Article written by Rapid Weight Loss guide
Those who rely on an adrenaline rush at work are at risk, writes URGENCY addiction is an acquired, unhealthy, physical and psychological dependence on the adrenaline rush and validation experience delivered by handling urgent matters.
This definition is a product of research by MBA student Dirk Vermooten at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS). He found that as many as 37% of South African middle managers could suffer from this addiction, across industry sector, gender, age, ethnicity and job level.
The sole exception to this is middle managers over the age of 50, who have a significantly lower urgency mindset than their younger colleagues. Vermooten recommends that organisations assign mentorship roles to these older managers, to enable them to help their younger colleagues to cope with urgency.
A survey of 483 managers conducted by the American Management Association shows that more than 40% of respondents claim to have more tasks and responsibilities than the time in which to complete them. These involve more than just work – demands from family, friends, sport and hobbies add to time pressures. An inability to manage their time leaves managers feeling dissatisfied with their performance in all areas of their lives.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines urgency addiction as being abnormally tolerant to, and dependent on, matters demanding immediate attention – to such an extent that it is psychologically habit-forming and damaging to health and effectiveness. This is due to the long-term effects of overproduction of adrenaline, which leads to exhaustion and burn-out.
The GIBS research shows that the causes are too much work with too little time, low self-esteem, rigorous occupational demands, loss of control, a neglect of the present, lack of balance and stress. But what really makes it an addiction is the high that comes from handling this pressure.
Urgency addiction can lead to drug and alcohol addictions. Other addictions include sex, television and shopping. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, says that urgency addiction is as dangerous as any of these more commonly recognised addictions.
Criteria that can be used to assess if there is an addiction to work are:
Suffering withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and anxiety when out of touch with the office;
Working longer than intended;
Trying to work less hours but not succeeding;
Spending a lot of time working or recovering from work;
Giving up important social or recreational activities to accommodate more work; and Working excessively even if health or family life suffers as a direct result.
These behaviours are common to many middle managers in today’s high-pressure environment.
In her book, Urgency Addiction: How to Slow Down Without Sacrificing Success, Dr Nina Tassi defines urgency addiction as an invisible but real feeling of constant time pressure. She lists seven traits:
Monitoring time excessively;
Going at too fast a pace;
Accepting time demands at work;
Giving up personal time;
Losing the ability to enjoy the present moment;
Possessing an inadequate sense of the future; and
Believing time can be controlled by working faster.
Covey says managers get used to the adrenaline rush of handling a crisis and become dependent on it for a sense of excitement and energy.
Although crises are stressful, highly pressurised, tense and exhausting experiences, they are also exhilarating occurrences that make one feel useful, successful and validated. Crises can provide instant results and gratification, elevating the manager’s status in the eyes of his colleagues. If no crises exist, managers addicted to urgency look for work – a self-destructive behaviour that temporarily fills the void left by unmet needs.
Covey says the addictive experience creates a predictable and reliable sensation, becomes the primary focus and absorbs attention, temporarily eradicates pain and other negative sensations, exacerbates the problems and feelings it sought to remedy, worsens functioning, creates a loss of relationships and produces an artificial sense of self-worth, power, control, security, intimacy and accomplishment.
Urgency addiction can also lead to attention deficiency, as managers can become so overwhelmed with information that they gradually lose the ability to respond to anything comprehensively.
Four treatments have been identified, both traditional and new age. Tassi recommends a three-step mental process that involves realising that nobody owns your time but you, deciding that your time is valuable, and recognising that you have the final say in how you utilise your time. She goes on to recommend spending time in nature, exercising, meditating, and welcoming and enjoying unstructured time.
Covey recommends doing tasks that are important to you first before turning to the urgent ones that have an instant validation allure – ones that create the illusion of importance. His four-quadrant model (above) illustrates how a manager can assess which tasks are urgent and important and which are not.
Spending time in the first quadrant is a necessity – procrastination and a lack of planning can multiply the tasks in this quadrant unnecessarily. The second quadrant is one of quality, and if productive time is spent here, the tasks in quadrant one will lessen. Quadrant three is filled with tasks that may seem important, but are generally only important to others, while the final quadrant is one of waste, in which Covey claims we should spend no time at all.
A third treatment proposes that priorities are set every day or week. Technological aids such as laptops and cellphones can assist with this, provided that they are used correctly.
The final treatment suggests that life balance is crucial. This is an ongoing process whereby recognising one’s choices is vital. Additional suggestions are to keep a journal, learn to laugh, invest in relationships and value yourself.
Of course, urgency addiction should not be confused with the positive energy, commitment and achievement motivation that is required for a successful career in management. Some managers need a greater sense of urgency, not less.
A limitation in the research is that it does not distinguish clearly between symptoms of urgency addiction and stress. It may be that some of the incidents of urgency addiction reported in the survey are in fact stress, without the addiction.
Nevertheless, with the prevalence of urgency addiction in South African middle managers possibly as high as 37%, there is a significant opportunity for South African businesses to find new ways of relieving the burden of stress on managers.
If some of the impact of stress is aggravated by an addiction that pulls managers into ever greater pressure, organisations can mitigate the risks by creating an environment which does not allow urgency addiction to take hold.
This includes communicating clear directions and strategies, managing work loads, giving appropriate levels of authority, allowing emotion and fun in the workplace, providing incentives and ensuring that an able support team is in place.
Jonathan Cook is a senior lecturer at GIBS.