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Are you workaholic? Interview with Chinese people

It is through my experience as an intern in a Chinese open-space environment, as well as a student learning Chinese, that I bumped at a point into a very Chinese style question: What is a workaholic person? What defines it? Would I consider others and myself as workaholic? Why?

All these questions are legitimate, and it so happened that at this very moment I had to do a little 调查, investigation as they call it in Chinese, simply go to people and ask them questions about a particular society subject, what would be called in English a Study, or something close.

For a brief presentation of what stereotypes other people have on China and its relation to work, It is seen as if China in its all is a huge working machine where everyone works all the time, think about work all the time to an extend that can be almost perceived as ill defined. While this could be partially true, it is in its greater part a non-sense applying a general thought to an entire country, as if the entirety of French people eat frog legs all the time for each and every meal (well, I’m still not sure to this date) or as if Japanese people were going to be stuck for a life time in bowing and being polite to other people (well, I’ve got to check for this one as well)

Not merely in a position to give these questions answers, I tried to see what my Chinese colleagues thought about it and what their point of view on the subject of workaholic people was.

1) Definition brings many agreements…


Before beginning anything, let’s look at some real numbers and information:

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese people work in average 2000 to 2200 hours per year, and the number is shrinking every year by a small amount since the 80’s. Still, British people, with their 1,677 working hours per year, pale in comparison.

For a normal dictionary, a Workaholic person is “someone who has a compulsive and unrelenting need to work”. And that is the first point that naturally comes. I first asked my fellow interviewed what defined a workaholic person. That can be difficult to answer because it is vast, but people were none of the less in accordance on some characteristics:

-“It is a person that works a lot, but never too much, because he likes his work, and because it is usually his personal choice. “Working a whole day without interruption is normal for a workaholic, he personally doesn’t see anything weird in the practice” says Rachel, a coffee maker.

-It is almost as if work dictates, influences the whole life of a workaholic person. Getting friends is, in that direction, also going to be a matter of calculation, his entourage is judged on the utility they will have on his work, family and personal matters come usually after it.

“His work is his life in a certain sense. Everything that kind of a person is doing has a purpose for his work, and that is forcefully bad.” says Cassie, an entrepreneur

“It is as physical as mental, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to be tired after that, little work but efficient work can also be that.” adds Evelyne, another entrepreneur

Most of them agree on the particular fact that a workaholic person cannot be judged on the amount of time he gives on his work. It is rather a psychological thing, a way of reacting and conducting yourself towards your life and others.

Some of the attitudes of workaholics, seen as rude, can easily spark reactions and judgment, could it be from people regarding themselves as non workaholic, or from inside the work-lover community.

2) …But also disagreements

A simple question divides the workaholics with the non-workaholics: “Do you think such a way of life brings happiness to a person?”

“Yes of course! Your life is based on your work; I have the chance of working here, in Salmonist, a co-working space. I constantly have to communicate with people in my kind of work, so the more I am working, the more I meet people, exchange points of views and discover mutual interests, your entourage is then very important” adds Evelyne.

“It’s not the same, a person chooses to be a workaholic, and as such that brings him as much contentment as a usual person.” Adds Cassie

But for non-workaholics, it does not resonate in the same manner:

“They lose precious moments with their family and friends, they can get health problems as well, human body needs rest after a long nervous state!” says Grace, an Intern

“In some ways, that kind of attitude can also be seen as a way to hide from responsibility, for whatever reason, could it be some failure in life or some people you don’t want to talk to. You will in such circumstances, be more inclined to hide in a workaholic attitude.” adds Jenny Zhao

“Their vision can be very narrowed, they can only focus on a small part of the world because they only live to work. I really think it’s a sickness, treating your entourage as social animals, only as part of your work” concludes Jason, entrepreneur.

Asking them why do they think they are not workaholics, I get various answers: “I am lazy sometimes you know” says one “I could do better, I could work harder, but I really like to rest, something that workaholics don’t do much” adds another, Or even “I really don’t think I am, but my wife does”.

But negative views come also from the workaholics themselves, very conscious of what down-sides their attitude trigger:

“Of course there will be much sacrifice, your relational life, or even yourself. Such a life changes your habits, and because work comes before everything, you don’t pay attention to yourself and your health that much because of that”

“Why is there only 24 hours in a day?” I heard Cassie say one day. Reminding her of that she adds, amused “Yes, because you need more and more time to do everything you planned” and concludes “It is true that even when you work-out you think about work, it affects your family and friends, there is no doubt”

3) Find a good Balance

But right after these remarks, I got another sentence from nearly everyone:

“In the end it’s always about balance” It has been said and repeated a lot, but what does it really mean?

It means that you have to know how to balance your life and your work.

But the meaning differs through the different interviewed persons:

“You have to get some kind of satisfaction in your life, and work does exactly that in a sense: Financial freedom is a direct consequence for example. Working is then necessary to achieve that balance, of course.” Cassie said, as it is also the point of view of Evelyne.

“Work is a good thing, it creates a positive set of values, such as a strong self and self motivation. In the end there are always good and bad sides in everything, best is to be in the middle” finishes Grace.


What I can conclude over this interesting research is that nobody can clearly identify what a workaholic is, give a clear definition of it, simply because there are numerous types that will not act in the same way regarding a precise context. It has to be taken in account that through different experience and nationality, people will have different judgement on the question. None of the less, this kind of activity is always enriching and satisfactory. But workaholic or not, we should all truly reach for one of the most important assets at work: being Efficient, whatever that means.

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