What is the Difference Between Being a High Performer and a Workaholic?

Work is a good thing. Without it, nothing would get done. Nonetheless, those who are addicted to work can have a tendency to neglect their personal well-being and other essential parts of their lives.

WorkaholicWhat is a Workaholic?

The term “workaholic” is not an official name of an illness, disorder, disease or anything of that nature. It was apparently coined rather offhandedly in 1964 by a doctor employed by the Esso corporation, now known as ExxonMobil. Look up “workaholic” or “workaholism” and you’ll run into a lot of psychobabble citing it as a condition on par with drug or alcohol addiction. The unofficial suffix “-aholic” or “-holic” can be used in reference to virtually any activity, as in sugarholic, foodaholic, golfaholic, chocoholic, and shopaholic. These terms are usually used in a humorous context, whereas the terms alcoholic and alcoholism are used to describe a serious physical and psychological condition. A workaholic is someone who is addicted to work. While anything can be taken to extreme and unhealthy levels, being obsessed with one’s job is not comparable to drug or alcohol addiction.

Some fields are prone to a work-heavy mentality. “Sales” is one of them. A stereotypical salesman works all day every day, year after year, suffers from ulcers or some other health issue, and is burnt out from a soul-sapping profession. Some salesmen fit that bill, but it need not be that way. Even entire countries position work above anything and everything – or at least that can be the perception. The Japanese work ethic is known for being particularly strenuous, as are other countries in the East. Japan also gets a lot done and is a technological and economic leader.

Ignoring One’s Health

A workaholic may suffer from sleep deprivation. While “burning the midnight oil” is not necessarily a bad thing, people who have not slept are less alert and have a tendency to get sick due to a temporarily weakened immune system. They can also cause accidents if they are driving a vehicle or operating machinery. A workaholic may routinely skip meals and thus make themselves irritable and hard to work with – not very conducive to productivity. So in the long run, working yourself without sleep or food is not a wise move.

A workaholic may ignore their health in general. They may suffer from heart problems, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or other health issue and ignore it utterly. When they see the doctor, they may shrug off the advice and continue to work themselves just as they’ve been doing for years. If they get a cold or the flu, they may go to work anyway, and in so doing expose their co-workers to the same illnesses. What the workaholic is missing is a sense of balance. Sooner or later, ignoring one’s health means getting less and less work done.

Ignoring the Family

A workaholic may fail to come home until quite late, night after night. Their efforts may be noble: Supporting their family, paying for their kids’ college, providing a high standard of living. But this can be at the expense of actually spending time with their family. A person can miss their kids growing up altogether because they never spend any time with them. The answer then is to set aside time for one’s family. Even two hours a day is far better than nothing. Many people travel for work, making it all the more difficult. So it becomes a matter of setting priorities and carving out some time despite a booked schedule.

Underlying Issues

A serious situation is the person who spends all their time at work because they just don’t want to go home. They have marital problems or other difficulties in home life and their “solution” is to not be there. In these cases, the real problem is not work but in the underlying issues – and these are what need the work. When these start getting resolved, the work-related issues will be solved much easier or will indeed solve themselves. A good start is for the concerned individuals to sit down and start talking honestly about it. Honesty can be quite difficult, but is necessary for a rewarding and balanced life.

Substance Abuse

The most serious issue connected to an obsession with work is the use of drugs or alcohol to deal with stress. This is the coke-addicted stock broker, the doctor or nurse who never leaves the hospital and uses the very drugs they dispense, the salesman who stays drunk or high all the time in an attempt to cope. It also applies to students. Way too many college students are using prescription drugs to stay up studying for exams or “improve focus and concentration”. One study by Columbia University found 62% of students using some sort of medication in an effort to improve their academic or sports performance, keep their “edge”, etc. The use of steroids and various forms of “doping” in college and professional sports has become notorious. If you know anything about drug abuse and addiction, you know that anyone abusing chemicals in an attempt to deal with stress or improve performance is on a slippery slope. Drug and alcohol abuse always generates more problems than any they are perceived to solve.

Too Narrow a View

A workaholic can be so obsessed with the details that they neglect the big picture. “Detail oriented” is not a bad thing and is often mentioned on resumes as a positive attribute. But some people have a compulsion to keep doing a task even though it is actually done. They could move on to something else, but because of a tendency to fixate on a specific task, they neglect the broader view. The “micro-manager” is unable to let others get on with their work. He or she can’t quite let go even when the employee obviously knows what they’re doing. The result is that the employee feels kind of harassed, and ultimately less work gets done.

A Simple Remedy

A simple remedy for getting overly stuck on one thing is to simply take a walk. You just go out and take a walk and look at things in your environment. Keep walking and looking until you feel less burdened and more refreshed. When you return you should be ready to move on to another task. Anyone can benefit from taking a walk at the end of each work day. It helps clear your head.

The High Performer

High Performer

Find the Balance Between Work and LIfe

The ideal state for a manager or any employee would be one of high productivity without neglecting other areas of one’s life. One isn’t merely one’s job. One is a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a husband or wife, a mother or father. One is a friend, a member of a group, a resident of a community, a member of the human race. When you work to attain some sort of balance, you’ll find that all these different “hats” can complement each other.

A Healthy Lifestyle

If you get adequate sleep most of the time, adhere to a decent diet, skip the junk food, take a few vitamin and mineral supplements, and follow the basic rules of good health, you’ll get more done at work and in life. You won’t feel compelled to knock down one energy drink after the next because you’re so tired all the time – only to crash later on. More importantly, you won’t use amphetamines or abuse alcohol to “deal with” your job. A healthy lifestyle means you’ll be a more reliable worker or executive and a more reliable person in general.

Company Culture

A high performer will forward positive company culture. In fact, he or she may be responsible for developing a company’s culture in the first place. Company culture indicates a company’s core values, goals and aspirations, work ethic, and other vital components. A high performer is a team player. They are not “myopic” – meaning they do not fail to see the broader view. As such, they aren’t always trying to take credit for everything. They are happy to let others win and succeed. Working as a team player is one of the most important attributes any employee or director could have.

When Less is More

We live in a technological age, where machines, software and apps do a lot of the work. This has inherent advantages and disadvantages. Nothing can replace a human being with ingenuity and sound judgment. A high performer, while working very hard indeed, may yet work out ways to get far more done in far less the time. A high performer will utilize workable programs and systems in order to maximize efficiency. Getting more done with less work, while not compromising quality, ultimately means taking on new territory, i.e. expansion!


A high performer is honest. But does this mean he tells a manager or CEO everything there is to know about every problem including how terrible and unsolved all the problems are? No. The high performer tells the manager or CEO what they need to know. The high performer’s tendency will be to solve a problem and tell the manager or CEO about it after it is solved. They’ll report back that a task or project is done instead of flood the communication channel with excessive talk. Honesty does mean telling the truth and keeping one’s word. In the broader sense, it also means doing what is needed and wanted, showing initiative, and performing beyond the bare minimum.


Probably the most notable quality of a high performer and a true professional is diligence. Other words are persistence, perseverance and dedication. When they intend to do something, it is difficult or impossible to sway or deter them. Another notable characteristic is the tendency to check one’s work. After completing something, they don’t automatically hand it off as done. They check it over and fix anything that needs fixing. This is different from a compulsive micromanaging impulse. This is analytical. The high performer has pride and ensures that anything with their name on it meets a high level of quality.


The workaholic is a high performer by nature but needs some guidance in adjusting ingrained patterns and adopting healthy habits. Any employee who, when doing a little soul-searching, feels they are not quite a high performer, can up their personal expectations and rise to a higher caliber. The result will be more job satisfaction and more opportunity.


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