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You’re always there for other people — your friends, clients, customers, and especially your co-workers. If you see a way to make things better, you go above and beyond to make it happen no matter what, whether that means staying late or doing the work for everyone else. You can’t resist. Stepping in to help is a point of pride for you.

Everyone wants to work for this type of devoted leader. But there’s a difference between a strong work ethic and being addicted to your job, like my client Becky was. Becky, a vice president of marketing at a top tech company in San Francisco, loved the fast-paced nature of her job. Lately, though, she was overfunctioning to the point of exhaustion.

Becky’s executive team tasked her with guiding a company-wide rebranding effort. Yet every time Becky and I talked, she complained that she couldn’t find time to focus on creating the rebranding strategy. She spent countless hours every night pitching in to help with retail store openings, setting up booths, and merchandising stock. Even though Becky’s staff was in charge of these duties, she couldn’t resist her compulsion to step in and save the day. She wanted to trust her staff, but her workaholic tendencies made it tough to let go. “It’s not my job,” she told me. “I probably should delegate it, but I want the work done right.”


If you’ve had a workaholic boss, you know how infectious secondhand stress can be: You’re glued to your phone, you compulsively check email, and you’ve long given up making evening plans that you’ll just have to cancel at the last minute.

Workaholics like Becky create a ripple effect. Her team feared approaching her with problems, often waiting until it was too late. Her staff was constantly falling ill, leaving the store launches in free fall. Instead of inspiring excellence, the office culture was breeding workaholism.

Fortunately, many leaders are waking up to the damaging impact of work addiction. They’re answering the call for change by putting in place better policies for work-life balance, vacation, and flexibility. Prioritizing people over profits isn’t just ethical—it also pays off in the long run. Happy, healthy employees are more productive. They are also more creative, confident, and resilient.

Well-being is clearly good for business, and believe it or not, positive workplaces and good bosses do exist. If your faith needs restoring, just look at the response of one CEO when an employee requested a mental health day:

This response shows that disassembling workaholism starts at the top, one action at a time. It’s up to leaders to undo the “work hard or fail” doctrine and take an active role in designing happy workplaces where people can thrive free of fear.


What Makes a Happy Workplace?

Workaholism and unhappiness go hand-in-hand. When you are motivated by fear, it’s impossible to enjoy what you’re doing, let alone be a happy-go-lucky co-worker. On the other hand, research shows that happy workplaces are marked by:

  • An inspiring mission
  • Clear expectations
  • Cooperation and collaboration toward common goals
  • Open communication free of passive-aggressive behavior
  • Respect and understanding, especially when life events affect our ability to work
  • A commitment to excellence that views failure as feedback
  • Room for experimentation

These aren’t just some feel-good results that come together by magic or happenstance. Decades of positive psychology research show there are practical steps leaders can take to shift workplace cultures from surviving to thriving.

Wide-scale change won’t happen overnight, of course, but small steps add up to big changes over time. Here are some ways you can play a part in ending workaholism and use the power you have to make a positive difference.


1. Admit Your Humanity

Take a stand against the all-work-no-play paradigm, and embrace being a work-in-progress instead. Spanx CEO Sara Blakey does this by normalizing rejection and failure as part of the process, not as a character flaw. She encourages her employees to ask themselves every day, “What did I fail at?” to help them get more comfortable embracing imperfection.

2. Don’t Enable

As a leader, you’re in a position of influence to shape the norms and expectations everyone follows. Your team will model you, and if you’re a workaholic, they may become one, too.

Leave the office at a normal hour. Take a retreat so you can rest, recharge, and intentionally craft strategy away from the pull of daily demands. Delegate instead of being the rugged individualist (like my client Becky) who goes it alone, driving yourself and others into the ground. Stress and anxiety are contagious, so be mindful of the emotional tone you set.

3. Be a Spreader of Good Vibes

Withholding praise doesn’t motivate people—it makes them fearful. Humans crave validation. It’s one of our core essential needs, so be open about showing appreciation. When you give feedback, counterbalance criticism by also pointing out what went well.

4. Take Responsibility to Prioritize

Sometimes long hours can’t be helped. There will inevitably be busy periods where you’ll need people to rally. If uncertain times lie ahead, surface any worries and fears and then work through them to develop contingency plans. Most important, check in with people to see how they’re doing from a personal standpoint, beyond deadlines and deliverables.

5. Create Space for Meaningful Work to Happen

Audit your meeting schedule. Get rid of meetings that are dead weight, or pare down the staff who are required to be there. When you free up people’s time, they have more mental and energetic bandwidth to focus on tasks that truly matter during standard work hours. That’ll ensure they’re not forced to burn the midnight oil to simply keep up.

Similarly, I suggest enacting dedicated “office hours.” These are designated time blocks when team members can swing by to ask questions, bring up concerns related to a project, and more. This creates psychological safety, where employees feel secure expressing themselves, and reduces the amount of time you have to spend on emails and task switching. It also models positive boundaries and encourages ownership. Instead of turning to you every time they feel stuck, your team will learn to take risks, collaborate, and problem-solve independently (rather than being dependent on you).


Many companies are waking up to the fact that the old way of working is no longer sustainable. Slowly but surely, workaholism is being called out and dismantled. The result is a workforce that is more human — and much better for it.

Don’t underestimate the power you have as a leader to help curb the tide of work addiction. Long-term change begins in daily micromoments. Start now, and start today.