By 2030 epidemics will be eradicated; life rejuvenated by injections giving lifespans of 150 years; and cars almost obsolete with aeroplane ownership common. These were the 1930 predictions of FE Smith, a British politician and friend of Winston Churchill.
For work, he said, many would have a two-day work week while factory hands would have a 16- or 24-hour week in automated factories, where the work would be “supremely easy and supremely dull”.
Despite shorter hours, everyone in 2030 would be able to afford to play sport and, as wealth increased, “We shall all be able to ride to the hounds,” something Smith enjoyed.1
Now, only a decade away from 2030, these prophetic visions are as laughable as the “paperless office” we were promised with the advent of computers.
Work, overwork and “work martyrs”
Work is a major part of our lives. Even with a 38-hour week, many do so much more. One study of more than 16,000 workers found that about 8 per cent could accurately be described as “workaholics”.2 Other estimates run as high as 25 per cent.
A survey of 5000 workers in the US produced the surprising result that millennials were more likely to be workaholics. Harvard Business Review reported: “Millennials are actually more likely to see themselves—proudly—as ‘work martyrs’ than older workers, and less likely to use all their vacation time.”3
This study also found 43 per cent of these work martyrs were millennials, compared with 29 per cent of overall survey respondents. Millennials were also more likely (48 per cent) to want to be seen as work martyrs by their bosses than Gen Xers (39 per cent) and Boomers (32 per cent).
“A true workaholic,” says psychologist Linley McMillan, “is highly driven and finds it difficult to disengage from work, often working past hunger pangs and failing to see relationships and health red flags.”4
What makes a workaholic?
While the cause can’t be limited to one issue, Lisa Orbé-Austin, a psychologist focusing on career issues, finds a common underlying cause is the “imposter phenomenon”. Sufferers are “people who feel like they’ve always got to prove themselves because they’re not really as good as people think”.
No matter how senior or what their track record, they believe it’s only a matter of time before their incompetence is discovered.
“Sometimes people grow up being told they are not smart, so they think, ‘I don’t really have intelligence, all I have is the ability to work hard,’” says Orbé-Austin.5
Unfortunately, workaholism leads to a foreshortened and narrow existence—and regret.
“John” isn’t his real name, but he had this kind of regret. He was one of the dying in Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
He had worked too hard. “I gave less time to what truly kept me going through life: Margaret [his wife] and my family, my dear Margaret. Her love and support was always there. But I wasn’t there for her.”6
To counter workaholism, Orbé-Austin recommends setting clear boundaries, but admits, “It’s not always easy.” And it’s made more difficult because, thanks to online technologies, we are still connected and available even when we’re physically away from the workplace.
Her boundary settings involve: let people know when you aren’t available; turn off your mobile phone notifications and receive no work emails (or don’t check them) on weekends; and develop “other parts” of yourself outside work.
Workaholism vs working hard
There’s often a sense that being a workaholic can help you succeed at work. That’s a myth, says Malissa Clark from the University of Georgia. Her research found that, while workaholics can spend more time thinking about and engaging in work, it may not benefit them or their employer.
“Not only does workaholism not help improve someone’s productivity,” says Clark, “but we found workaholism was strongly related to increased job stress and burnout.
“Workaholism is primarily linked with negative outcomes” while work engagement—even if long hours are involved—“is primarily linked with positive outcomes.”7
Further, workaholism causes work–family conflict because of the negative emotions involved, while work engagement leads to work-family enrichment and positive emotions.8
Working hard is not a problem, but workaholism is.
A God-given solution
The Sabbath is a biblical concept that’s found throughout the Bible, from the Creation story to the fourth of the Ten Commandments to Jesus declaring Himself as “Lord of the Sabbath” in the New Testament.
The word “Sabbath” simply means rest. Stop. Cease.
And if you’re a slave to your work, it’s worth noting that the Sabbath presented in the Ten Commandments was first given to fleeing slaves. They had just escaped from a life where they had no choice but to work, and probably seven days a week.
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you,” says the commandment, which goes on to explicitly connect Sabbath observance with freedom from slavery. “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. . . . Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:12–15).
What a way to fight against work martyrdom. To stop and be. To rest and reflect. This is so foreign in our busy world.
“The truth remains that Sabbath will be challenging for anyone to live out in our busy, frenetic world,” says AJ Swoboda in Subversive Sabbath. “Sabbath goes against the structure and system of the world we have constructed. Sabbath, then, becomes a kind of resistance to that world.”
It’s an “alternative lifestyle that goes against everything our world knows”.
And it can be difficult imagining one day a week not involving work. Where you leave off the workaday life to focus on what’s important—relationships for a start.
And, to be true to the commandment, to focus on a relationship with God.
A final word to work martyrs
Swoboda says, “More often than not, the only way we can truly feel good about our lives is if we are burning out doing it. . . . It seems this cultural mantra has been treated like a command from God, but God never asked us to work to the point of burnout.
“We were not created just to work.
“Work is not our Ultimate.”10
Got time for a workaholic quiz?
Developed at the University of Bergen (Norway), the Bergen Work Addiction Scale uses the following seven basic criteria to identify work addiction. All items are scored on the following scale: (1) Never; (2) Rarely; (3) Sometimes; (4) Often; and (5) Always:
- You think of how you can free up more time to work.
- You spend much more time working than initially intended.
- You work to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
- You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
- You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
- You prioritise work over hobbies, leisure activities and exercise.
- You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
Scoring “often” or “always” on four or more of the seven items suggests that you’re a workaholic.9
A sabbath or the Sabbath?
The Sabbath concept is often applauded to help bring wholeness to life. People are encouraged to make any day, or part of a day (mini Sabbaths), where you simply withdraw.
However, that doesn’t stay true to the original intent: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20: 11).
The biblical Sabbath, the seventh–day-of-the-week Sabbath, is the one God blessed. Of course, you would expect me to say that in a magazine produced by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. But surely God’s blessing has some value.
Jesus called Himself the Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5) and He regularly attended the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). He was speaking about and keeping seventh-day Sabbaths.
Unfortunately, in Jesus’ day, religious leaders had sucked the life—the enjoyment and “delight” (Isaiah 58:13)—out of the Sabbath. Jesus showed a better way and condemned those who made it an uptight, nitpicky day.
Australian theologian Robert K McIver has surveyed the evidence and found that the rise of Sunday observance and the decline of Sabbath observance began in Rome and Alexandria. Then, under the “active patronage of Constantine [Roman emperor, 306–337] the trends began that eventually led to the triumph of Sunday worship over Sabbath worship in most of the Christian world”.
While the day when most Christians worship may have changed, the biblical Sabbath remains the same.11
4. Cited in Dilvin Yasa, “The rise (and rise) of workaholism,” Kudos, 12 / 2017, pages 26-28.
6. Bronnie Ware, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Hay House, Australia, 2012, page 74.