Work Addiction

Work Addiction

Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK


Addiction is the condition ofbeing habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something. It isan inability to extricate oneself from a state of mind or behavior which is, knowinglyor unknowingly, beyond one’s control.

Work addiction is an unrestraineddemand for constant engagement in work. In Japan, it is called karoshi—death by overwork. In the Netherlands,it is described as “leisure illness,” affecting 3% of the population. Workers arephysically sick on weekends and vacations as they stop working.

Work addiction is one kind ofaddiction that is more subtle, and very often misunderstood. Some corporatecultures unknowingly support, encourage and reward work addiction. Those whoare addicted to work are driven to perform even harder and accomplish even more.They cannot stop working until they suffer serious consequences.


We have been brought up in acompetitive society. We want to be the best, or at least reach the limit of ourpotential. In this high-pressured society, our desires to provide a decentliving for our family or to make a contribution to society become the maindriver of our life.

How much effort have we put intoour annual appraisal or professional development? We want to be seen in thebest light, don’t we?

The work addicts feel that they haveto achieve certain standards. Such a mindset is driven by their self-projectedand self-imposed image. They have an overdeveloped sense of self-importance. Theyare likely in occupations that are considered as in a different class. They areunable to make sense of today’s success; there is always a guilty feeling intheir mind that they have to do more.

Work addicts use work to manage,control and avoid their insecurity. Success would lead to the desire orambition to achieve even more. Failure would lead to frustration and irrationalbehavior, which itself reinforces their misconception that they are not workinghard enough.


Like any other addiction, the workaddicts lose their ability to choose what is right for themselves (Rom 7:23).Their physical health deteriorates under the strain of their punishing workregimen. Weight problems and lack of healthy eating and exercise are alsocommon. They suffer from “burn-out” or being ill from worry over work.

Not only do the work addicts jeopardizetheir own physical and spiritual well being, their behavior causes their familyto suffer as well. Their withdrawal from family life leads to a deterioratingfamily relationship. The work addicts would like to substitute their presenceby showering gifts on their children or spouse.

Material things are not an alternativeto personal devotion and commitment. The caring, loving father or mother, husbandor wife, has become remote, unapproachable, and bad tempered. In times of need onecannot find solace or support from Prada shoes, Louis Vuitton bags or aPlaystation 3.

Husband and wife begin to grow outof their relationship—the absenting spouse is out of reach, out of sight, andout of mind.

Last but not least, work addictssever their relationship with God. Many people have destroyed their faith indifferent ways, but they all started from distancing themselves from God.

By spending less and less timewith God they are gradually depriving themselves of spiritual sustenance. Such asterile faith is depicted as a severed branch, withering, barren, and only fitfor the fire (Jn 15:1-6).


People who are affected by workaddiction do not notice that they have a problem. Normal people think aboutskiing while working, and work addicts think about work while skiing.

There are a number of telltalesigns of work addiction.

Not enough time

The direct outcome of workaddiction is the siphoning of family and church time to work. The work addictsdivert their energy to work, gradually neglecting their family, and ultimatelydistancing themselves from God.

There is no time to read Biblestories to their children at night, no time to talk to their spouse, and notime for prayer let alone time for church services. They are haunted by a senseof urgency and constantly struggle against time. They rarely take holidays andoften work on weekends.

How much time do you spend onwork, family, friends, and ultimately God? Are you breaking promises toyourself, family, friends, and God? Are you skipping church services andmeetings in order to spend more time at work?

Impatient and irritable

The sense of urgency makes workaholicsannoyed with people who interrupt their work asking them to spend time withthem. They cannot tolerate delays in grocery stores or restaurants, for theydon’t have time to wait.

Unable to relinquish responsibility

The inability to turn away fromwork makes it difficult for them to relinquish responsibility or delegate partof their work to their colleagues. They obsessively need to control themselvesand everything in their lives.


Work addicts begin to developreclusive behavior. They choose to spend long periods of time at work. Theyhave difficulty finding hobbies outside their work. They let down family andfriends by neglecting responsibilities and missing events.

Inability to relax

Work addicts often wake up at night,unable to get back to sleep because their brains are actively tackling theunfinished business at work. Even on vacation, it is difficult for them torelax or disengage from work. The advances in technology do not help either, asWiFi is ubiquitous and the BlackBerry is always at hand.

Inability to enjoy life and success

Workaholics are unable to enjoythe fruit of their labor because they have a distorted picture of perfectionism.They can never reach the state at which they would be totally satisfied withthe results.


Identify work addiction

The first step to moving awayfrom work addiction is to identify the signs of work addiction. The prodigalson suddenly came to his senses, realizing the appalling state he put himselfin (Lk 15:17). The trigger of such an awakening is the introspective question “whatam I doing here?”

Seek help from man and God

When Lot departed from Abraham hetraveled to the land of Sodom and Gomorrah(Gen 13:10). The temptation was so great that he gradually moved into the city(Gen 19:1). He was tormented by the lawless deeds of the city dwellers (2 Pet2:7), but he failed to remove himself and his family.

Lotepitomizes those who are entrapped in work addiction. They are tormented bytheir habit but are either unaware of their peril or unable to help themselves.Only through the intercession of Abraham (the loved ones) and the willingnessof Lot (the victim) to follow the angel was he able to escape from the totalannihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Prevention is better than cure. Weneed to prevent work addiction before it causes irreversible damage to ourspiritual life and family relationships.

Set boundaries

Daniel was one of three governorsunder the Persian king Darius (Dan 6:2), yet he habitually prayed three times aday to God (Dan 6:10). Daniel did not compromise his belief in the time ofadversity. He did not give up a bit of his time or obligation towards God justto gain political expediency (Dan 1:8-920). He knew that there was a greaterpower than himself who could restore him. Therefore, God rewarded him withkindness, and the wisdom and ability to conduct his work.

We need to maintain a work-lifebalance by setting boundaries that we will never cross. We should draw a lineon the time we spend on work, family, and God.

Mark your daily calendar at thebeginning of the year with major events such as birthdays, anniversaries, specialevents at school, family holidays, Sabbaths (yes Sabbaths, I mean it), and spiritualconvocation. These are sacrosanct, and you should not excuse yourself from themwithout valid reasons. You may even find it useful to set aside a brief time atthe end of the day to allow closure of work activity.

Manage work effectively

Manage your workload effectivelyby setting smart objectives. Make sure your objectives are specific and achievable.By setting up specific and attainable goals you will prevent the risk of over-stretchingyourself, or allowing work to eat into your quality time.

Confront your boss to make theobjectives realistic—work should not be an open-ended commitment. Ask foradditional resources when needed, and do not be afraid to say no.

Maintain dialogue

Try to spend as much time aspossible with your family. Keep them informed about your work and your timeaway from home. Let them know why you have to be away, and stay in touch.

Change mindsets

To avoid the trap of work addiction,you need to change your perspective on life.

Entrust yourself to Jesus,knowing that He controls every aspects of your life (Mt 10:30-31), and He willsee to all your needs (Mt 6:33).

Paul learned how to rejoice inthe Lord greatly because he knew how to be content in whatever state he was in(Phil 4:10-11). His re-evaluation of life allowed him to see his priorities clearly(Phil 3:8). Any aura of self-importance evanesces in the light of Jesus.

The fire that feeds theself-destructive behavior of work addiction is quenched by the love of Jesus. Knowingthat we do not need to pursue richness, power, and glory in this life, ourburdens are immediately lifted from us.

Change jobs

If the fire is too hot, get outof the kitchen. We should not feel ashamed or dejected for changing jobs orcareers. If your boss is not realistic or the work itself is not suitable,rather than hanging on in a state of suboptimal existence, you should take thecourage to evaluate the situation and make the right choice for you and yourfamily.

Are you a victim of the PeterPrinciple? Are you one of those who have been promoted to his level ofincompetence? A change of direction is not failure; it is a matter of choice.You should take up a job that you are comfortable with.


Under constant pressure to performand outperform, we are all potential victims of work addiction. To avoidfalling into the trap, we should constantly evaluate our life and ourrelationship with our family, our friends, and our God.

It is vital to set boundaries atwork to preserve a work-life balance. If the workload is intolerable, pray toGod, and He will open a way for you. Remember the sea of testimonies in theBible; Joseph, Daniel, and Nehemiah gained favor before man because of theirunmovable trust in God.

You should not be afraid to ask“Is this job suitable for me?” or “Does this jobcompromise my faith?” Do not be shy to walk away from your job; God is the onewho will prepare.

If you are in the dire state ofwork addiction, you should seek help from God, your family, and the church. Oldhabit dies hard, but remember Abraham’s effective and persistent prayer, and howLot’s willingness to respond led to Lot’sdeliverance.

All is not lost as long as we cometo our senses and return to the Lord.

(Source: Manna 53: Conquering Addictions)