Workaholics aren't the business assets we think they are

Study after study confirms many are not taking time to attend to their needs away from work, and that's bad for business, Pierre Battah warns.

We hear much more today about cancelled vacations, going to work sick and mobile workplace technology on the bedside table. Recently the news of a high profile CEO taking a 1 to 2 week, micro-maternity leave made headlines. Are we really too important or too busy to take time off or is there something else going on?  

Study after study confirms many are not taking time to attend to their needs away from work and that trend is worsening since the 2008 recession.  

This is counterintuitive when a third of North American workers claim to be overworked — and by times overwhelmed — yet half indicate they willingly cheat themselves of time away from the job.

Pierre Battah says workaholics aren't great for business. (Pierre Battah)

Fear is behind much of this. Afraid to leave the job in an era of job insecurity, women fearful of being perceived as less than committed by opting for full maternity leaves and even the fear of being deemed incompetent when replaced by a coworker or ultimately the fear of losing control.  

For the self-employed it is the fear of missed opportunities and for entrepreneurs abject fear that all will collapse in their absence.  

One business owner who has changed his ways quoted Ken Blanchard to me and said "leadership is what happens when I'm not there."

He has understood that it is in everyone's best interest for him to step away from the business for appropriate periods of time. He and his family benefit as do his employees who have grown and stepped up. Ultimately his business has benefited greatly.  

For some, an overstated sense irreplaceability or the fact that some identify way too much with their work is also in play. As one self-avowed workaholic recently told me, my work is my life and there is simply nothing else. This has little to do with tough economic times, a short-sighted employer or poor delegating

Some are chained to their work for reasons that are outside their control and some employers are not helping.

Time away is helpful

A recent study showed only half of employers surveyed were concerned about the longer term implications of their employees not getting away. This in spite of indicators that those who do get away are safer, more accurate and tend to stay longer with the employer.  

One employer recently stated that he was not his employee's keeper and if employees chose to cheat themselves out of their time off entitlements he was not going to play psychologist and address their workaholic tendencies.

We also know employers reward out of balance achievers by piling the work on and rewarding unhealthy work habits with praise, raises, promotions and bonuses.  

Thankfully other employers take the longer view. They institute "use it or lose it" vacation policies and monitor workloads compassionately. They have open dialogue about hours, expectations and the reasons for perceived overwork or workaholism.  

Those who don't take time away from work deserve our understanding, compassion and support. This is often a lifestyle choice and although not in their best interest long term, it is their choice.  

Those who, in spite of their fears for job security, having their commitment questioned or the potential for loss of opportunity take the time needed away from the job deserve our admiration. We must value those who tend to their non-professional needs and care for themselves, their families and their communities. Frankly none of us are really that important to do otherwise.