High Performers vs Workaholics

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By David Wellborg

Stop. It´s already after 2 am in the morning. I tell my brain to stop as another business plan, another presentation, another forecast runs through my mind. It´s impossible to disconnect as another email hits my phone´s inbox and consequently my phone begins to vibrate. It's impossible to ignore, it might even be something important, I think, as I reach for my phone in the dark.

You might recognize yourself here. Being online constantly, available and working well over those 40 hours you signed up for.

The pressure from employers can sometimes be overwhelming and the company culture can be uncompromising, sometimes forcing their employees to be available at all times. And while working hard and achieving goals is something that most of us can relate to, it can sometimes turn into a lifestyle, an obsession or monster turning you into a workaholic. But does being a workaholic mean that you also work well? And just because you work all the time, does that make you an excellent employee?

Is there a difference between being a workaholic and being a high performer?

After working in the hospitality industry some odd eight years now, I believe there is a fine line in terms of mindset and attitudes that sets workaholics and high performers apart:

Quantity vs Quality

Workaholics are more concerned about the amount of pages produced rather than the content within them. It seems that the sheer size of a thick stack of reports equates to work well done.

In contrast, high performers focus on what’s actually written, understanding that less is more. If two sentences are enough to get the message across, then that’s sufficient. If a diagram can tell a story, even better.

Being busy vs being productive

Workaholics are always busy, constantly rushing from meeting to meeting and talking about how many tasks they have on a growing to-do list. They rarely take a break, never have a proper lunch, stay late and are constantly busy. Without being able to relax and regroup, workaholics might struggle to prioritize and determine what’s really important. For them, everything is urgent.

High performs understand the benefit of relaxing, reflecting and regrouping when needed. This allows them to be 100% fit and ready at all times. They prioritize effectively, can focus their attention on a single task when needed, deliver on time, communicate when delayed, take on new projects and challenges, and multitask without stress.

Stress vs Satisfaction

Workaholics are often stressed, sometimes without even knowing why. The stress might be coming from uncertainty about their value in the workplace and the constant fear that doing nothing, even for just a moment, will make them redundant one day. They might also worry over things outside their control, giving them an added sense of insecurity.

High performers enjoy a feeling of satisfaction and appreciate work well done. They don’t worry (as normal practice) nor lay sleepless over things outside their control. Instead, they base their performance on their own efforts and can be their own judge. They strive to do well for personal satisfaction.

Reactive vs Proactive

Workaholics respond to different situations as they arise. They are reactive, and while they have the best intentions, their quick judgments aren’t necessarily coupled with great thought.

High performers keep their gaze above the horizon and foresee challenges that may arise. This foresight allows them to act in a proactive manner to avoid mistakes and obstacles as much as possible. When fires are blazing, the also step back and evaluate a situation before jumping in and getting burned.

Inside the box vs outside the box

Workaholics try to play it safe, they prefer traditional methods with a proven track record because failures are regarded as something very negative. They tend to stay inside their bubble and as a result they become less creative.

High performers will often seek solutions outside their comfort zone. They will challenge and question the obvious, looking for new perspectives to improve and becoming more creative. New solutions and innovations come from high performers.

Time to reflect

Do you recognize yourself? Take a minute and think if you are a workaholic or a high performer? Can we learn something from one or the other?

Are managers and employers responsible for creating a work environment where they foster the development of high performers rather than workaholics?

I, for one, believe companies should take more responsibility and recognize risks found within company culture that create unhealthy work environments. By providing time management training, companies can coach employees to remain productive without comprising their own wellbeing, or react appropriately during periods of high stress. Change has to start from the top, and management should also receive coaching. As for HR, the hiring process can be modified so recruiters learn to identify future workaholics.

I believe companies should encourage employees to disconnect and discover other things in life. Treat employees well and surely they’ll treat your costumers well too. Promote healthy work-life balance and I’m sure that your employees will come back more energized and ready to do business once again.


About David Wellborg

David Wellborg is a hospitality professional currently residing in the north of Sweden. He has worked for various hotel companies including Ritz Carlton, Kempinski and Mandarin Oriental in four different countries. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Hospitality Management with a double concentration in Hotel and Lodging & Meetings and Events from Kendall College, Chicago.