Software

Confessions of IT workaholics: All work is hazardous to health and home life

You think you work too much? One IT pro said she slept in her car so she could stay close to the office. Another hasn't had a vacation in five years. TechRepublic members share their horror stories about being on the job all the time.


IT professionals who describe themselves as workaholics often share these characteristics:
  • Typical workday: 15 hours
  • Marital status: Divorced, marriage in jeopardy, or unattached
  • Friends/hobbies: None
  • Holidays/weekends: Used as opportunities for working additional hours
  • Vacations: Taken once in three years with a pager and laptop
  • Eating habits: Meals are skipped or eaten next to a keyboard.
  • Sleep: “All-nighters” occur frequently.

Nearly 100 TechRepublic members have written us to explain how working excessive hours has damaged their health and their personal lives. Many of the “workaholics” admit that they voluntarily work too much because they either feel responsible or they are hoping the extra hours will result in career advancement. Roughly an equal number of members told us they work too much because their employers require an unreasonable workload.

The Pervasive Workplace
Pagers, cell phones, and e-mail all make it easier for you to work when you're supposed to be on your own time. How do you preserve time for your personal life? What can employers do to help employees strike a good balance between work and home demands?
Find some solutions and read about how your peers are coping with this issue in this special TechRepublic series on the pervasive workplace.
For more information, check out TechRepublic's Pervasive Workplace briefing center.


Here are some of the e-mails we received after inviting members to share their stories in a recent article, “What have you sacrificed for your job?”

Humor helps some workaholics cope
The e-mails we received expressed a wide range of emotion—some people were bitter, others were depressed, and a few were sarcastic. Usually, IT pros who described a past situation reminisced with at least some humor.
  • Larry G. Weismantel, an analyst/designer in Waverly, IA, said he shaved his head and grew a beard so that it would only take 10 minutes for him to get ready for work in the morning.
  • Carla Field, an MIS manager in Longmont, CO, said while working for a former employer, she slept in her car and in her office.
  • Charley McGee, an IT specialist with Payment Online, Inc., in Seattle, said when he works all night, he takes a shower at the health club across the street from his office so that he doesn’t have to go home. “Sometimes the security guards look at me funny,” McGee wrote.

When overworking leads to a tragic loss
Several letters we received were heartbreaking. Stuart Peacock of Essex, Great Britain, said a former coworker of his worked an entire weekend without sleep to complete a project. While driving home, he fell asleep at the wheel, his car hit a tree, and he was killed.

“The company, I have to say, acted admirably as a consequence. It issued a policy stating that the culture had compelled this person to do what he did…and that no one should feel any pressure to work like this in the future,” wrote Peacock.

Robert Barbere, team leader for Web development, was one of several IT pros who said their demanding job had cost them their marriage:

“After working 65 to 80 hours continually for more than nine months…my wife finally decided to call it quits on our marriage. She said because I am at work so much, she felt like a single mom of two kids…I miss her.”

Sam Deakins, Information Systems team leader, was working around the clock to complete the merging of two ERP systems when he learned that his father was gravely ill. Deakins expressed remorse when he wrote that he continued working through a critical phase of the project and even missed his father’s funeral.

Missing out on the good times
Sgtski123 works two jobs and hasn’t had a vacation in five years. Holidays, weekends, vacations, children's birthday parties—none of these events is immune to the intrusion from work when you are an IT pro who is a workaholic.

Here are a few other examples that typify the letters we received.

Brian O'Connor, mid range systems manager, kept working even while his wife was giving birth to their first child: “At one point I was kneeling in front of the chair she was on, left hand holding hers, giving encouragement…unfortunately, my right hand was replying to some e-mail from work!!” wrote O’Connor.

Steve missed his honeymoon: “On our wedding night one of the UPS systems crashed, and moments later the power went out…My wife went to the Bahamas with Amy, her best friend. They had a blast, and I waded through honeymoon pictures of my wife and Amy in our photo album,” wrote Steve. Steve’s marriage ended with an amicable divorce, but he said he doesn’t have much time to see his ex-wife.

Richard Lawless is chief technology officer of Vastech Inc., a think tank in the Midwest. He feels compelled to work because he’s a founding officer in the corporation. “I missed my daughter’s birthday in August because I had to work here…Then I missed trick-or-treating in October and had promised to take my son and daughter around the neighborhood, but alas—had to work,” wrote Lawless.

Sleep and sickness are not in the schedule
Many IT pros told us that they often pull “all-nighters,” or they routinely sleep only a few hours each night. Among the horror stories that are typical:
  • Paul Taube, of Dallas, said he’s been working 100 hours a week and sleeps just four hours a night to keep a project on track.
  • Mike Hammontre, an engineer with Qwest Information Technology in Denver, once worked for three days without sleep.

Illness doesn’t slow down workaholics either. Several IT pros told us they worked despite serious illnesses. The most dramatic example was from Alex Carson. He worked while he was in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant. “I was on the phone to the office helping someone with a printing problem. While I was recovering at home for the next 10 weeks, I made similar calls to the office,” said Carson.

Read more about the 24/7 workplace
TechRepublic is taking a look at how work is encroaching on the personal lives of IT professionals via constant connectivity and ever-growing performance demands. Read more about what employers can do to help employees balance work and family demands, and what strategies employees can use to save some time for themselves in the Pervasive Workplace briefing center.

Enough is enough
What is especially aggravating to many IT pros is that their employers often expect them to make tremendous personal sacrifices and then often don’t reward them for what they’ve done.

IT pros might be especially prone to this problem if they are the only person in the IT department or if their department consists of just a few people. If there is a crisis that involves the entire company or several departments, all employees might be asked to pitch in. But as an IT worker, your dedication may go unappreciated if you are the only person who spent the night on the floor over the weekend.

“I thought I was giving myself an edge in the office, but I realize now I was just making myself into a doormat,” wrote a 37-year-old woman who now works as a computer lab consultant.

Yet in some cases, getting burned by an uncaring employer or making an outrageous personal sacrifice has helped reform IT professionals who work too much. Just like an alcoholic who needs to reach rock bottom before asking for help, some workaholics say they realigned their priorities only after a shocking experience.

“I have often wondered what it is that drives IT professionals to have a nonstop attitude…My marriage was nearly the cost [that I paid]. I had to seriously stop and evaluate what was important in my life—my marriage or my job…I’m not working at [my former employer] anymore,” wrote Rob McDowell.

Most of the people who are included in this report have told us that they have taken new, less-demanding jobs because they wanted a personal life. But not everyone shared that sentiment. Remember Alex Carson who worked from the hospital after receiving a new liver? He said he hurried back to the office within just two months of his transplant. “I couldn't stand not being there…as if they couldn't exist without me,” Carson wrote.

Just say no
Not everyone has the luxury of quitting his or her job. How do you strike a reasonable balance without having your supervisor question your work ethic and company loyalty? What’s the best way to say “no” when you are asked to work too many hours? Post a comment to this article or send us a letter.

 

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