me nuts, and so do the employers and managers that buy this behavior (or even promote it).

      If you want to avoid a workaholic company and the macho “stay here for 16 hours a day” false time economy they promote, avoid any place where dinners are catered and multiple services such as massage, housekeeping, dry cleaning, etc. are provided for free or majorly subsidized.

      I wound up at a place like this and I stuck it out for 5 years because it was going to be so good for my career afterward. It was the right choice, but I was so burned out I took 5 months off to rest before job hunting again, and I will never do that again. The author is right – these companies literally do not care that they are burning people out. There are so many people flocking to work for certain big and famous companies, that they can afford accept checkbox new grads from prestigious schools, who have no life, excess energy and don’t know any better, and pay them junior wages, and they are just fine with getting junior level code out of the deal. Doesn’t matter so long as it works, and when they burn out and leave, they just hire someone else.

      From that experience, I learned that nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to care for you; you have to care for yourself. If you want sane working hours, it is entirely up to you to arrange your life so that you have that. I will say that I am very, very thankful I chose and am able to have a career in a field where it’s even possible for me to insist on sane working hours. There are a WHOLE lot of people in the US alone, who do not have such choices, and have to take whatever work they can get to make ends meet. I think we should all keep that in mind.

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      • 6

        Loved and appreciated Yiannis’s article.

        I had a similar experience to Janette’s. I landed at a company that, at first, seemed great. I mean, we could all telecommute! What could be better? Well, I soon learned that there was an unwritten expectation that all telecommuters were expected to be available 24/7. Indeed, although I was working from home, I ended up working around the clock and I did develop a nasty case of workaholism. I hated it, but felt powerless to stop it.

        When I asked my manager for assistance after having yet another project dumped on me, all hell broke loose. This was one of those organizations that did not want employees to question anything or suggest improvements. Still, I began backing off from the 80-hour work week, which had me branded again as a “non-team player” and I began being shunned, which was also uncomfortable.

        In the meantime, my marriage and other valued friendships became very strained. My wife was extremely worried about my health. I was too.

        When the pain became unbearable, I left in late December 2012 (best Xmas present I ever gave myself). After a couple of weeks of not working, I began to feel as if I’d awakened from some weird hallucination (my recent work experience felt like a “Twilight Zone” episode). It also took me about 5 months to recover. I just do short-term IT consulting at the moment and am so much happier and healthier.

        I am only now gingerly exploring FTE again, but this time, I’m vetting potential employers as much as they’re vetting me and weeding out the ones who expect round-the-clock devotion. (Glad Janette mentioned the “catered dinners, massages, etc.” as warnings too!)

        Thanks again for the great article and great comments.

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    • 7

      Time limitation is not necessary if anyone is performing well and give project completion on time. Workaholic means to give full dedication to your work and not consider to time.There are so much companies which are maintaining this working enviroment like codefire technologies. http://www.codefire.org

      1
    • 8

      Being smoker myself I have to admit that in most of the cases smoking is just an opportunity to get away from the computer and to solve the problems creatively in a relaxed atmosphere. But the fact that I am not in front of the computer does not mean that I am not focused on doing my job, it is just the opposite – while smoking I am thinking and considering how something could be done in the most appropriate way. I must confess that these smoking sessions are what helps me to solve the most of the problems.

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      • 9

        Thanks for this comment. I’m a smoker myself and I do take smoke breaks too so I just want to defend those of us who smoke and work. I don’t mind if someone stays late or goes home early, that part doesn’t matter to me; it’s the accomplished work that counts. I feel like I have to defend some of us smokers and break-takers here because there are a couple of comments above that seem to lump us in with slackers. I don’t deny that there are those who just get away from their computers to get away, however, to automatically vilify a smoker and feel resentment towards them is unwarranted. If a persons work is good, delivered on time, and their demeanor is personable, why knock them if stay a little later or take more breaks? The same question applies to those that do the same and leaves a little early. I wouldn’t resent someone who was a little faster than me and produced the same amount of work for getting out to enjoy their personal life.

        That choice to feel resentment is exactly that, a choice. If you have an issue that can’t be resolved by reworking your perspective, why not have a chat with the offending smoker/break-taker? I hope it doesn’t have to come to that point, but if it does, some face to face to discuss your feelings and thoughts might help.

        anyway,
        cheers all

        Just standing up for my fellow smokers.
        There are fewer and fewer of us as the years go on
        and, honestly, i see that as good thing.
        smoking is a nasty habit,
        however,
        i have met some of the coolest people
        or people i would not otherwise have had a chance to
        because of smoking.

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    • 10

      Richard Korebrits

      February 4, 2014 11:25 am

      I don’t think Fabio read the article very well and is probably a workaholic himself.

      “work accomplished = time spent × intensity of focus”

      Fabio says:
      “Why is this guy leaving at 6 o’clock when the majority of the team stays at least until 8 everyday?”

      So, why does the majority of the team stay at least until 8 everyday? Assuming that it’s 8pm, do you start at 10am?

      You are probably busting your ass off to try and stand out and then you’re jealous of someone taking necessary breaks. A short break an hour helps me focus better after the break, chat with my team members (team spirit) and often even come up with ideas/solutions because I’m not staring at my screen.

      p.s.
      Great article!

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  2. 11

    Worth to read it! One of the finest article that I ever read .. Thank you :)

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    • 12

      I second that! I am not a huge “reader” but this article taught me a few things about myself that must be mended immediately! Thanks…

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  3. 13

    Πες τα χρυσόστομε!

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  4. 14

    I totally agree, I also recommend the book from 37signals, REWORK, they talk about this.. I have been in advertising agencies and they all do that, they think they are productive but the truth is that they are not at all.

    I Just think of the people that fought very hard for the right to work 8 hours/5days a week, and these Workaholics are just doing the opposite, it’s very insulting.

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    • 15

      I discourage buying Rework. It talks about everything without actually saying anything. It’s like a horoscope. I regret buying it.

      1
      • 16

        Hehe while I generally love most of what 37s had to say over the years (Getting Real was my bible for a long time) that is a very apt description of Re:Work

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      • 17

        I both agree and disagree. I think they make some very salient points about motivation and over work but at the same time don’t really explain how or why something worked for them. They also make it seem waaaaay more applicable to every company structure than it really is.

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  5. 18

    Kudos to the author…..I hope the employers who promote workaholism feel something needs to be done.

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  6. 19

    I used to be impressed with people working 12 / 14 hour days. Now I’m impressed if they get their work done during office hours.

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  7. 21

    Great article.

    I’ve witnessed workaholics at a number of companies, along with the associated impact on fellow employees and the inevitable health issues and burnout.

    Unless a project hits major unplanned snags, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to get your work done within a daily time slot – unless that project has been mismanaged from the outset in terms of time estimates & budget.

    The most obvious case for mismanagement of any project, is price competition and the desperation that many companies resort to when times are tough.

    Quote low to get the project, then expect employees to put in extra hours without additional pay. I’ve seen that time and time again – some of the team end up becoming workaholics, due to pressure, fear of losing their job, fear of not completing a project within a timeframe that was never viable in the first place.

    Others in the team? They leave.

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    • 22

      I’ve experienced this at several jobs. Two were companies that pushed their employees into workaholic behavior as if it were the norm. Both places suffered from major employee turnover, and eventually collapsed. In each case there was the tendency to underbid on jobs, then push the staff to make up the difference by working tons of unpaid hours. It was incredibly frustrating, and we lost a lot of talent.

      0
  8. 23

    A good read. However I would absolutely consider myself a workaholic. I love my work.

    I agree that you need to be cautious of burn out and over working your role. But work can exist outside of the role too. That being said, I normally leave the office and continue on work at home but i don’t believe that this type of work will continue on forever. I think what is important is to notice what type of role or aspirations the particular individual has.

    I think workaholics are at risk, and there is only so much one can take before it all crumbles. Also having a love life and a social life are important parts of your work and life overall. I feel as this article has a shroud of envy over it towards workaholics but for myself I enjoy constantly thinking about my projects and somehow feel the need to defend my passion at this stage in my career from reading this.

    I promise you that from working 4 more hours in my day i have developed at a pace that i need in order to be satisfied with my skill and portfolio progression. and i love it.

    1
    • 24

      I like your philosophy Mark !

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    • 25

      I feel exactly the same and have pushed myself extra hard while I’m young, this has put me FAR ahead of everyone else in my field. I have large goals for myself and love my work. I don’t see myself ever burning out when its not work for me and I work in plenty of activities/social stuff.

      1
  9. 26

    This is exactly what I have been trying to explain to the company I’m currently working for. This post is like someone interviewed me! :)

    Leaving around 6-7 pm is met with a sarcastic comment “Leaving so early? Is everything okay” :P And I’m currently enjoying my slow death!

    It is a huge challenge when an inflated ego comes into play as well. Especially at the top management level. They really don’t wanna hear that the company is going to fail if this type of behaviour persists. A reality-check is extremely important and the hardest thing to do for such management.

    PS: Pressing the TAB key after finishing comment puts the focus at the site logo on top right corner. I’m amazed that a site speaking so loudly about user experience has such a bad user experience for the comment form. Pressing TAB after finishing composing the comment should put the focus to the “Submit Comment” button instead of scrolling way way to the top of the page. The user has to scroll back down just to hit the Submit button. (Chrome Version 32.0.1700.77, Mac OS X Mavericks)

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    • 27

      @Nadir: I feel bad for you. I personally do not think it is possible to change a company culture once it’s established. I hope that it’s possible for you to find a new position. I suggest passive resistance ;)

      0
  10. 28

    “Why is it shortsighted? Because the committed programmer cited above is unconsciously hurting his team’s spirit.”

    So because he puts in the effort, the rest of the team get upset? That’s not his fault… That’s not HIS insecurity… That’s theirs!

    Why SHOULD the rest of the team be marked “just as good” when they have no intention of putting in the same effort? No one climbs to the top by being an average Joe…

    If the rest of the team are too wimpy to step up to the plate, then to hell with them! Lazy sods.

    1
    • 29

      I would second this opinion.

      Just because someone is working harder or outshining the rest of the team, doesn’t necessarily mean they are putting in more hours, or giving up their spare time and deserve to be painted with the same brush as some of the other examples above.

      Maybe they just want to progress their career, have experience in a particular area or even just have natural talent?

      Nothing wrong with ambition and skill.

      1
      • 30

        Yiannis Konstantakopoulos

        January 20, 2014 6:55 pm

        Humans are complicated. We often do things that make others hurt no matter our intentions. When you work in a team, a real team, putting much more hours than your colleagues brings issues. I have seen it happening a few times and I don’t want to see it again.

        I also think there many ways to prove your skills during your typical 8-hours workday. It sounds naive and boring but it is true.

        I am ambitious too. However, ambition can become an obsession very easily. Workaholics know it well.

        -1
      • 31

        Then be ambitious : learn some new things, study some books, open your own business. But if you work on a team, you have to learn what it means to work on a team.

        1
    • 32

      this video says it all: http://youtu.be/lsSC2vx7zFQ

      Some quotes from it

      “If you go to sleep you might miss the opportunity to be successful”

      “you’ve got to want to be successful so bad that you forget to eat”

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  11. 33

    “That work 10, 12, 14 hours a day” – So that’s what makes a work a holic? Over 40 hours a week? Because I’ve lived in several 3rd world countries and if they don’t work that long…they don’t eat.

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    • 34

      And I imagine there are countries at war that if you don’t work 24/7 you die. So, with this in mind and by reading this article twice, I believe that the author speaks about the other Countries of the western civilisation.

      What you’re describing is more of a modern slavery thing, rather than workaholism.

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    • 35

      Yiannis Konstantakopoulos

      January 20, 2014 6:58 pm

      The article talks about web teams, startups, modern societies etc. 3rd world not countries. Obviously.

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    • 36

      exactly. I used to work 3 jobs, waiter, computer store sales rep and DJ on certain evenings. You need to do what you need to do to pay the bills.

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    • 37

      There’s such a truth to this. While pushing yourself to mental exhaustion isn’t healthy for anyone, sometimes it’s an unfortunate result to your personal situation. I lived in central and south america for much of my childhood and I saw a strong work ethic and long hours for a minuscule reward, but I also equally saw a stronger family bond than we generally see here in the US. They didn’t send parents to nursing homes, family cared for each other and worked together to provide for those who couldn’t work yet or couldn’t work anymore. We take a lot for granted here.

      For myself, I worked long hours at one job for a multitude of reasons. Initially it was because I was learning so many new things. I’d been given opportunities, but I needed to learn how to use the tools to do those tasks. My career shot off like a rocket because of it. Over time I was split between two teams. Competing deadlines from both teams = long days and sometimes long weekends. I was stressed and irritable sometimes. One of the teams had a few people that scoffed at my long hours, but they didn’t really know what was on my plate. But I spent nearly eight years there because I was getting a priceless education. Working hard hours can have its rewards if you’re smart about it. But I take nothing for granted. Ever.

      0
  12. 38

    jhonnatan gonzalez

    January 20, 2014 6:02 pm

    This is a really good article, i hope my ex boss could read it. Something good he will learn from this article. Also, this reflect perfectly the vision of work I have. Good jb on this article.

    0
  13. 39

    Work to live, not live to work.

    At the end of the day, great web experiences aren’t gonna matter when you’re dead and gone.

    0
  14. 40

    I find it funny this article cites CNN, a news agency that thrives on workaholics ;) .

    1
  15. 41

    While I can appreciate many of the points here and think a good personal/professional balance is best in general, it’s also important to see both sides of this. Equally frustrating are team members who are just there to put in their time (35-40 hours a week) and get a paycheck. They may be good developers but are rarely there when needed for an urgent bug fox or to meet a product deadline. Instead, they complain about how their peers are workaholics and make them look bad.

    A good team member should be willing to put in extra hours when needed and take time off when not needed. There have been times where our team had to put in 80 hours a week for 2-3 weeks straight to hit a deadline. They then took some vacation time and recovered. Obviously this couldn’t be sustained if it happened every month but I think the best team members work hard when needed and take breaks when not.

    People who work 12 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year are in a different category altogether. The article seems to lump these two groups together almost as if to complain about those who put in extra time because they take pride in their work and wish to support their team by picking up the slack.

    0
    • 42

      I think though that it’s poorly managed if there is no contractual agreement in place to support out-of-hours bugs.

      There are many ways to solve it: staggering working times of different team members 7am – 7pm, 1 week “on call” per month for each person.

      However, not properly defining processes, not writing it into contracts and expecting people to just pick up the mess when it happens is bad management. To me, the management aren’t taking those bugs seriously until they realise that it’s in integral part of the team’s role and they have to put it into writing which acknowledges this role. If they never do this then they leave it in limbo and feed off the staff member who feels the most guilty.

      0
  16. 43

    I have very bad experience on this. I have worked more than 12 hours on specific project last year.
    I had given more time to company than my family and my health.

    After getting successful finish of a project there was no advantage seen in my appraisal. I asked my manager then he showed me my weak points and talked about my other projects on that he was not very happy and when I demand for good appraisal based on this projects. He simply told me,”you have not completed it in 8 hours daily, I think you take more hours and its your problem”

    0
  17. 44

    I am a workaholic on my own project only. Because I pick projects base on if that’s interesting or not. Otherwise I don’t take on that. This is my personal playground http://fat-cow.net.

    On my personal point of view, I agreed with Jhonnatan Gonzalez. Those boss or managers should read on this article.

    Dennis C. a.k.a. Fat-Cow

    0
  18. 45

    Great article, this has really helped me to see the difference between the problems of being a true workaholic versus someone who is actually doing a good job in regular hours.

    0
  19. 46

    Hi,

    As someone who manages a large amount of developers across several teams/disciplines, I am unsure how much I agree with the article.

    If the gist is “taken to excess, working is harmful” then surely the response would be “of course, too much of anything is bad, thats what too means”.

    If we are talking about how a hard worker might make their colleagues feel then it becomes different; if I see someone who takes a real pride in their work, who takes pride in going the extra mile to ensure a delivery is met – that is someone I want to hire, but perhaps the rationale being imposed on me is incorrect.

    Managers want to have staff that set a good example, and pride is a huge part of the job, taking the time to ensure the codebase is neat, taking the time to refactor someone else’s work – is a good thing, I want teams to learn from each other and strive to demand more of each other.

    But the company does need to set a few things straight…

    1. A culture where failing is ok, and struggling is just an opportunity to learn.
    Nobody is perfect, everyone can learn from everyone else. If a senior programmer fixes up a juniors code – then I would expect the junior to take on board what someone else has taken the time to do and learn from it. If a junior coder is correcting senior code, then I want my senior people to step up and raise their game. If that involves either of them working a bit extra, or the company running a hackathon to reinforce learning then so be it.

    2. Code is designed to be shared, code is not “owned” by its writer.
    When writing code the difficulty isn’t solving the problem, it’s allowing the solution to the problem to grow in functionality, or in scope. Most services/modules/sites are built over the top of other frameworks – if code could be written and forgotten we wouldn’t have coding standards or comments – the real skill is writing something concise, clear and working – not just working.

    3. Feedback
    The company should reward hard work, and create an environment where hard work is expected but excellence is rewarded. Those reward might come from the company, but equally, I often see a junior thanking a more senior developer for helping improve their solution and talking them through it.

    So if that senior developer spends a year improving his teams skills, he has had more time to do the really complicated stuff, because those around him strive to impress him and reach his level. Both that senior programmer, and his team all deserve praise, and probably a bonus, because they are bouncing off each other positively.

    Last I would say the following generalisation.

    Nobody forces anyone to become a programmer/designer etc, everyone in this industry should be in it because they love it. The field(s) require enough smarts that any one of us could have chosen to be an accountant, artist, chef, or doctor should they wish – but they chose this discipline – they chose to code for a living because they love it.

    So I expect passion, and I expect pride, and what follows those should be a drive to improve, and its the latter which I look for – because I expect the first two or you wouldn’t get past the interview.

    And more often than not – people need to accept that if they want to be above average, they need to do more than the average workload. There is no altruism in business, but all parties can gain from this.

    Thanks for reading.

    0
    • 47

      A few areas to think about.

      What is wrong with average? What makes what you think and are any different than another person? Are you not average in some else eyes? Working longer or harder doesn’t make someone any better than anyone else. Helping others is actually human nature. Humans want to help. When and how much is a different story. Why put labels on people just because you think they should be something they maybe aren’t or don’t have an interest in. Why put a limitation on yourself, those you supervise and those you may have the opportunity to supervise.

      Lastly, remember pride can quickly turn to arrogance so you have to be careful how it is handled.

      -1
    • 48

      Yiannis Konstantakopoulos

      January 21, 2014 11:15 pm

      “So I expect passion, and I expect pride, and what follows those should be a drive to improve”.
      I’m with you.

      “And more often than not – people need to accept that if they want to be above average, they need to do more than the average workload. There is no altruism in business, but all parties can gain from this.”

      I can see people, web workers getting better and better when they were given clear instructions on what to do, when they put intensity in their work and when they feel appreciated.
      At the same time I can see people who strive to survive in toxic environments among semi-lunatic colleagues who are driven crazy by bosses who promoted workaholism.

      What I’m trying to say is the working culture and the mentality of a company can help or burn the employees.

      All in all I don’t think we disagree.

      0
  20. 49

    73 points.

    Well, will work on some changes.
    I love what I do. Anyway couple weeks of vacation will fix that.

    Thank you for article!

    0
  21. 50

    I’ve been thinking some more about this, specifically after reading some of the other comments posted. There are a few comments that are a bit emotive and have lost the thread, but generally, it’s evoked a good response.

    The point that seems to elicit the most emotion is the case of the person who works harder than everyone else, which can lead to friction in a team.

    That is *entirely* dependent on what type of character that person is.

    Just four possibles here:

    1. They are aiming for ‘brownie points’ with their employer and are out to show how much better they are than everyone else.
    2. They work slower than everyone else and thus need more time to complete their tasks – this is *very* common in any workplace.
    3. They are in a management position and have trust issues with delegating
    4. They are just committed and all around good people and a massive asset to any team.

    This article is about workaholics and how to recognise when you or someone else has become one. In either case it *could* be to the detriment of the team, but points 1 to 4 above have varying outcomes. Points 1, 2 & 3 are clearly not good.
    Point 4 *can* be good, unless that person hits burnout – basically, the team will rely on an individual who takes more work on with a good work ethos.

    In the case of employees of a company, if your being forced into becoming a workaholic, it’s time to move on.
    If your a freelancer? Perhaps you should consider going staff.

    0
    • 51

      Yiannis Konstantakopoulos

      January 21, 2014 11:00 pm

      Indeed different characters can completely change the game. The thing is workaholics are often too ambitious and this detail makes them act a certain predictable way.

      Overall, I think your analysis is very helpful.
      I find points 1, 2, and 3 equally common while point 4 is something that sounds too good to be true. I hope I’m wrong though.

      0
  22. 52

    How is this specific to “web teams”?

    0
  23. 53

    There’s a saying: “Quit working so hard, you’re making the rest of us look bad.”

    1
  24. 54

    Stress kills unless you keep overload at bay. Computers age you faster unless you deal with the physical and emotional stress of their use. Work / Life balance recognises people as human beings, with a set agenda of need in mind, body and spirit. A company has a duty of care re career burnout stress in their staff, which can result in serious long term sickness absence or even loss of ability to work.
    Always Elysium Co UK

    0
  25. 55

    Waw, great article. It’s true I seen many peoples who works for 12 or more hours a day in company and they thing they are more dedicated to company and they thing they are best then who is actually doing a good job in regular hours.

    0
  26. 56

    Sometimes I just can’t focus on the work – or more precisely, study – and chat over the IMs, visit SNS websites and wander off often. And then I feel sorry for myself, at midnight reading my textbooks.

    0
  27. 57

    This is so true and applies to all the different roles in the digital industry. I think this is mainly because we use laptops, we have smart phones, and we can easily transport work at home (stay away from putting your work email on your personal phone if you can).

    I have been and believe I am a workaholic. I think I have taken after my Dad, who I remember not seeing for a year when he was moved to India for work, and then not seeing him anyway when we moved to India to stay closer to him (but I am proud of his hard work and what he did for the family).

    Now having said that, I recently realised I have stopped being a workaholic, and am fighting a battle against workaholism at home, since my partner definitely is a workaholic.

    My personal experience is that I stopped being a workaholic while becoming more senior at my work, earning more and understanding better the industry. Maybe it has to do with gaining more security and confidence as this article has pointed out, or just with realising that this industry is always running late. Each project I have been involved in, no matter how great the team was, always had some issues and required people to overwork and give all of themselves for many months of stress and no life.

    When I was young and badly paid, I took part into this game, because people were saying we were trying to hit the deadlines, we had to do it etc etc. Reality is no deadlines are really deadlines. Sorry to be brutal about it, but after seeing projects that had been announced to the world to be live on a specific day, and then things being pushed to another date and so on… I can tell you, we may think of ourselves and our job as very vital, but actually it is not. I like to think that one day when I will be working on the development of a medical product or scientific project (this is my dream, getting there…), then it will be VITAL to help people, and I will be working 24 hours/day, but until that, if it’s a website, a game, a brand, a campaign etc, I will give the best of me and will be productive as I know I can be in my working hours, but that’s it, no reason to lose completely yourself.

    So what I realised after years is that… you can still work hard but the most important thing is to decide WHEN to do it. For example, I give myself 1 or maximum 2 days a week when to work harder and longer, and working at home is a big NO for me and should be happening no more than once or twice a year.

    My last suggestion: save your energy for things that really matter to you and to the world (if you fancy that). Until that, just be productive to do a good job and push back when it’s time to go home.

    Oh, and also remember that unfortunately no one is really irreplaceable at work. We all can be substituted, and people will not notice much the difference… We only can make the difference for ourselves, our life and the life of the people we care (include the world again, if you feel like that’s important to you).

    Good luck!

    0
  28. 59

    Interesting post and a unique topic too. It’s good that you addressed the problem of workaholism and how it affects a team. The problem with workaholics is they don’t realize their addiction and what’s worse is that there are companies who find joy in hiring these people. Working alone may be tolerable but it is certainly disruptive to others in a team. I’ve been in the same situation, one of our team members put in more work and we, the other members feel obliged and pressure to do so as well. Of course we didn’t but it just ruin the dynamics completely. I guess it boils down to the team leader and management on how to handle this.

    0
  29. 60

    If I have to choose, I would much rather hire a workaholic, than a slacker who comes to work late, doesn’t produce while at work and then goes home early, or exactly on time.

    They do much more damage to a business and team moral, than someone who over delivers.

    Another side is simply; if projects need to be finished in order for clients to pay – the work needs to be done and up to standard. It really is that simple. If people are not willing to pull the hours required to get the work done(or get more done quicker) then they must go be waiters or get jobs at companies that can pay them to just ‘be at work’.

    I have no problem with people who delivery solidly and consistently, working shorter hours, working remotely or pretty much having work feature as a very small part of their life – as these people typically have ethics and will deliver when needed and chill when it’s appropriate.

    1
    • 61

      Yiannis Konstantakopoulos

      January 23, 2014 9:30 am

      This article does not promote slackers, it reveals some of the problems workaholism brings in web teams. Things are not black and white.

      0
      • 62

        Sorry – I realise it that.

        I’ve just found that from a recruitment perspective, you’re either faced with over achievers or under achievers.

        I haven’t really found many that solidly deliver but don’t pull extended hours, not forced, but by choice.

        1
  30. 63

    Nathan
    If I have to choose, I would rather work in a world where PMs can scope properly projects and know in advance that developers/designers are human beings and not robot who will take exactly 1 day and a half to deliver that cool feature. And where clients don’t change their mind at the very last minute. And all the resources are always at the top of their game and don’t need training so they can work even more.
    Now extremes are never good and you should use them carefully only when that is the last option on your table. In normal times you should promote a healthy culture where people not only do their best in the time given, but want to do it.

    0
    • 64

      Hi Gisella,

      Agreed, I’d prefer to not work the somewhat crazy hours – it can be draining.

      I’d also not recommend it as a long term lifestyle, but I do feel that if you’re working towards a specific goal in your life, then sometimes it is needed to push the limits for an extended period in order to achieve it.

      0
  31. 65
  32. 66

    I was working on a startup just a couple of weeks ago and the manager had terrible managing skills and forced all the programmers to stay up late and arrive in the morning every day to fix his lack of a real schedule.

    I just need to tell you that when I got too tired and took a few days off the hook, I got fired :(

    Yes my friends this is a real deal and is happening just below US
    !
    3rd world countries + bad wages + web startup + no contract = burnout code job

    0
  33. 67

    When I first entered the Information Technology field I had very perceptive Sr. Programmer who always told me, “8 hours of coding a day is all anyone can do. Anything more and your wasting your time…”.

    Whether we are coding RPG-II, COBOL, or any of today’s modern micro-based languages on whatever target machine we are working with, this sage advice has always stood the test of time.

    Unfortunately, many current technical managers do not seem to understand that brains need as much rest as any other muscle in the body…

    0
  34. 68

    It’d help if companies were more aware of research around work. We’ve got a good 150 years worth of study (replicated science. The best kind!) all pointing to the same conclusion. Past a 40 hour work-week, things start going pear-shaped:

    http://www.salon.com/2012/03/14/bring_back_the_40_hour_work_week/

    0
  35. 69

    Mukesh Vishwakarma

    January 24, 2014 6:05 am

    I am a 40 hours worker for past 8 years, from India. I have survived economic slowdown of 2008. I have never given up to management pressure. Eventualy management starts giving me roles and responsibilities according to my wish.
    End of the day, good family, health matters.

    0
  36. 70

    The best boss I ever had was a hard worker, but he had a few simple rules that created a great team environment.
    1) When he left for the night, everyone left. No exceptions.
    2) When their was a crunch, he made sure people understood what had caused it, apologized, and asked those who could help to stay. Everyone else was asked to leave.
    3) When it was quiet, he made a point of giving a few hours back whenever he could.

    All of this happened in a large company, with absolutely no regard for the company policies. When questioned by HR he was fearless. He pointed to the fact that nobody in his team had left in over 4 years, in a business with turnover around 25%. He was right – we would have walked over hot coals for us. He was a human and he treated us with respect and dignity.

    1
  37. 71

    This is an excellent article. I’ve worked in several design and tech companies in India, in Bangalore and Mumbai especially – where this is the company culture at all levels. Everyone works like crazy, but more than individual choice – this is mostly because we can’t afford to hire the correct size of the team to get work done the right way. Deadlines are crazy because they are sold that way, or outsourcing to western companies that want things done asap + cheap. So everyone works at least double hours, to get more done in half the time, and so they can make more profit.

    It is common for Indian companies to exaggerate the size of their team when it’s just 1 or 2 devs actually working their asses off.

    Culturally it is acceptable to slog till midnight everyday, and it is always rewarded by the higher ups. I myself fell into this for a couple of years before I burned out and realized that there has to be a way out.

    0
  38. 72

    What a great article, 100% agreed & really appreciate it…

    0
  39. 73

    I once worked somewhere that had a ping pong table. The games were fun.

    One employee played with greater intensity than everyone. He wasn’t fun to play.

    One day, he quit without notice: our supervisor had upset him.

    I think it’s okay to work and play as hard as you like, but not to forget humility.

    0
  40. 74

    After reading the article, I took the Quizz (67!!) and read the comments posted so far.

    Not being in this particular industry, I still appreciated the author’s words of advice, as well as those from some of the postings.

    Thanks for sharing!

    0
  41. 75

    Thanks for the reminder, Yiannis! I do think I am a workaholic. Family and colleagues do say that I probably have time management issues. Sometimes I get so much work and have little help so I end up working 12+ hrs. I always resolve to do something about it at the beginning of every month but it somehow fizzles out. I just wish I had some courage to get out of the system. Well, good luck to me and the others who grapple with this.

    0
  42. 76

    InfinPixels - London

    February 27, 2014 5:08 am

    As long as you are not inspired to create something, DO NOT WORK!. Do not force yourself for anybody for anything!. It won’t work. This became our belief at infinpixels.com. After having so much stress, trying to please everybody, health problems… it just didn’t work So we stopped working long hours and started enjoying life more. Your genius creative mind needs nutrition which you can only get it from living an inspiring, relaxed, joyful life. Forcing yourself will only kill the creativity, productivity. You will fed up one day my friend!. Thanks for writing about this huge problem..

    0
  43. 77

    I worked in a company for a few months with a workaholic boss and team-leader (he rather managed us, than leading us). He had to manage over 30 projects, did all the financial stuff, client-communication and did some small design-jobs himself, which, if you can handle it, may not even be a bad thing, but he expected everyone to have the same kind of enthusiasm, the deadlines were horribly short and the budgets so small, everyone just waited for them to be exceeded so they could work more relaxed.
    He pushed everyone to their limits and when he wasn´t there, all of the co-workers were making fun of his expactations. Not a good atmosphere. I quit after some time, because I wanted to and because “I couldn´t uphold the boss´ expectations”.
    Now I started at a new company and they´re stoked about how fast I am (even though I work at a normal pace) so I actually took something good out of it.

    I´m sure the company won´t last very long, or not have their employees for a long period of time if nothing changes.

    0

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