Whatever happned to the workaholics: It was one of the buzz-words of the Eighties. But, if we were addicted, we're kicking the habit, Geraldine Bedell reports

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'PEOPLE who work for me should have phones in their bathrooms,' Thomas Bolger, chief executive of Bell Atlantic once asserted, quite seriously. That was in the Eighties when Margaret Thatcher ran Britain on five hours' sleep, lunch was for wimps, and we were all workaholics and proud of it.

Now, says Eve Warren, a consultant to the Industrial Society, and author of a forthcoming book on stress at work, 'the term workaholic no longer arises. I haven't heard anyone use it to describe themselves for about three years. It's gone the way of yuppies.'

Cary Cooper, professor of occupational psychology at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, believes a pervasive new mood is taking hold in the British office.

'Industry is in a more philosophical frame of mind; there is more sense of the importance of families, of balanced lives,' he says. 'People are questioning whether the long hours of the workaholic culture are worth it. And very often the answer is no.'

But Barbara Killinger, psychologist and author of a book which will be on sale next week - Workaholics: The Respectable Addicts (Simon & Schuster, pounds 7.99) - has yet to discern this new mood, and cheerfully dismisses the fact that people no longer call themselves workaholics.

'Few of us are willing to acknowledge our addiction to work,' she claims. And since, she says, denial is a significant symptom, you can quite possibly be a workaholic and think that you are perfectly normal.

To find out if you are a workaholic, Ms Killinger suggests that you should answer questions such as: 'Is your work very important to you? Are you afraid of failing? Do you take your briefcase home and work at nights and/or weekends? Do you think you are special or different from other people?' (You can discover the full truth about yourself according to Ms Killinger's theory by answering the accompanying list of questions.)

On this basis, a significant proportion of the population is probably seriously sick. Fortunately however, this is a sickness from which it is easy to recover, because, unlike alcoholism, workaholism isn't a real addiction or disease; it doesn't even have the classification of a scientifically respectable concept.

According to John Cobb, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 'it is a symptom, rather than a cause; it reflects some other problem.

'Burying yourself in work may be a way of avoiding unhappiness. But there may not be any problem at all: some people do simply enjoy working hard and think that is a reason for existence. I don't think that that should be turned into a psychiatric problem.'

A few years ago, when we had a prime minister who chafed at taking holidays, and we were all supposed to be driving ahead through ceaseless entrepreneurial effort, working excessively long hours was rarely perceived as any kind of problem at all. Claiming to be a workaholic in the Eighties was just shorthand for boasting that you worked hard and were in touch with the Zeitgeist. Now that we are mired in recession, to claim that someone is a workaholic is shorthand for saying that they haven't sorted out their life; that they can't manage time efficiently or get things in proportion.

Professor Cooper recently interviewed 118 chief executives. 'Nearly one in four said they wanted to get out, because their job was interfering with their family life. The younger executives in particular were asking 'who needs it?' The work culture of the Eighties, combined with more women working, wore a lot of people out.

'People are increasingly questioning the quality of their lives, and a lot of it is about families. There's no longer the sense that you climb the greasy pole and don't count the cost. People used to play squash to relax, now they say they spend time with their children.'

Alisdair Burcher, 30, feels he was taught as a child that his every waking minute had to be productive. 'My father, a lawyer, worked every day of the year; when he wasn't working he was compulsively collecting plants and tropical fish. We never expressed emotions at home, then I went to public school; I feel all I did during my childhood was strive to achieve.

'I went into business as an interior designer and worked obsessively. Work kept me nicely numb, stopped me thinking about myself or the people around me. I felt safer working. I could forget about my lack of self-esteem; I had purpose and validity. But I hated it, because I was draining my energies. Then my marriage broke up. I got custody of my son, and I realised I had very little relationship with him.'

He took a year off before starting Stressbusters, a company which offers fully-clothed massages in offices. He says there is increasing demand for his services; meanwhile, his relationship with his son has improved dramatically. There are similar stories everywhere. Steve McKeown, psychiatrist and mental health consultant to ICI says 'families are getting more assertive. And people's expectations are changing; there's more open concern about lifestyle in the broadest sense.

In Japan, where people work an average of 200 hours a year more than their American or British counterparts, there is a growing debate about karoshi - death from overwork - which lawyers have estimated claims between 10,000 and 30,000 victims a year. In a recent government survey, 41 per cent of Japanese wanted shorter working hours, even if that meant a drop in income.

Ellen Brush, 40, publishing director at Redwood Publishing, couldn't go anywhere during the late Eighties without a supply of cigarettes and Nurofen: 'I was on a constant merry-go-round, endless deadlines, never enough hours in the day. I had no time for friends and family: they always came second.' After one particularly gruelling magazine launch, 'I nearly had to be carried out in a strait-jacket: it was 'who can I shout at next?'.' She tried transcendental meditation, and measures the benefits in terms of improved relationships: 'I take time now for my partner and my friends,' she says.

Juliet Schor, associate professor of economics at Harvard and author of The Overworked American, points out that by 1990 we owned and consumed twice as much as in 1948, but had significantly less free time. And the less we have, apparently, the less actively we spend it: the Japanese, who work hardest, watch most television, followed by the Americans. Increasingly, people are asking how sensible this is.

Ivana Daniell felt her life ran way out of control a couple of years ago. 'I was doing too much. None of it was very high-powered - I was taking a postgraduate course, earning some money modelling, teaching dance, looking after my son, trying to pay my husband attention, commuting for a couple of hours a day - but I felt over-stretched, always in a hurry, off-balance. Then I started doing transcendental meditation and realised I didn't have to rush around being busy all the time.'

The steady erosion of life beyond work during the last two decades is clear in figures collected by Victor Fuchs, an economist He estimates that American parents spent 11 hours less a week with their children in 1986 than was the case in 1960. The '5pm dads' of the Fifties and Sixties, home for tea and bedtime, practically vanished; working mothers, meanwhile, have had to rely on 'quality time'. Increasingly, women are wondering whether that concept is a fallacy, and whether what everyone really needs is quantity. Half of all American parents think they spend too little time with their children.

Professor Schor suggests several possible reasons for the sense of constant pressure that many people feel - including the computer, whose chief measure of time is the nanosecond, one thousand-millionth of a second. 'Never before,' she says, 'has time been organised at a speed beyond the realms of consciousness.'

We have also taken to assessing each other as walking resumes, she suggests - 'if you're not doing, you're not creating and defining who you are'. And there is the simple fact of plenty - 'the Walkman, VCR, camcorder and concert tickets are now all crammed into the space once occupied by the record player.'

Whatever the cause of the pressure, we now seem to be witnessing the start of a revolt. From the growing acknowledgement of karoshi in Japan to the British fascination with all types of stress management techniques, and increased public enthusiasm for the family, there seems to be a move away from the idea that you are what you do and how well and hard you do it. The workaholic culture is going out of fashion.

According to Professor Cooper: 'People are starting to talk like they used to during the Sixties. It's flower power, but without the flowers.'

Perhaps now it's family power.

ARE YOU STILL

A WORKAHOLIC?

1 Is your work very important to you?

2 Do you like things done 'just right'?

3 Do you tend to see things as black or white, not grey?

4 Are you competitive and often determined to win?

5 Is it important to be 'right'?

6 Are you overly critical of yourself?

7 Are you afraid of failing?

8 Are you restless, impulsive and easily bored?

9 Do you drive yourself and have high levels of energy and stamina?

10 Do you suffer periodic bouts of extreme fatigue?

11 Do you work nights and/or weekends?

12 Do you feel uneasy or guilty if there is nothing to do?

13 Do you think you are special or different from others?

14 Do you read work-related material when you eat alone?

15 Do you make lists of things to do, or keep a daily diary?

16 Do you find it harder and harder to take long holidays?

17 Do you often feel hurried, rushed, or a sense of urgency?

18 Do you keep in touch with your office while on holiday?

19 Do you get upset if you don't 'play' well?

20 Do you avoid planning your retirement?

21 Are you responsible at work, not in personal matters?

22 Do you avoid conflict?

23 Do you act on impulse without considering others?

24 Do you fear rejection and criticism, yet judge and criticise?

25 Is your memory of what others say getting worse?

26 Do you get upset if things don't work out as expected?

27 Does being interrupted at work or at home annoy you?

28 Do you create pressure with self-imposed deadlines?

29 Do you concentrate on future events instead of enjoying the present?

30 Do you forget or minimise family occasions?

If you answered yes 20 or more times, you are likely to be in the danger zone.

From 'Workaholics', Barbara Killinger, published 27 July, Simon & Schuster, pounds 7.99

(Photograph omitted)

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