Fighting the 'hell' of workaholism

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At 26 she was leading a team of 12 financial analysts working for a dynamic North American finance house, which was expanding rapidly through Europe.

The company's expansion plans knew no limits but Jeremiah's mental health did. She was working more than 12 hours a day - arriving at her desk at 7.30am and still fielding transatlantic calls at 8pm, five days a week with Saturdays thrown in for good measure.

'I won an award for working the most hours,' says Jeremiah, a Staffordshire University business graduate. 'But I was a burned out case. Work had completely taken over my life. My team were fire-fighting the whole time, desperately trying to keep pace with expansion but too proud to admit we couldn't cope.

'There was bullying from the top to work harder and peer pressure to compete. Transatlantic time differences meant that at 7pm I would be getting calls saying 'You're not leaving yet, are you?'.

'At home I was too tired to do anything other than collapse with a bottle of red. I lost my appetite, my sense of humour and a lot of friends. I became really irritable and tense.

'I took no holidays and was just living for the company. When a workaholic colleague died of a heart attack at 40 I realised I had to walk away. I wanted something better to look back on from my rocking chair. I do feel quite bitter and angry about it. It's as though they stole those years of my life.'

Jeremiah is now starting her own business which she realises also involves hard work and long hours. But she laughs: 'At least it will be me reaping the benefits.'

There's a growing number of workaholics in the City of London, according to insiders who point to the widespread habit of keeping changes of clothes at the office as a giveaway. Common excuses include the need to be seen to be indispensable, keeping ahead of rapid technological change, 24-hour-global financial market information and insecurity about downsizing.

'We're seeing more and more people from financial institutions who can't balance work and home life,' says occupational stress consultant Carole Spiers. 'Insecurity about the future and a burning desire to succeed are causes but so is escaping from the demands of a family or relationship. Some people just can't let go at the end of the day. They let work conquer all.

'Corporate culture and the City of London in particular involve bullying and peer pressure about who works hardest. It can be very cruel. Unfortunately we have to pick up the pieces of the burned out cases who end up needing rehabilitation. You can't buck the system. Workaholism is an illness and leads to more absenteeism in the long run,' says Spiers.

The 'whatever-it-takes' attitude to hours also affects partners and families. The wife of one City of London fund manager says her life descended into 'hell' as her husband became more and more obsessed with work.

Julie B, who asked not to be identified, says the problem began a year ago: 'Work had always been very important to my husband. He comes from a Scottish family and his father was very driven by the work ethic.

'But my husband always had interests outside work. He was very keen on gardening and involved with our children. Then about 12 months ago there was a restructuring at the office and he became very insecure.

'He was staying later at work so the children would be in bed asleep when he came home and we had no quality time at all. He could talk about nothing but work and some fund problem. Everything always came down to the same subject.

'He became very irritable, even with the children. Simple little things like a spilled cup would make him raging mad. It was hell because it became impossible to have a conversation with him.'

The couple, who are now separated, are looking into making a claim for compensation against his employer because work has affected his mental health and the life of the whole family.

Spiers reiterates: 'Workaholism isn't an office joke. It's not funny at all for those involved. People should look out for danger signs and get help early on.'

Could I be a workaholic? For warning signs and more advice on workaholism go to

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