There are managers who constantly hover around their team members. Hyperpresent, pumping energy, their distressing stress contaminates so much that even earphones, medications and breaks are no longer enough. We also know the fans of “all SMS”, without notion of time or (private) space. They contact by Signal, WhatsApp, Telegram, have abolished professional and personal, 24/7. Even if they no longer put “urgent”, they circumvent the right to disconnect in stealth mode: “I thought about…” We also meet hidden workaholics. Fearsome. Every day, they take work from other departments and distribute more to their colleagues with a devilishly precise roadmap. They play for first place in a ranking that only exists in their heads. “Going higher, going higher/Getting closer to the future,” sings Tina Arena. From “workaholism”. “[Ce néologisme] is a metaphor that works well to convey the idea of contracting with one’s work a relationship identical to that of a dependence, on alcohol or drugs, an addiction”, defines consultant Catherine Boucher-Lonza, psychosociologist. However, “he trivializes terms of psychopathology and does so without any rigor.”
“This trivialization of psychopathology terms leads to reductive reasoning: workaholism would be inscribed in the character of the individual. The work environment is not questioned, continues the expert. In a society that values work, from how many hours could we talk about workaholism? How does the person experience their excessive workload?” Addicted to work, Balzac who wrote day and night while drinking liters of coffee, the concert performer, the Olympic champion or the manager who set up his business and lives only by and for it. “For these people, work is a source of satisfaction and accomplishment correlated with hyperinvestment.” Alongside these enthusiasts, we find employees who have family responsibilities, particularly single women. Do they have any other choice than to dedicate themselves fully to a job? There are also people who want to pursue a career in a competitive context and who give their all. A classic in large consulting firms to become a partner: you always have to do more and better to stand out and be visible.
For others, being the “good student”, in a dynamic of recognition. This raises the question of a situation suffered or chosen and some people only have work in their life. For the lucky ones, it’s a life cycle that they forget when other priorities arrive. But there are many who work compulsively, like Stakhanovists, to calm anxiety and existential emptiness. This is a problem when they are managers and apply their hyperactivity to others, without worrying about the health of their team members – a legal obligation. “Some people no longer have perspective or critical capacity with regard to the company’s expectations in terms of increased performance and the workload requested,” underlines Catherine Boucher-Lonza.
“Work invades life like a jet of ink”
The company, which expects commitment and dedication, pushes to do more, to exceed objectives and to bring the professional into the private sphere. “I’m thinking of those who check their emails at night or when they wake up! The porosity between professional and personal life caused by teleworking must also be taken into account. Boundaries are abolished and work invades life like a jet of d “ink”, insists Catherine Boucher-Lonza. No choice ? Until the day when the body and the head break down and we realize that family life is reduced to nothing. Pause. Get help, reorganize yourself. Sandor Ferenczi had described, in 1919, a “Sunday neurosis”, of which Karl Abraham had clarified the psycho-dynamic mechanisms at play (Complete works, 1915-1925, t. II, Payot, 1989). “While it is difficult to observe a real addiction to work, we can nevertheless speak of multifactorial dependencies,” indicates sociologist Marc Loriol, research director at the CNRS (Work Addiction. From individual pathology to collective management of commitment, The Manuscript, 2023). And to conclude: “Work links workers together through a chain of interdependence which, when recognized and valued, gives reasons to more willingly accept the effort, the time spent, the trade-offs with other times of social life.” Meaning, what better remedy against workaholism?