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‘Workaholism’ becomes a clinical malady

Although there is no agreed-upon definition of “workaholism,” it is slowly gaining as much acceptance as such better-studied addictions as alcoholism and drug abuse. Some of us were unaware of this because of such natural defenses as high levels of sloth and indolence.

Some people apparently get an adrenaline rush from constantly working and become depressed and anxious if they can’t. They sneak out of the house to get in extra work and conceal the amount of work they take with them if they are forced to take a vacation.

At parties, workaholics have been known to slip off to finish the hosts’ basement or slip out back to mulch the begonias.

According to the Financial Times, the term was coined in 1968 by Wayne Oates, an American psychologist, religious educator and author of 57 books, the sign of a real problem right there.

There is now a Workaholics Anonymous with a 12-step program, similar to the groups Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, beginning with the recognition that the sufferer is helpless in the face of the addiction and that the cure involves the intervention of a higher power.

The Times wrote that researchers in the United Kingdom and Norway have been at work on diagnostics for work addiction and have come up with a questionnaire that requires answers ranging from (1) “Never” to (5) “Always.”

Some of the questions seem quite sensible: “You work so much that it has influenced your health negatively.” Others less so: “You spend much more time working than originally intended.” I mean, who doesn’t?

One member of Workaholics Anonymous identified only as “Michele” said, “I didn’t believe I was worthwhile unless I was productive.” Michele — and I don’t think we’re giving away secrets here — that’s the way management wants you to feel.

The social sciences have an uncanny knack for identifying the obvious. One professor of work and organizational psychology at the Netherlands’ Utrecht University, according to the Times, coined the term “engaged workaholic“ to describe a person who works hard at what he does because he loves doing it.

In all deference to the Northern European professoriate — these problems don’t seem to occur in Italy, Portugal and, most especially, not Greece — the U.S. Congress is way ahead of them.

Congress may have some difficult, even intractable, problems ahead, but when and if lawmakers get around to meeting them, they plan to be refreshed and well-rested.

According to House Republican leader Eric Cantor’s schedule for this year, the House will work only 126 days, leaving nearly eight months to rest, recharge their batteries and take field trips to countries in salubrious climates to find out how they’re dealing with beach erosion.

The example is set at the top, even though House Speaker John Boehner, who has a tan that bespeaks hours on the fairways, derides Barack Obama every time the president takes a few days off.

But Obama, who is on track to take off some 168 days during his eight years in office, according to one projection, is not even a contender in the presidential leisure stakes. According to the website, “Calls to several presidential libraries reveal that President Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was on vacation more — 1,020 days — than any U.S. president since Herbert Hoover and possibly more than any other president in history.”

Those academics studying workaholism might want to take as their starting point the words of President Ronald Reagan, who managed to spend just a few weeks short of a year vacationing at his Santa Barbara, Calif., ranch while in office:

“I’ve heard that hard work never killed anyone, but I say why take the chance?”

Dale McFeatters is a national columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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