Workaholism is on the rise, but there’s a ‘cure’

City workers who have suffered stress, anxiety and mental health problems due to the strains of the recession will recover with a better work/life balance, according to City Beacon, the only dedicated addiction counselling service for finance industry workers based in the Square Mile.

In addition, evidence is already growing to support the theory that workers are less fearful of the future and are recording higher levels of job satisfaction than before the recession hit.

Richard Kingdon, director of City Beacon, which treats white collar addicts, says that the service has seen a rise in the number of people facing addiction problems. They are not only suffering from dependence on drugs and alcohol but also from addiction to their jobs.

‘Workaholism’ has been increasing globally, and Workaholics Anonymous, which runs a 12 step programme for addicts, now has 2,500 members. But counsellors say that, following treatment, those seeking help will be better equipped to cope with future pressures and will become more considerate to their colleagues and loved ones.

“People are becoming more aware of their work/life balance, but that realisation usually happens when they have reached rock bottom. It takes a crisis to alter your priorities,” says Kingdon. “A crisis often allows people to let go of what they have been caught up in. A lot of people think having the trappings of wealth will fix them but come to realise they are hollow.”

Career insecurity has affected the national workforce deeply with many people working longer hours in an effort to appear indispensable. An ICM poll of over 5,000 employees, carried out last year, found that one in five were working longer hours since the start of the recession.

The increased strain on employees is thought to be the cause of a spike in mental health problems. A recent survey recorded that 77 percent of GPs have noticed an increase in new mental health cases due to the downturn.

The problem is magnified in the City where work pressures are acute. In recent months, the Square Mile has seen a spate of suicides and Kingdon confirms an increase in clients. He personally sees between 20 and 30 people and has other counsellors working with him.

Kingdon explains: “A lot of clients have workaholism issues. Workaholics use work as a fix just like they would use drugs or drink or gambling or sex. They use it to numb themselves. I have seen families and marriages devastated just as much through work as through drugs and drink because the person who is addicted to their job is not there emotionally.”

Through one-to-one sessions, City Beacon helps clients identify the triggers that feed their addictions and teaches them relapse prevention. Some also need to learn time management and how to take care of their emotional wellbeing. Counsellors build up a rapport with clients and help them set goals.

Each session is an opportunity to check whether the client is achieving those goals and to nudge them forward to the next target. Clients pay £135 for an hour-long one-on-one session with Kingdon and £500 a day if they want to follow a residential course. He also offers auricular acupuncture as a complementary treatment.

“When people face the type of problems we are seeing in the City at the moment and overcome them, they come out the other side as better people,” he says. “They become more productive, more reliable and more focussed. They become more valuable to employers.”

“A lot of them are selfish when they first come but don’t necessarily realise it,” Kingdon adds. “That is the nature of addiction.” He has found that their recovery begins when they start to take an interest in their environment and the people around them. “I’ve worked with some very selfish, ruthless people and I’ve seen them become lovely, kind, considerate, generous human beings.”

It is hoped the latest government figures, which show that the country climbed out of recession between July and September, will now start to give the workforce respite and ease fears.
Kingdon comments: “It looks bleak but there is hope.”

According to new information, workforce resolve is improving. The recently published ‘29th British Social Attitudes Report’ showed that workers today are demonstrating higher levels of satisfaction in their jobs than ever before with employees scoring an average satisfaction level of 7.3 out of ten — a significant jump from the 6.9 figure reported in 2006 before the recession hit.

by Nick Harding