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Addicted To Working: How It Can Affect Marital Relationships

“I doubt that all the philosophy in this world can eradicate slavery; at best it will change its name. I can imagine worse forms of servitude than our own, more insidious forms, that will foster in men an appetite for work as rabid as the passion for war among barbarian races, either by turning people into stupid and content machines that believe in their freedom whilst fully enslaved, or by suppressing any human leisure. I prefer our physical slavery to this subjection of the spirit”.

– ‘Memoirs of Hadrian’– Marguerite Yourcenar

Nobody considers himself to be addicted to work. But we should go over how many times a day we check our e-mail or call our office while on holidays, even when we must do it almost secretly. No doubt iPads, iPhones or Blackberrys make it easier to fall into temptation, and we fool ourselves by saying we’re getting the device just to check the weather.

We tend to think workaholism is a synonym for working many hours, but this is a narrow view that ignores the addictive nature of that condition. An average workaholic has a strong inward motivation to work every minute, anywhere, not really for the money, or the promotion, or because of a lack of social life. Just for the sake of it.

Scott points out two traits to define this addiction: to discretionally spend a huge amount of time in professional activities (what Schaufeli calls the behavioral dimension) and to be incapable of switching off (cognitive dimension).

Hakihito Simazu’s group at the University of Tokyo, along with two Dutch researchers, published an interesting article on work addiction and couple well-being in the August issue of ‘Social Science and Medicine’. They studied 994 couples from different professions. Their initial findings were as expected: workaholics suffer from family conflicts and psychological distress more often than “relaxed” workers (those who work their due hours and don’t do it compulsively).

The article focuses specifically on the conflict between work and family, as work addiction in one of the spouses tends to overload the other with family obligations, causing a gradual and inescapable deterioration of the relationship.

One surprising finding is that husbands of workaholic women suffer family conflicts more often than wives of workaholic men. The authors thus recommend to create intervention programs aimed at spouses of workaholic women as this is the most troublesome situation. Unfortunately, this addiction is still more tolerated in men.

Japan ranks 57 of 109 countries in the Gender Empowerment Measure, with just 9% of women holding high-ranking positions. As Simazu’s work reveals, Japanese men with pre-school children spend a daily average of 7.7 hours at work and 0.8 at home. Japanese women, on the other side, spend 3.7 hours at work and 5.7 taking care of their children. I don’t think the situation is much better in Spain.

With a growing pressure to increase our productivity and ‘work more for less’, there shall be a bigger temptation to spread Japanese culture, that rewards devotion to work. But there shall be a huge cost in working more and more hours and then alienating oneself at home with electronic devices instead of switching off for a while. A huge cost not just for you, but also for the partner that stands by your side.

* This blog was originally published in Spanish at El gerente de mediado *

*This blog post was originally published at Diario Medico*

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