Down here in Southern England, where plenty of people work the longest hours in Europe, there are lots of workaholics. There are also plenty of slackers. Surprisingly, you also here a lot of talk about the Protestant Work Ethic, which many people have heard of but few understand what it is.
The concept of the protestant work ethic was invented by the Scottish preacher John Knox. There’s far too much to say about Knox than is appropriate for this post but it is worth remembering that his clarion call in the streets of Edinburgh was “A school in every parish and a place at University for everyone.” Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but it led to Scotland establishing free higher education three hundred years ago! Anyway, Knox led the Protestant revolution in Scotland. This movement had three fundamental ideas which had been apparently abhorrent to Catholicism. The first was that it was cool to work really bloody hard to accumulate wealth so long as you used that wealth wisely. (The other two I forget. You can look them up.) This first idea has become known as the Protestant Work Ethic. That’s probably why the industrial revolution began in Scotland and why by any ordinary reckoning two-thirds of the basic inventions of that revolution were invented by Scots folk. There are too many famous followers of the Protestant Work Ethic to list here.
Being a workaholic is completely different. Workaholicism is a psychological issue, whereby the sufferer feels the need to be busy all the time to avoid thinking about how rubbish she is. Workaholics work as much as they can but often don’t get much done. This means that there is always more for them to do! There are lots of stories about people losing their jobs through illness, their colleagues panicking because they were apparently invaluable and there was a serious doubt as to whether anyone else could cope without them and then it turning out that their whole job could be done in half a day by a half-wit. This is classic workaholic behaviour: they transform their own neediness into a belief that they are needed. Workaholics are unproductive, despite gathering as many levers of power into their hands as possible. Workaholicism is a type of addiction and is just as unhealthy as a drug addiction. They are often perfectionists, who get fixated on inconsequential details. There are no famous workaholics because they are all losers.