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Workaholics Anonymous

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” is the 17th century proverb describing the downside of constantly keeping one’s nose to the figurative grindstone. Laura Russell, assistant professor of communication, agrees with that wisdom, and she knows what she’s talking about. Russell is on the Board of Trustees for Workaholics Anonymous, an international organization that encourages support for those who struggle with maintaining a healthy relationship with their work. Ironically, as she maintains her position on the board, it adds more work to her professional life.

Not surprisingly for a professor, it all began with research. Russell’s area of academic research involves individual and collective well-being—and many issues around personal health in the face of addiction. “Any addiction creates walls,” she says. “Walls between you and the outside world, and walls between you and yourself.”

Laura Russell

During her research into addiction, Russell stumbled across “The Book of Recovery,” the cornerstone publication of Workaholics Anonymous.

Fascinated with the idea of an addiction to work, Russell wanted to know more.

As she looked into organization’s purpose and goals, Russell made some discoveries of her own. “I realized that I was actually researching my own life,” she said. “And I’m still making personal connections with this subject.”

If there can be such a thing as a “safe” addiction, workaholism would be it for many Americans. That’s the likely reason we have little awareness of the condition’s severity.

“We have this cultural work ethic that allows and even encourages us to work more and more,” says Russell. “It’s almost celebrated when we talk about bringing our work home, or note that colleagues return emails after midnight. When it comes to work, we are experts at making the extraordinary ordinary.”

[custom-field name=”aside” cssclass=”right-aside”]While workaholism may take shape through many forms, Workaholics Anonymous focuses on two primary classifications: work-compulsion and work-aversion. As the name implies, work-compulsives find it difficult to turn away from work and, consequently, lose sight of their personal lives. Work-aversives, on the other hand, often place high expectations on themselves and expect perfection to such a degree that they have trouble even beginning their work.

According to Russell, the problem underlying both types of workaholism—and indeed, most types of addiction—is a lack of self-acceptance. Knowing yourself and being comfortable with who you are is the basis of self-worth. And a strong sense of self-worth fosters independence from addictions.

So Russell isn’t necessarily anti-work, she’s pro-balance. “We can create healthy conditions at work and in our lives,” she says.

Though institutional and societal conditions are difficult to change, Russell wants to encourage healthier habits and work lives for faculty and students.

“On a personal level, I’m conscious of what I do and ask for in the classes I teach,” she says. “I examine student responses to my syllabus, and hope to work with colleagues to avoid over scheduling of papers and tests. I’m also exploring how we might begin discussing how our aims for excellence may, at times, compete with or make us absent to our human needs.”

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