Workaholism, Observed

Yesterday, I observed some workaholic behavior. Not hard-core, as I have been exposed to in the past, but a discrete moment of insanity within a typically normal place. For me, the hallmark of this issue is the inability to see how conditions (that you sometimes create) at work affect you and your colleagues, including overwork, the inability to manage time effectively, stress, and illness. I don’t think it’s the same as being an addict, but there are similarities. I have certainly posted about workaholic behaviors and workplaces before. But when I saw this type of behavior coming at me yesterday, it made me feel uncomfortable, so I feel compelled to write about it a little bit.

In the office yesterday afternoon, there was a burning smell, which I identified, because I am a hero. When people finally agreed with me that something was amiss (as I jokingly said “I refuse to die in this place” even though it was not a joke), one of the mid-level managers, who had dismissed me as thinking that someone’s lunch smelled weird, “took charge.” She literally took my building pass from me, and marched everyone out to the elevator and downstairs. This was kind of in violation of the fire protocol we had learned a few weeks ago, but whatever. It was mostly just funny that she took charge in such an overbearing way, having previously dismissed my concerns as an overreaction. (This middle manager has told me long stories about her own experiences with abusive managers, including a women who has her illegally fired from a job in the corporate sector. She is also an artist.)

Anyway, we found out a few minutes later that the burning smell was actually a fluorescent bulb that was burning out and therefore melting the casing that connects the bulb to its source of electricity. We all were allowed to go back upstairs. The office in which I work smelled very strongly of burnt plastic and chemicals, while the outer ring of private offices were less badly affected. The middle manager closed the door to her office (which she shares with other staff), while those of us in the middle office were left with this nasty smell. It was 4pm, and I usually leave at 5pm. The smell was making me uncomfortable, so I went into the middle manager’s office.

“Could you close the door? I don’t want the smell to come in here!” said the middle manager, laughing.

“The smell is still really bad in the center office, so if it’s okay, I think I am going to go home.”

“Uhhhhhh, are you done with all your projects for the day? I mean, what are you working on?” she replied, in a semi-shrill tone.

“I am doing some on-going research for Jennifer,” I said, referencing this research project that is supposed to be done by the middle of November. “I completed the mailing that you asked me to do this morning.”

“Jennifer, is it okay if she leaves?” asked the middle manager.

“Sure, of course,” said Jennifer.

So, while she recognized that the smell was gross, and she didn’t want it in her office, she was unable to recognize that it was gross and overwhelming to other people. She also took a strangely accusatory tone with me, as if I was shirking my duties (as a temp?!) by leaving 60 minutes early on a Tuesday. I have never left that office with a project unfinished, I have met every deadline they have set for me, and I have never been reprimanded for late or incomplete work. Like, what?

I mentioned that I was leaving to our mutual boss, and she literally said “of course!” and then waved me out of the office. People in another branch of the office referenced the “hullabaloo” (great word) and gently asked if a project that I was working on for them was done, despite the commotion. The other employees who worked in the center office with me left to get fresh air without asking permission (while the new person literally said she was afraid to leave because she didn’t want to get in trouble).

Now, I know that we all deal with stress differently, but this kind of myopia is, to me, a symptom of workaholism that I find really distasteful. Similarly, I get upset when people come to work sick, or when there is competition over who stays latest in the office. I was also kind of grossed out by this person’s attempt to deputize another person into her irritation that I wanted to leave early.

Now, this episode was very mild, and also discrete, which is why I think it’s an interesting example of workaholic behavior. It’s not wrapped up in a deadline, or a dramatic series of events, or a work culture. It was one person unable to recognize or sympathize with an unhealthy situation that adversely affected other people in the office.

And while I know that I am overly sensitive to issues like these, I also felt uncomfortable, said so, and then stuck to my guns when I was challenged, and left the office. So, I think that shows (small) progress.

Anyway, everything in the office is totally normal this morning, including a new bulb. I’m glad I know that they smell so gross when they burn out. I also got home in time to go for a run last night, which felt great. I ran two miles faster than I have in a long time, which I credit to yoga and lots of stretching.

1 comment
  1. Ugh. How stupid. There is no excuse for that kind of behaviour!

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