Books - A job to get away - Richard Reeves enjoys a witty book on an unhealthy dependence - an addiction to work.
Workaholism Michael Johnson and Paul Thorne
Naomi Roth Publishing £12.95
The theories of addiction teach us that it is possible to become unhealthily dependent on any substance or activity, from ornithology to Weetabix.
Of course the line between someone who simply passionately enjoys sex, chocolate or wine, and someone dangerously addicted, is hard to draw.
Typically we draw it a little above our own rate of consumption.
Workaholism, a phrase coined in the 1970s, poses similar difficulties.
What is the difference between a hard worker and a workaholic? A new book on the subject - wittily written and thoroughly researched by Paul Thorne and Michael Johnson - takes the view that more and more people are becoming dependent on their work, and that it is dependency which drives addiction.
As two self-confessed former workaholics, they argue persuasively that changes in the economic and institutional climate are driving managers to broken marriages and early deaths. They quote Auberon Waugh approvingly: 'The world would be a happier and holier place if everybody stopped working so hard and had a glass or two of wine at lunch.'
Easily said, of course. Harder done if you are working in a company where everyone puts in 14-hour days, job security is minimal, competition fierce and money tight. Thorne and Johnson accept the mantras of modern macroeconomic change, though they capture it with more rhetorical flourish than most.
The pair demonstrate that firms are looking for the 'career primary', the person who puts work first. What the authors fail to recognise is that the rise of the TINS couple (two incomes, no sex), combined with greater scope for creativity and friendship-forming at work, has genuinely altered the relative attractions of home and work for many. Nonetheless there are a number of steps individuals can take to free themselves of workaholism and Thorne and Johnson offer some helpful DIY therapy chapters.
There are few new managerial tricks. Napoleon reputedly left a bust in his window so his underlings thought he was still working - just as some modern chief executives leave their car in the car park and sneak home in a taxi. I remember a partner at one of the UK's leading consultancies admitting that the hours his staff worked led some to burn out. 'But that is not a problem,' he said. 'By then we've hired some new ones.'.