Step away from the smartphone
Real estate agent Richard Movsessian can't stand to be parted from his phones, iPad and laptop computer. Photo: Anthony Johnson
When the rest of us move into holiday mode, spare a thought for those who can't keep their mind off work.
Jennifer and her two friends, Rachel and Collette, planned to holiday in Bali over the Christmas break. Four days before their departure date, Rachel informed the others she had to cancel the trip due to work commitments.
"We jokingly refer to her as the workaholic," Jennifer says. "Most of her time is spent checking her phone and emails. We even said to her to bring the laptop and mobile to Bali, just don't cancel on us. But she cancelled because she was afraid of losing her job and afraid of the competition when she is not there."
Richard Movsessian, a director at Century 21 Coastline Properties, is a confessed workaholic. On a typical day the 36-year-old receives up to 140 phone calls and 150 emails.
"My phone is running hot from morning till 10.30 at night," he says. "My clients tell me they're grateful that I respond to their call any time. They've told me they've had other agents who don't respond until the next day or so. I want to be a step ahead of my competitors."
Four years ago Movsessian's wife, Rebecca, insisted Richard take a short break. Rebecca chose Gwinganna, a health and wellbeing centre on the Gold Coast. The centre discourages the use of mobile phones and laptops. The idea was to help Richard unplug from his work.
"It was hard at first because I just couldn't switch off," Movsessian says. "For the sake of my health and my relationship I had to go. After that trip, Rebecca insisted I go every year to unwind before we holiday together."
Movsessian kept his promise and has returned each year, although he concedes it doesn't completely stop him checking his mobile. He packs his laptop and two mobile phones, just in case one breaks or he loses one.
"I know I need to take a break at Christmas. It's the only time I can. As soon as I enter the gates at Gwinganna I feel like I've come home. I confess that I do go back to my room and check my mobile, but that's only every couple of hours, rather than every few minutes."
Gwinganna's general manager Sharon Kolkka says 16 years ago, people came to health retreats to lose weight. Today, the number one reason is to de-stress. The shift occurred about 12 years ago, coinciding with the widespread use of mobiles and emails.
"People who come to the retreat say: 'I'm exhausted, I'm tired, and I don't want to exercise all day'. They can't leave work behind even in the downtime."
Kolkka adds people must have boundaries between home life and work.
"It's unfortunate, but in general employers think workers should be on call all the time. The workplace needs to understand the implications of this. The end result is employees don't perform as well. They become stressed because they can't meet family and other commitments. It becomes a vicious cycle where there is no place to de-stress," she says.
The focus at Gwinganna is educating people to switch off in an environment that is surrounded by nature, healthy eating and spa treatments.
Clinical and organisational psychologist Dr Peter Cotton identifies three types of workaholics. The first is a person who is driven by fear such as fear of losing a job or someone taking their job. The next is one who works hard and puts in long hours yet enjoys work. The upside is they can usually detach themselves from work even for a short break. The classic workaholic is over-involved in work. Often this is because they are avoiding issues in their personal life. In most cases they have difficulty negotiating change.
"What we know from a health and wellbeing point of view is that people do need to periodically withdraw," Cotton says. "This periodic break is restorative. It's important to get your head into a different state. Go out and exercise; take a holiday; lay on a beach or bury your head in a book. The principle is to do something that absorbs your thoughts and is not connected to work."
Cotton says there must be a demarcation space between the office and downtime. This is particularly important for people working from home.
"Technology addiction is a problem. Face-to-face interaction with others is fundamental to our existence. Having good relationships with family, friends and partners are factors that protect against stress in life. Technology can be part of this, but ultimately there is no substitute for human interaction."
Five indicators you're a workaholic
- Preoccupation with work, even when you're away from the workplace.
- Feeling as though you can't get yourself away from work.
- Sleeping difficulties.
- Your concentration has diminished from working long hours; the result is lower productivity.
- Lack of engagement in activities outside work or time spent with family and friends.