What to Do When Your Boss Is a Workaholic and Expects You to Be One Too

So, your boss is a workaholic and expects you to emulate her? Whether that means working ridiculous hours, inhaling lunch at your desk (or skipping it altogether), and even sacrificing your weekends, reporting to a person like this can be taxing on both your career and home life.

The negative impact of problem managers is pervasive. Studies consistently link a lack of support for work-life balance by managers to fewer profits and more on-the-job mistakes. What’s more, a bad boss may literally be making you sick: One study found that 77% of employees experienced physical symptoms as a result of poor relationships with their bosses.

The added pressure may not only have you considering jumping ship at your current job, but may follow you home, leaving you on edge long after you leave the office. Bottom line: The stress of working for someone with a distorted sense of work-life balance simply isn’t sustainable.

If you find yourself answering to a workaholic, you may be heading for burnout. And if you don’t crash, then you’re probably riddled with anxiety that if you fail to measure up to your boss’ impossible standards, you’ll be shown the door.

It’s important to take action, even if you feel intimidated or fearful of her response. Yes, it can be difficult to set boundaries, let alone request more work-life balance. But if you live in fear of your supervisor’s criticism or just flat-out feel like you’re producing subpar work because you’re over-tired and your brain is fried, it’s time to make a change.

Here are four dos and don’ts to fix the harmful patterns—it’s the only way for you to start living a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

1. Don’t Enable

No matter how distant and aloof he may make himself in the office, remember your supervisor is a person too. His workaholic tendencies may be a result of learned behavior. Pressure—and praise—from his superior may make it difficult for him to initially relate to your desire for more balance.

And if your goal is to get him to understand that you value your life outside the office, you should not, under any circumstances, enable his workaholism. Avoid giving praise when a result is obviously due to overworking. If you know your boss stayed up all night creating a presentation, complimenting his sacrifice can be counter-productive. This reinforces that the behavior is not only acceptable, but it also suggests you are impressed with it and might be inclined to follow suit.

2. Do Communicate Clearly

Approaching a workaholic supervisor can be intimidating, and you certainly don’t want to come across as offensive or insulting. Understanding that your boss’ actions are not intended to single you out or make your life miserable may be the perspective you need. Aim for open and productive communication, and don’t assume your manager is out to get you.

For example, it may appear that your boss doesn’t care when you miss your child’s birthday party to finish a project or that you’re frequently pulling all-nighters to keep up with demands. Chances are, she simply hasn’t noticed. Workaholics tend to be hyper-focused, which can lead others to view them as uncaring or dismissive. The sooner you realize that you are not being targeted, the better.

The last thing you want to do is engage in passive-aggressive behavior that only stands to hurt your working relationship and career. So, for example, if your boss asks you to work late on a night you have important plans, don’t snipe, “Whatever,” and put your head down; instead, remind her that you have a commitment you don’t feel comfortable breaking.

3. Don’t Panic

Don’t fixate on missed milestones or advertise daily if you’re behind a project deadline. While it may be true, expressing feelings of “being swamped” or telling your supervisor that work is coming in quicker than it can be completed only encourages a sense of panic that can lead to even longer hours.

It’s important that you adjust your own perspective of productivity. While it may be tempting to gauge your daily success based on the number of hours you work, it’s the quality of work you deliver that matters most. Being good at your job doesn’t mean working more; it means producing results. At the beginning of each day, make a list of what you want to accomplish, including starting projects that require heavy lifting, and at the end of the workday (not at midnight) assess your list and figure out what to prioritize the following day.

4. Do Break Old Patterns

If you’re learning the job skills from your workaholic supervisor, the concern is that you are susceptible to falling into the same bad habits he possesses. How can you avoid this?

One strategy is to strategically interrupt the work pattern within your office by calling attention to the need for improved systems and optimization. Clear and direct conversations will help prevent either party from becoming defensive. Use open-ended questions such as, “How can we develop a more efficient way to accomplish this outcome?” or “What will help promote more work-life balance among our staff?” Thoughtful inquiries like these encourage your boss to think creatively instead of relying on habitual workaholic responses.

But clarifying the problem isn’t enough. You’ve got to offer realistic solutions—best achieved by framing the conversation around enhanced departmental productivity and efficiency—that could meet the needs of everyone involved. In regards to the nightly emails, for instance, you could suggest a cut-off time after which, it becomes acceptable to respond the following morning. This allows your boss to prioritize, ensuring that any pressing information is sent during business hours.

If after repetitively discussing work-life boundaries with your supervisor and seeing no change in expectations, it may be time to do some soul searching—or job searching, for that matter. Your happiness is very important and if the unrealistic expectations and growing workload are not what you want for your career, then find another one that better suits your needs. As difficult as it can be to stay in a high-stress role, don’t let it compromise your integrity. Put in the effort to make the best of the situation and prepare yourself to move on to bigger, better things.

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Hi, I'm Melody

I help smart, sensitive high-achievers break free from imposter syndrome and overthinking so they can find the confidence to lead effectively.


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