Most workaholics are unable -- not just unwilling -- to get away from it all. Time off doesn't tempt them. Summers, when everyone else slows down, leaves early and takes vacations, are particularly exasperating.
Any thought of rest or relaxation frightens workaholics because leisure looks a lot like the laziness they loathe. Workaholics will back off from it until it becomes so foreign and unfamiliar that they "forget" how to do it.
An economist concedes she has worked so hard for so long that she has "forgotten how to relax." She, like many, feels this is "something I can relearn someday." It's unlikely that she'll want to, and even if she does, it's even less likely that she'll be able to.
Some workaholics do allow themselves certain leisure activities as long as they directly benefit their work. For instance, taking time to jog at 5 p.m. is tolerable because you can return refreshed, restored and ready to work several hours longer.
When workaholics make a conscious effort to take time off, you can be sure that they work hard to have fun. Indeed, for many work addicts, the leisure pursuits that everyone else seems to enjoy soon become just a different kind of job. One workaholic told his therapist that "fun" was something you learned to have by working hard at it. Just as workaholics turn their work into play, so do they turn their play into work.
"A holiday or vacation," reports a 1974 Fortune article, "is not so much a welcome respite as it is a boring pause to be endured."
If they do get away, almost all workaholics call in and will, when work warrants, cut their vacations short. One publisher has never taken the full two weeks she schedules: "By the third day, I'm wondering what's on my desk." A surgeon who decided to try a vacation in Mexico lasted for two days of sightseeing and then offered his services to a local hospital.
As one writer puts it, "when workaholics go on vacation, it is not the natives but the tourists who are restless."
Workaholics will not hesitate to interrupt a subordinate's vacation (or honeymoon) if there is work to be done. Their families also are affected. Even on vacation, spouses cannot count on seeing much of workaholics. The only way that most workaholics can survive vacations is by combining their work and play. Others revert to work.
Jeno Paulucci, founder to Chun King and other food companies, responded to my questionnaire while on vacation: "I am now dictating this from Acapulco. Hell, I don't even leave the phone. I'm pacing around this pool, wondering what I should do next. I'm writing memos, calling the office, calling New York, calling Chicago. I just can't relax."
Some workaholics are manic about missing calls: They install answering machines with remote call-in features, or they hire answering services and check in constantly. One television reporter was so worried that he attached an answering machine to his unlisted telephone number and hired an answering service, just in case the machine broke.
There are a number of reasons why workaholics can't really accept vacations or time off. First of all, they haven't given vacations a fair trial. The short jaunts they take may be simultaneously too long to endure and too short to enjoy. Expecting too much from too little, they may remain itchy and return home before they've had a chance to unwind.
Or they've tried the wrong type of vacation. They've taken the kind that is soothing -- for instance, lying on a sandy beach -- when what they would have preferred is a stimulating one, such as experiencing an entirely new culture.
Second, they so enjoy what they do that they feel no need to "get away from it all." Their jobs resemble a long vacation. According to Newsweek, Margaret Mead was astounded when a reporter once asked if her life wasn't a little bit dull without hobbies. "Why do I need any?" she said. "Anthropology is connected with the whole of life . . . with everything people do."
A lot of workaholics feel that the preparation and anxiety that precede taking time off are more trouble than they're worth. Workaholics work extra hard before they leave in order to get ahead, and they make elaborate precautions to ensure that the work will proceed in their absence.
Finally, workaholics want to remain on top of things and in complete control of their jobs. Since their jobs matter so much to them, they are afraid to go away and lose that control. As Fortune explains: "His colleagues may use his absence to commit all manner of office attrocities -- stealing his secretary, unfairly pinning the blame on him for someone else's error, reorganizing him out of his job, or even moving corporate headquarters. Proximity to one's interests is power; distance is impotence."
Among mental-health professionals concerned by the inability or workaholics to balance work and play is Dr. Lawrence Susser, a New York psychiatrist also trained as a pediatrician.
"Workaholics," he says, "commit slow suicide by refusing to allow the child inside them to play." Susser likens the workaholics' distaste for leisure to children's claims that they hate spinach when they've never tasted it.
He recommends returning to the pastimes that were pleasurable during childhood and adolescence. In both his private practice and his programs at professional conferences, he emphasizes rechanneling energy away from work.
Workaholics, he claims, "are dominated by their controlling parent . . . the adult is blocked . . . the nature child is also blocked and that's the key to the therapy." (Geared around play, not talk.)
"Talking to a workaholic in my early experience," he says "was fruitless and painful for me as a therapist. You don't get anywhere talking to them. They stay obstructive and you get gray hair and headaches. . . To me, playing is a natural way of life. I took it for granted. It comes easily to me. My intuitive solution was to get these people outdoors and it worked."
Susser's outdoor play therapy starts with a 6- to 8-hour hike ("I bring a dog along; that usually brings out the child in them") that includes a two-hour lunch. ("Have you ever seen a workaholic take two hours for lunch?")
"After half an hour, they begin to get restless. There's a voice inside them that says 'Shouldn't you start to clean up?'"
Leisure counselor Suzanne Corry cautions converts not to demand too much from themselves and not to drive themselves to become experts when they initiate leisure activities.
"You can enjoy a walk in the woods," she has said, "without trying to learn the names of the trees and bugs."