Reconócelo, eres adicto al trabajo
Al principio, fue la bebida. Luego las drogas. Al final, lo que acabó con Don Serratt fue su adicción al trabajo. Hacía mucho tiempo que había superado los dos primeros hábitos pero, luego, su larga adicción por las fusiones y adquisiciones, como buen banquero de inversión, terminó por minar su salud y apartar de su lado a su mujer e hijos. Ahora, Serratt, tras haberse recuperado, vive de esta experiencia: ha fundado Life Works, una consultora especializada en la adicción al trabajo y que esta semana celebra una conferencia en Londres denominada "Cómo tratar al profesional afectado".
Lucy Kellaway
Financial Times

Yo, sin embargo, como profesional que, en ocasiones, se siente afectada y que sufre numerosas adicciones, nunca me he extrañado de esto. ¿Es el trabajo realmente adictivo?

Si es así, ¿deberíamos preocuparnos por ello? Mucha gente trabaja muchas horas de más pero esto es más bien una cuestión personal. El que no quiera, estoy segura de que dejaría de hacerlo.

Por curiosidad, llamé a Serratt. Me dijo que cuando él empezó a trabajar como banquero de inversión, trabajaba mucho y le fue muy bien. Con 34 años ya era el responsable del departamento de fusiones y adquisiciones de un gran banco. Se levantaba a las cinco de la mañana y, tras pernoctar en hoteles de aeropuerto, visitaba cuatro o cinco países a la semana durmiendo cuatro horas diarias. Todos los días tenía desayunos y cenas de negocios.

Tres años después, su vida se derrumbó. Éste es un caso extremo. Le perjudicó.

Además, es una locura.

Sin embargo, ¿está tan extendido como para merecer la etiqueta de "adicción al trabajo" y celebrar conferencias dirigidas a expertos de recursos humanos? Serratt asegura que existe un "alto porcentaje" de banqueros de inversión adictos al trabajo. La adicción se produce porque el exceso trabajo tiene recompensa: nadie, en un banco de inversión, te va a decir que trabajes menos. Además, uno no se cuestiona lo que hace porque el resto hace lo mismo.

Al final, el trabajo se convierte en una droga en la medida en que te impide sentir. El trabajo, según él, encubre el estado de depresión. Para mí, ésta es una ventaja. Si tratas de ahogar las penas en la bebida, acabas comportándote mal, te pones en evidencia, sufres resaca y luego te hundes más en la depresión. Pero, si utilizas el trabajo como vía de escape, ganas más dinero y, además, tu vida cobra un poco más de sentido a tu vida, lo cual puede ser beneficioso. Para mí, el trabajo duro no sólo ha de estar recompensado, sino que ha de ser gratificante. Muchas de las personas que conozco que sufren una fuerte depresión tienen un grave problema: no pueden trabajar, lo que resulta aún más alarmante. Serratt define la adicción como algo que sigues haciendo a pesar de las consecuencias. Añade que la adicción al trabajo es distinta al resto porque los primeros que salen perjudicados es la familia.

Esto también lo pongo en duda. Las familias en las que el padre trabaja como banquero de inversión durante 70 horas a la semana no parecen funcionar peor que el resto. Lo que sí se deja entrever es el montón de dinero que tienen. Si la vida de estas familias estuviese destrozada, no cabe duda de que tampoco me daría cuenta. A algunas parejas les sienta de maravilla verse muy poco. Los niños viven con los dos padres. Y las mujeres, a juzgar por las conversaciones que mantienen a la puerta del colegio al que van mis hijos –en el que abundan niños con padres abogados y banqueros de éxito–, parecen estar más alegres que yo: pasan el día jugando al tenis, almuerzan con una amiga y luego se van de compras a Harvey Nichols. Así, la vida parece más agradable.

No estoy diciendo que trabajar duro siempre sea postivo –es evidente que para Serratt y su familia no lo fue– pero para la mayor parte de los banqueros de inversión que hacen horas extras, es un negocio. No hacen otra cosa excepto trabajar, por lo que ganan sumas ingentes de dinero. Ése es el trato y me imagino que todos lo entienden. Serratt opina que lo que mueve al adicto al trabajo es la vergüenza a no ser demasiado bueno y el miedo a ser descubierto. No es el único que considera que esto causa graves problemas en el lugar de trabajo. Según el autor Manfred Kets de Vries, estas personas son un peligro para ellos mismos y para la empresa en la que trabajan. Acaban convirtiéndose éstas en una especie de gulag. No obstante, creo que esto es positivo. Al menos en mi caso, forma parte de la motivación.


Might as well face it, you're addicted to work. So what?

By Lucy Kellaway
Published: September 12 2005

First it was the booze. Then the drugs. In the end, though, it was the addiction to work that destroyed Don Serratt. The first two habits he kicked long ago, but his M&A habit, pursued over years as an investment banker, eventually took his health, his wife and his children.

Mr Serratt has now made a career out of his recovery and has founded Life Works, an addiction specialist consultancy which this week is holding a conference in London called Treating the Impaired Professional.

As a professional who sometimes feels impaired and who has many addictions, I nevertheless felt puzzled by this. Is work really addictive, and if so should we worry about it? Lots of people work silly hours, but it is a matter of personal choice. If they do not want to, surely they can stop.

Curious, I rang Mr Serratt. He told me that when he first became an investment banker he worked very hard and did very well. By 34 he was head of mergers and acquisitions at a big bank. He was waking up at 5am in airport hotels, visiting four or

five countries a week, sleeping four hours a night. Every day he had business breakfasts and business dinners. After three years his life had caved in.

Working this hard is extreme. It is damaging. It is mad. But is it widespread enough to deserve a label like "work addiction" and to have conferences for human resources experts about it?

Mr Serratt claims that "a high percentage" of investment bankers are addicted to work. The addictions take hold because excessive work is rewarded: no one in an investment bank ever tells you to stop working, and you do not question what you are doing because everyone else is working hard too.

Eventually work becomes a drug because it stops you feeling. Work, he says, masks depression. To me, this is one of the beauties of it. If you try to drown depression in booze you behave badly, throw up, get a hangover and become more depressed. But if you escape it through work, you earn some money and get a sense of purpose which might help the depression a bit. For me, hard work is not just rewarded - it can be rewarding too.

In fact, most of the seriously depressed people I know have the other problem - they cannot work at all, which seems altogether more alarming. Mr Serratt defines addiction as something that you go on doing despite the consequences. He says work addiction is different as the people it harms first are the families.

I am not so sure about this either. The families I have seen where the father is a 70-hour-a-week investment banker look rather less dysfunctional than most. I got to know a few of them a couple of years ago when one of my children went to a school where most of the fathers were successful bankers and lawyers. There was never any sign of the men themselves, but plenty of signs of their cash - seen in their cars and in their

wives, who had exceptionally high-maintenance hairdos and some very fancy handbags.

If these family lives were in tatters I certainly could not see it. Some marriages thrive on partners seeing very little of each other. Almost all the children seemed to live with both parents. And the wives, to judge from our conversations at the school gate, were a lot jollier than I was. They had passed a nice day playing a gentle game of tennis, having a light lunch with a girlfriend, and a bit of recreational shopping in Harvey Nichols. Life seemed good.

I am not saying that hard work is never damaging - it clearly was for Mr Serratt and his family. Yet for most investment bankers who work silly hours there is a deal. They do nothing but work and earn a king's ransom. That is the deal and I imagine they all understand it.

Mr Serratt believes the work addict is driven on by shame at not being very good and fear of being found out.

He is not alone in thinking this syndrome causes serious problems in modern workplaces. The latest issue of the Harvard Business Review contains an article called The Dangers of Feeling like a Fake, which claims that managers who fear getting found out are a danger to themselves and their companies. The author, Manfred Kets de Vries, argues that the "neurotic imposter" drives himself so hard and is so punishing to both himself and others that his company or team becomes a sort of gulag.

Again, I find myself struggling to feel alarmed by all these workplace psychos. I wonder if Prof Kets de Vries feels like a fake himself. I do, most of the time. From the morning I walked into the Financial Times for the first time 20 years ago I have been waiting to get found out. I am still waiting. This, I think, is perfectly healthy. Feeling a fraud is part of what makes me try.

The people I worry about are those who do not have enough shame or fear, who never worry about being found out, because it has never occurred to them that they are anything less than just the ticket.

In the end we have a choice. We can see all driven, successful people as psychopaths: a potential liability to themselves and their families. There is something to be said for this. Most successful people are pretty suspect if you scratch the surface. The most balanced people I know have never got very far and never wanted to.

But so what? If hard-working high-fliers get from one end of the day to the other, surely the best thing for the rest of us is to keep our labels to ourselves and politely look the other way.




LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Workaholic men pave the way for shopaholic wives

By Mark Pollack
Published: September 14 2005


Sir, Lucy Kellaway's analysis of workaholic husbands and their families sensibly questions the assumption that 70-hour work-weeks are always harmful to workers and their families ("Might as well face it, you're addicted to work, so what?" September 12).

The family arrangements of such men, she argues, are based on "a deal. They do nothing but work and earn a king's ransom. That is the deal and I imagine they all understand it." Such families, moreover, are not necessarily dysfunctional: indeed, the wives in such relationships thrive, cashing in on their end of the deal by passing their days playing tennis, having lunch with girlfriends, and of course shopping.

Ms Kellaway's analysis resonates to some extent here in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia, replete with families fitting her description. Still, there are two troubling elements in the analysis.

First, Ms Kellaway proceeds seamlessly from work addiction in general to working fathers, implicitly suggesting that workaholism among women is either non-existent or not worthy of examination.

Second, even if we restrict our analysis to workaholic men, Ms Kellaway's analysis is predicated on the problematic assumption that the husband's long hours are based on a voluntaristic marital deal. Sometimes they are, but just as often they are based on first-mover advantage: the wife, for example, might interrupt her career for child-rearing, during which time the husband steps in to provide extra income and, yes, work long hours.

But a few years later, when the kids are off to school and mom hopes to return to work, her choices are constrained by a husband whose schedule and habits provide financial but not parental support for a wife with an interrupted résumé and much to prove at the office.

Ms Kellaway's rosy assessment presupposes that the wives of workaholic men are willing and happy to shop, play tennis, and - oh yes - hold down the familial fort, alone and indefinitely. Not all of them are.

Mark A. Pollack,

Associate Professor,

Department of Political Science,

Temple University,

Philadelphia, PA 19122, US

From Ms Claudia Binaghi.

Sir, Regarding Lucy Kellaway's column on work addiction (September 12), we should be reminded of former president Ronald Reagan's quip on this subject.

When asked to comment on his abbreviated work schedule, Mr Reagan replied: "Working long hours never killed anyone but why take a chance?"

Claudia Binaghi,

New York, NY 10011, US