1 in 3 Canadians identify themselves as workaholics, according to Statistics Canada
Olga Gulakova, a 32-year-old consultant at Navigant Consulting Inc., typically works 13-hour days. Instead of taking a lunch break, she often eats at her desk. Gulakova sometimes finds herself occupied with work even over the weekends.
“My job is very fast-paced. I also travel a lot, but I know this lifestyle is not for everyone,” Gulakova said.
Dr. Rhida Bautista, 42, is used to being the first one to arrive at work and the last one to leave. Bautista, who is currently a fellow at the Department of Oncology and Haematology at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, tends to bring work home.
Both Gulakova and Bautista are part of the 31 per cent of working Canadians between 19 and 64 who self-identify as workaholics.
“A workaholic is someone who is not emotionally present in their everyday life,” said Alexia Dyer, a relational therapist at East End Therapy, “Workaholism is often linked to perfectionism and the underlying cause is usually based on a sense of fear; fear of failure or fear of not being good enough.”
“My parents always encouraged me to study and strive to be the best,” Gulakova said. “They told me that if you want to succeed you have to work hard.”
Gulakova is originally from Ukraine. She had to “grow up early” because at 17, she left her home country and went to school in the United States. When she was 25 years old, she moved to Canada, where she felt like she had to start all over again.
As a perfectionist, Gulakova continues to push her own limits when it comes to her career. Although she is married, starting a family is not something she sees happening in the near future. “My mom told me, ‘Have kids only when you’re established in your career’ and I agree with her.”
However, Dyer warns that one of the dangers of workaholism is experiencing burnout. “Burnout feels like pushing a boulder up a hill,” she said. “But no matter how hard you try, you just can’t do it. You might not have the resources or the energy to do so.”
In fact, Dyer experienced burnout herself when she used to work at a sexual assault trauma centre. She explained that burnout feels different for everyone, but it essentially is the feeling of wanting to do something, but failing at it. Eventually one can lose hope, as well as his or her sense of self.
“I can see how people are drawn to becoming workaholics because nowadays a lot of companies and organizations demand us to be workaholics,” Dyer said.
For some careers, exerting extra time, work and energy is expected.
“It’s inherent in my profession to be as disciplined and as obsessive-compulsive as possible because you’re dealing with lives,” Bautista said. “You can’t be complacent. Doctors have to make sure that they do their jobs well because they don’t want to harm anybody.”
Like Gulakova, Bautista’s work ethic stems from her upbringing. She grew up in the Philippines, where her family prioritized discipline and education. Being the fifth of six children, Bautista watched her siblings excel in their respective careers, which pushed her to do the same. “Everyone did well in the family, so obviously I didn’t want to be left behind.”
Despite the challenges that come with workaholism, it can also bring a sense of fulfillment to people. “There are rewards that come with being dedicated to your work, such as personal achievement, financial rewards and other people seeing you as reliable,” Dyer said.
For Gulakova, her favourite part of her job is how it’s fast-paced and always different. Bautista finds fulfillment in knowing she has helped someone else. “In my field, there’s a lot of bad news and disappointment, so when you see someone get well and live longer, then they come back to the clinic and thank you, it’s honestly the best feeling.”
Maintaining a work-life balance is ideal, but Dyer pointed out that some groups of people are more inclined to be workaholics than others.
“It’s important to remember that certain people, based on their social location, have to actually work harder,” she said. “For instance, if you’re a person of colour or queer or Indigenous, you have to work twice as hard as a white male. Unfortunately, we still have to challenge those stereotypes surrounding who’s a hard worker and who’s not.”