How to Manage a Workaholic


Putting-in those long hours may be more counterproductive than productive. Stress and burnout are very real problems in the American workplace and certainly a hindrance to output. However, in today’s globally competitive market it’s important to show your value, which often means putting in hours and face time regardless of the personal consequences. The challenge in managing workaholics is that they are often blind to the negative effects of their behavior. They also tend to believe that time-in equates to quality of output, which can lead to inefficiency across your team and organization.

Here are some tips for keeping those workaholics at bay:

Don’t let them set the pace: A workaholic’s pace and schedule are rarely healthy. Don’t let them set the tone for how your team is going to operate. It’s important not to punish your more productive and balanced team members with added timelines and burdens purely created by your wayward workaholic. Ultimately, when you let the team workaholic set the pace you lose control of your own schedule and any hope of effectively managing your time.

Prioritize their activities: When managing a workaholic set clear priorities for the tasks at hand. Also, pay attention to the way they work and how they spend their time. Workaholics are driven to overdo it, so do what you can to keep them focused on a limited set of priorities with defined tasks, schedules, and outcomes.

Limit their smart phone use: Many workaholics try to multitask at their own expense. One of the key drivers of over-multitasking is the smart phone. This month’s Psychology Today cited a study out of the University of Southern Maine that found “the mere presence of a cell phone can reduce the quality of your task performance.” When working in a group or attending meetings make a rule that everyone must leave their smart phone behind, particularly those multitasking workaholics.

Set clear boundaries: Workaholics tend to have few boundaries when it comes to their work. They are the ones who will e-mail you at 2am looking for feedback or call with a question as you are sitting down to dinner with you family. Be sure to set clear boundaries around appropriate times for meetings and communications with yourself and the other team members. Also, be sure to actually enforce them.

Provide resources: Research from Wayne Hochwarter and Daniel Herrera of Florida State University (FSU) found that workaholics that had adequate access to the resources required for their work reported significantly higher satisfaction and lower rates of burnout and frustration. As a manager it is imperative you provide your people with the resources they need to get the job done. Be sure to have a conversation about both resources and team support to make sure they aren’t fighting unnecessary battles.

Encourage extracurricular activities: The FSU researchers also found that workaholics report feeling guilty about taking time off, which may inhibit their willingness to do so. Talk about the fun you had over the weekend, but also point out the interesting experiences you had that enhanced your creativity on the job. The best way to subtly nudge the workaholic into dipping their toe in outside life is to tie it to work in some way, so as to get them to at least consider trying. If they can see how being healthy or spending some time traveling may help them in their work, they may take a stab at it.

Don’t be an enabler: Workaholism can be an addiction. The last thing you want to do is enable the workaholic by legitimizing their beliefs about their workload. Avoid offering to pick-up extra work or chip-in on a weekend, because it won’t matter. The workaholic will find something else to fill the void. The best thing you can do is reward those who are efficient and talk about the importance of quality as opposed to quantity.

Remember, effort doesn’t always equal results. You have to find that sweet spot that allows you to maximize productivity while also maximizing your personal time. Be sure to spend time helping your workaholics find the right blend of work and life.