Dubai: Gulf News speaks to Hazel Cowling, an expert in human resources management and leadership and partner at Biz-ability, on how workaholism can affect companies' productivity.
GULF NEWS: How often do you come across issues of workaholism when meeting human resources officials from companies you consult or train in?
Hazel Cowling: Work/life balance is often on the human resources agenda in the UAE, especially now that resources are squeezed with the recession. It is a challenge to maintain this level of balance and still be able to deliver on targets.
Does your training process deal with workaholism? What kind of advice do you give to companies on work hours?
There are many reasons why people may show signs of workaholism - lack of ability to plan and organise work; feeling of insecurity leading to us feeling that we need to work longer hours to keep our jobs; possibly even escaping from problems at home. The first point can be ‘treated' with work-based coaching to improve an individual's ability to prioritise workload or a planning and organising training course. The other two are more issues that should be tackled by counselling. Either way, it is important that the line manager spots signs of someone who seems to be overloaded (or overloading themselves!) and explore with them the reason for this. Taking a few minutes to give the person your attention may be all they need to unblock the issue.
From your observation, are there any serious negative effects of workaholism on: the workaholic, the company and the workaholics peers in terms of productivity, health, or personal life?
For an individual there are clearly negative effects of workaholism both in terms of work performance and in their personal life. They will not only get exhausted but likely the quality of the work they produce will suffer — this then will have a knock-on effect on their peers and the organisation. Additionally, the family of the individual will suffer with them coming home too tired or stressed to be able to spend quality time needed. Such situations often result in a spiral downwards — things go wrong, they work harder to put them right, they go wrong again due to lack of focus or exhaustion and so the spiral goes on. It gets to a point where the individual themselves feels out of control and does not feel able to resolve the issues. It all seems helpless. Again, noticing signs early and before it gets into this spiral downwards is the best help you can give. Clearly as managers we are not qualified to tackle the personal issues so must be careful we don't go there and leave this up to the professionals.
Do you find that workaholics expect the same amount of work and hours spent at work from their colleagues, whether it is their bosses or subordinates?
Often the workaholic does make others who work around them question their own work pattern and style which may result in those who are easily influenced falling into the same trap. Worse still, if that person is in authority they may push this expectation onto their direct reports. If you are a manager, you have a responsibility to consider how you are spending both your time and the time of your team and to ensure that you keep the productivity and the motivation of your team at a high level. Overworking your staff tends not to help with either of these elements.
Workaholics carry a belief that working long hours is what the organisation wants regardless of the quality of output. This is clearly not the case, as organisations compete fiercely for business, quality is the thing that will deliver repeat business, not the amount of hours the team works.