Wright Foundation | July 2, 2019

Addicted to Work: The Professional’s Soft Addiction

In today’s world many people, particularly young professionals become deeply engaged with work.

Are you addicted to work? While there’s nothing wrong with working hard, it’s important you’re still caring for yourself and making time for activities that give you a sense of purpose.


This leaves some people wondering: can you be addicted to work? Is it possible to become too involved in your career?

The answer to that question is a bit more complex than it may initially seem. There are many positives from being focused and driven in the context of a fulfilling career. In fact, a great job will bring us a great deal of satisfaction and joy.

On the other hand, there’s a darker side to work, and it becomes an addiction. Here’s how to know if you’re addicted to work so you avoid burning out or missing out on other aspects of a fulfilling life.

Can You Be Addicted to Work?

I’m often asked, can you become addicted to work? It’s a common question, especially when we discuss soft addictions.

In short, like many enjoyable activities (shopping, watching TV, social media, eating ice cream), work can become a soft addiction too. Wondering what exactly is defined as a soft addiction?

As I outline in the book The Soft Addiction Solution, soft addictions are seemingly harmless activities that ultimately distract us from our destiny. They keep us zoned out rather than zoning in. They cloud our thinking, interfere with our higher values and true purpose, and distance us from our loved ones. Soft addictions get in the way of our connections with others.

If you’re wondering if your career fits into the soft addiction category, it depends on how you’re using work.

You may become addicted to feeling important at the office. You can become addicted to the powerful feeling you get when you complete a task. You may become addicted to the busyness of your business.

On the other hand, is it okay to work hard? Yes of course! It’s actually very healthy. The satisfaction of a job well done is one of life’s great pleasures. If you love your work and feel challenged by your job, it’s greatly satisfying. If you feel better because of the work you do and feel you’re fulfilling your calling, then I say, God bless.

At the same time, there is a growing body of workers (particularly younger people) who are stressed out, burned out, and throwing themselves into their career at the expense of other aspects of their life. This is when work crosses the line from being fulfilling to being unhealthy. This is when you may need to assess if you’re addicted to work.

I worked with an executive whose wife complained he was a workaholic. She said he never came home, and their marriage was suffering because of his involvement with work. As we explored the situation, it came to light he was getting a great deal of fulfillment and validation from work. When he was at the office, he felt like he mattered. He felt important. He felt valued.

When he came home, his wife was unhappy. He felt like she was constantly complaining and nagging at him. He felt demoralized and unsuccessful at home. Finally, he said to me, “Look, what would I rather do? Be at a place I feel masterful and important, or spend my time in a place where I can’t do anything right? You’re right. I’m avoiding going home.”

Together, we worked on dealing with the issues at home rather than escaping into work and turning it into a soft addiction. Instead of running away from his problems by throwing himself into his career, we addressed the issues head on.

As he and his wife figured out how to better communicate and build intimacy, they were both able to derive more satisfaction from their time together…and the long hours at the office quickly lost their appeal.

Like many of us, he was drawn to the area where he derived the most satisfaction. If you’re fulfilled in all areas of your life—work, home, family, social, spiritual—then you may find your time becomes more evenly disbursed. Is one area getting all your attention? It may be time to explore why the other areas are being neglected and avoided.

What Are You Missing Out On?

If you’re trying to determine whether you’re addicted to work, look at the purpose you’re gaining from the activity. Are you using work to avoid other aspects of your life? When you leave the office, do you use work obligations as an excuse to get out of social interactions, or keep your phone on hand during dinner “just in case” the office needs you?

When work becomes our go-to excuse, we may be using our career to avoid building our personal relationships, connect with family, or even spend time alone. We tell ourselves work is fulfillment enough, but are you also taking time for the activities that recharge your batteries and keep you feeling satisfied?

There’s another woman I’m coaching who’s a very high level professional. She and I have been discussing how her work bleeds into the other aspects of her life. She’s single because, in many ways, she’s married to her work. It fulfills many of her needs. She admits there is a part of her that would like to become more social. There’s a part of her that would like to live her life more adventurously, cultivate a lifestyle, visit the theater, pursue her hobbies and interests.

Yet, her work is so fulfilling, she lets it fill her off hours. She never has the time to develop those other aspects of her life, or work on growing herself in new ways. So, for her, she’s become addicted to work. As she recognizes the need for more balance, she’s learning to pull herself away occasionally and dip a toe in the outside world.

So, if you’re wondering if work has become an addiction, assess how you’re using it. If you’re using your career to avoid personal connections, meet your needs, or as your sole source of validation, it may be becoming a bit too much.

There’s nothing wrong with working hard and it’s extremely vital to your personal fulfillment, particularly at certain times in your life. Simply make sure work is a force for good and positive growth in your life rather than an escape.

Getting Fulfillment Out of Work Without Missing Out on Life

There are many people that abuse the term “workaholic” or demonize the concept of dedication to one’s career. Of course, I want to underscore there’s nothing wrong with being passionate about your work.

If your career is truly your calling, it’s a very beautiful situation. Seeing someone who is delighted and fulfilled by the purpose they derive from their job is thrilling. If you feel fulfilled in your work, there are often peripheral areas of your life, like your relationships with family and loved ones, that benefit from you being a happy, satisfied person.

I see many people raising children, leading in the community, and enjoying a fulfilling career. You can certainly work hard and still lead a well-rounded life.

Some of the most productive workers I’ve seen are the mothers of young kids. They need to get to the office and get their job done so they can go home and care for their child at the end of the day. They’ve learned how to maximize their time to balance their career with their family.

We even see this right before people have a vacation scheduled. What happens at work? You ramp up your productivity to get everything finished before you leave, right? When we really want to get our jobs done, focus, and achieve, we make it happen. We complete our job and find time to enjoy the vacation.

There’s a lot of discussion on balance these days. How do you balance your career, family, and self-care? The truth is, it’s not always possible to balance these aspects of our lives perfectly. It IS, however, possible to derive satisfaction and fulfillment from all these areas. During certain periods of our life, we may focus on our relationships or family. During other periods, we may dedicate ourselves to our career.

Focus on discovering your sense of purpose in all aspects of your life. If your career is truly bringing you fulfillment and not an excuse to avoid other obligations, then there’s nothing wrong with working hard. If, on the other hand, you find you’re missing out on important aspects of your life, it’s time to step back and assess if work has become a soft addiction to avoid or escape other important activities.

For more on living your best, most fulfilling life, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where you’ll connect with others on their learning journey.

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.