Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

Four out of every 10 employees are dissatisfied with their work life balance.

You may know people like the three I am about to describe.

One is a successful physician, a senior partner in a 4-doctor suburban specialty practice. She works long hours and provides excellent service to her patients. She is known as one of the best doctors in her state. But she’s driving herself crazy. She’s a perfectionist. She wants everything done perfectly, her way, and resents her partners and the office staff when everything is not up to her high standards. Therefore, she ends up doing most of the work herself. She resents others for “making her” have to do everything so that it’s done just right. She’s exhausted and looks forward to the day when she can retire.

The second was laid off from his job at a major consulting firm many years ago and swore he would never work for anybody else again. He works long hours in his home office running a small consulting business. He has been successful, at a cost. He is obsessed with his work. He is constantly worried about satisfying his clients and finding new business. His work has taken over his life. He finds it difficult to have fun and has become lonely. Working in his office each day used to be a delight; now it has become an emotional challenge.

Our third example works for a successful company managing one of its major business units. He believes passionately in the work of the organization. He manages 200 employees and enjoys his work and his colleagues. He works long hours, travels extensively, and admits that his work has become his life. He says he prefers working late into the night in his office rather than going home. He is not unhappy, but appears to be experiencing a great deal of stress.


Work life balance means different things to different people. Employees who are dissatisfied with their balance often point the finger at their organizations. But, in many cases, they really need to point the finger at themselves. They may suffer from “workaholism.”

The problem for individuals:
Like a drug, work takes over the lives of workaholics. Although some may thoroughly enjoy their work, others may not. They feel compelled to engage in their work which typically results in neglecting their family, physical health, social life, leisure time, and pursuit of other life goals. They tend to lose touch with their lives and give up all they previously knew, felt, and believed.

The problem for organizations:
Organizations often praise their workaholic employees for their tireless commitment and devotion to the organization. But workaholism can lead to organizational problems. Workaholics are often control freaks and can be irritable and impatient with their coworkers. Many don’t excel at working well in teams or delegating work to others. They secretly blame others and their organization for the lack of balance in their life. This can lead to procrastination, a lack of concentration, and burnout.

Are you a workaholic?

Here is a 20-question quiz created by Workaholics Anonymous (WA), a volunteer organization based in Menlo Park, CA. It is reproduced here with their permission. Visit for further information about workaholism and recovering from its effects.

(According to WA, if you answer "yes" to 3 or more of these questions you may be a workaholic.) Take a look and see what you think.

  1. Do you get more excited about your work than about your family or anything else?

  2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't?

  3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?

  4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?

  5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week?

  6. Do you turn your hobbies into moneymaking ventures?

  7. Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?

  8. Have your family or friends given up expecting you on time?

  9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?

  10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?

  11. Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?

  12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?

  13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?

  14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going well?

  15. Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?

  16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?

  17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?

  18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?

  19. Do you work or read during meals?

  20. Do you believe that money will solve the other problems in your life?



  1. Admit to yourself there is a problem.

    Nobody can force someone else to start a diet, see a therapist, get in shape, or stop drinking. Weight loss programs, psychotherapy, fitness centers, and alcoholics anonymous programs are useless unless the individual recognizes that something is amiss. Only then can they take steps to try to improve their situation.

  2. Commit to doing things differently.

    Benjamin Franklin defined insanity as "doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results." Although it is not easy to change one's behaviors, unless you are committed to changing, you will continue to suffer the same emotional and psychological results.

  3. Get help.

    You probably can't make the radical changes that may be necessary all by yourself. Seek assistance from professionals who specialize in helping people to positively change their lives. Executive coaches, therapists, career counselors, fitness coaches, clergy, and many others can help you develop a plan to change so that you can get more out of life.

  4. Set goals.

    Do you want your tombstone to read, "He was committed to his work at the expense of everything else in his life?" Sit down and develop goals for your physical, emotional, social, mental, and spiritual life. Then develop a plan for specific steps you can take each day to achieve these goals.

  5. Change your basic work structures.

    Some people have trapped themselves into life structures that don't allow them to achieve balance in their lives. Think about how you can alter these structures. For example,

    Do you charge your customers for your time rather than for completion of a project or results? If so, you may be driven to work as many hours as possible at the expense of everything else in your life.

    Do you try to do everything by yourself without subcontracting, partnering, delegating, or referring work to others? If so, you may have placed yourself in a situation where you are lonely and working non-stop.

    Do you assume that your coworkers and subordinates are incompetent and insist on making every decision at work without empowering them to take responsibility? This will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you make decisions for others, the less able they will be to do so themselves.

    Do you begin each day with a to-do list that prioritizes your activities based on how they will enable you to achieve all of your life goals? If not, it's no wonder you're not getting any closer to achieving these goals.

  6. Become a student on the subject.

    Read up on work life balance, achieving personal goals, and making the best use of your energy. I recommend, "The Power of Full Engagement" by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Also, take a look around you. What are your friends, relatives, and neighbors doing to achieve balance in their lives? Maybe what's working for them could work for you.


It may not be your organization's fault if you lack work life balance. If you're a workaholic, own up to the problem and start working on changing your behavior.


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