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The Difference Between Female And Male ‘Workaholics’

On a media tour promoting WrestleMania 34 and his role in the comedy Blockers, WWE wrestler John Cena used the time to open up about his failed previous marriage. According to Cena, things didn’t work out with his first wife, high school sweetheart Elizabeth Huberdeau, because he was married to his work and passionately against having a family. “I tried marriage once and I realized [my] WWE marriage was the one that was going to survive,” Cena told Hit 105’s morning radio show. Nothing to see here folks, he’s just a sea captain, married to the sea.

Only, he’s not? Cena is getting married again, and now says he would also be totally cool with children. He got engaged last year to fellow wrestler Nikki Bella, and though initially the two of them told media they wouldn’t be having kids, Cena says he’s changed his mind. “I’m actually coming more to grips with maybe giving [fatherhood] a try,” he told Wonderwall, not because he decided to stop being married to work, but because he’s come to the realization that he won’t be a perfect dad, and that’s okay.

In true workaholic form, he described his thoughts about being afraid of parenting like this: “That was the most intimidating aspect because I am a very driven person and enjoy being able to attack opportunities as they show up,” he explains. “If you have a child, your responsibility-platform shifts. The child is now the hood ornament of that responsibility-platform. I am afraid that I would do it wrong.”

To be fair, it’s not that a man doesn’t have the right to change his mind about his responsibility platform. It’s not that a man can’t grow up a little, get a little older, or meet the right person. The Wonderwall piece goes on to mention that his wife said he knew he was too busy to be a good dad because of his schedule, which to his credit, demonstrates self-awareness.

Cena referred to his decision to be open to kids as “the power of love,” but it’s also unmistakably the power of being a man who has greater permission to be a workaholic and still benefit from a wife and family. We still culturally encourage men to be defined by work first and the rest second. In other words, it’s okay if he’s a workaholic, even if it means tanking a relationship. It’s also okay if he’s a workaholic and also wants a wife and family — neither should get in the way of those things should he simply decide he wants them.

Anyone can be a workaholic, but it’s more likely to be a man. Some recent statistics found that some 30 percent of the general populace is a workaholic, but 85.8 percent of those working over 40 hours a week are men, compared to 66.5 percent of women.

It’s not great for relationships: One in two marriages where one of the spouses is a workaholic ends in divorce. It’s not great for women; They typically pay a greater price for their workaholism. It’s not just romantic comedies where workaholic women are single, lonely and unlucky in love (and rarely considered too badass to need a relationship or a family). Research from the 1980s found that women workaholics were far more likely to not just earn less than their counterparts, but to be single. Like men, they simply got more enjoyment out of their careers than relationships

There is nothing wrong with that per se. It’s just that, like Cena, men were more likely to still have those relationships and families at home, regardless of the workaholism. For women, in order to get the guy and the baby, you have to stop your workaholic ways. For men, you just fold in family and romance if you choose. Working can also be a way for men to escape the drudgery of family life, which is only possible if women are there at home to cover for you.

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Not much has changed today. It’s the richest men who are the workaholics of the world, The Atlantic reported off 2016 research. Women are twice as likely to work part time as men, and seek out more flexible arrangements overall. This is related to a number of factors — among them the wage gap (why work that hard if you know you’ll still be underpaid?) as well the fact that women who have children simply need those flexible arrangements to be available to deal with the care of young children.

In a guest column for LinkedIn, Melinda Gates recently pointed out that this is all the result of a workplace designed always with the assumption that men can work a ton, and women can take care of the rest (home, kids.) This distinction came up in a study of “fake workaholics,” people who pretend to be working overtime, hiding their parenting demands and pretending to be busy, so they can reap big rewards at the office. In study of 100 office workers, researchers found that 30 percent of the people who faked 80–90 hour workweeks (when they really only worked 50 or 60) were men, compared with 11 percent of women. A big part of the reason women were less likely to fake hours is because their workplaces expected them to need flexibility in the first place, so it was easier to get.

Of course, Cena is free to marry and breed as often as he likes, but it might be worth it for him to look at his attitudes about work versus family. Generally speaking, psychologists believe workaholics specifically choose excessive career focus to avoid the emotional encumbrances of real intimacy. Some go so far as to theorize that workaholics avoid intimacy in this way as an “unconscious way of acting out of unhappy emotional experiences going back to early childhood.”

We’ve increasingly taken a closer look at what workaholism even means. A recent Harvard Business Review piece says there’s a difference between being a workaholic and simply working long hours. The difference is pretty simple: health issues. If working long hours causes you no sleeplessness, stomach problems, headaches, or various other issues, you’re probably fine. It’s workaholics who suffer from a bout of problems. They write:

We found that workaholics, whether or not they worked long hours, reported more health complaints and had increased risk for metabolic syndrome; they also reported a higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more cynicism, more emotional exhaustion, and more depressive feelings than employees who merely worked long hours but did not have workaholic tendencies.

There are two bits of good news in this for John Cena or anyone like him. One is that if he simply works long hours and isn’t “married to the job” in the workaholic sense, he could simply cut back on some hours and be totally present for a wife and family. The second bit is this: The HBR research found that loving one’s work and having high engagement actually mitigated some of that health issue risk for workaholics. This means even if you can’t stop obsessing over work, at least you’ll experience some kind of love doing it.