—The habit that rules the men who rule the rat race

ALAN PHILLIPS November 4 1961


—The habit that rules the men who rule the rat race

ALAN PHILLIPS November 4 1961


—The habit that rules the men who rule the rat race

Medicine is discovering that some of the men we most admire, tireless demons for work, are as sick as the men we most despise, drug addicts and alcoholics. A report on the North American work addict and why he is hustling himself and the rest of us to the grave


ABOUT A YEAR AGO, Dr. Nelson Bradley, Chief of Psychiatric Studies at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, a suburb of Chicago, noted a curious pattern in some of his cases — disturbed children, alcoholic housewives, and wives who had suffered nervous breakdowns. Each had a husband or father who worked excessively hard.

Dr. Bradley is a former medical officer with a Canadian paratroop division who quit postwar medical practice in Wetaskiwin, Alberta, to study psychiatry in the U. S. While he was head of Minnesota’s Willmar State Hospital, he helped devise new treatment and research programs for alcoholics and, as he became prominent in the field of addiction, he became increasingly skeptical of the reasons people give for overwork.

Now, after treating his patients’ husbands and fathers for one year, he declares that many people we most admire — those who achieve success by tireless effort — are as mentally disturbed as those we most despise, drug addicts and alcoholics.

“We deplore every other type of addict,” he says, “but we promote the work addict. We give him status. We accept his estimate of himself. These are our white knights in shining armor: the dynamic executive who is carrying the economy on his shoulders; the newspaperman whose paper will fail if he doesn’t meet his deadline; the dedicated doctor who goes on and on — the whole health of the community depends on him, though there are only about fourteen other young doctors who’d love to have part of his practice and who are better trained than he ever was.”

Addiction, Bradley says, can be broadly defined as an attempt to contain anxiety. The work addict uses activity to control his inner turmoil. He suppresses his inner tensions with the more agreeable tensions of work.

"An unhealthy relationship to work has the same mechanism as an unhealthy relationship to a chemical,” agrees Dr. Gordon Bell of Toronto, an authority on addiction. "And it can be just as selfdestructive.”

In 1956 the Health Research Centre in Chicago, in one of the most exhaustive health surveys ever made, examined 600 executives and found heart disease in one out of six, glandular trouble in one out of seven, nervous and mental ailments in one out of ten, and gastrointestinal illnesses in one out of twelve. Out of all these people who had, at first, superior health and nervous control, only eighf percent — and these under forty — were free of disease.

Years ago the distinguished U. S. psychiatrist. Dr. Karl Menninger, recognized that the “connections of work with the destructive instinct are close and clear.” It represents an attack upon something, the breaking down of resistance, the urge to master materials, situations and people. It evolves from man’s first work, he says, which was killing.

The implications in this were glimpsed several years ago by the World Health Organization, which announced that it would study policy-makers. “High positions are often too much for normal people,” the press release read. “Pressures are so intense that many with psychopathic tendencies become CONTINUED ON PAGE 64


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The work addict’s home is just a branch office

leaders.” Though the study was never completed, the thesis remains.

The work addict is the man who sets the work-pace we call the rat race: the man who sets impossible goals in the corporation he controls. Says Dr. Bell, “1 know a firm that increases its quota every year no matter what it was the year before. The number of people in that firm who have cracked up or taken to alcohol is unbelievable.” Another company keeps a record of every management decision — w'ho was for it, who against; it bases promotions on post-mortems. The strain of such policies on executives is crippling.

The work addict, says Bradley, ”is rushing us to the grave. Our unquestioning acceptance of him is frightening.” In his work-won seat in the throne rooms of politics or business he all too often holds our fate in his hands — a man as workoriented as a bee, blindly obeying an urge to turn society into a beehive.

"The terrific forces that now dictate the tempo of modern industry are calling the tune as to who will be healthy and who will not,” says Dr. Bell. "Even men with great human resources can be enslaved by addiction. We've more slaves today than in the time of Lincoln.”

THE THEORY OF WORK addiction is one W'C may tend at first to reject. Why should a well-paid person work harder today? The difference between $15,000 a year and $25,000, after taxes, is only about $5,500. Companies spend millions on rest camps, and executives expound Aristotle’s view that “leisure is better than work and is its end . . . the main content of a free life . . . the opportunity for disinterested action.”

Let us look at the actuality. A study of 335 corporation presidents by the American Management Association shows that they have little interest in anything apart from work (except some types of community service, which they say is "good business”). They pour almost all their vitality and thought into the job. They work eighty to ninety hours a week and agree that their biggest problem is more time — to give to business.

A survey by Fortune Magazine of 221 executives puts the average office week at forty-five to forty-eight hours. In addition, the executive works four nights out of five and "goes home, not to a sanctuary so much as to a branch office.”

It is not only executives who mock the forty-hour week, but salesmen, teachers, shopkeepers, tradesmen and professional men, and the swelling army of moonlighters in both blueand white-collar ranks. Women must hustle to fulfill their role of wife, mother, hostess, interior decorator, gardener, child psychologist, charity worker and business manager. Even children have their play organized by school, church, clubs and home.

Are all these people abnormal? Many work to pay bills, to provide for others, to get ahead, to be useful. Work is necessary and good, perhaps our greatest satisfaction. How, then, tell an honest worker from an addict?

AN ADDICT, BY DEFINITION, must have a craving, a tolerance, and psychological symptoms upon withdrawal. Craving can be detected. Bradley says, “in excessive behavior. An alcoholic needs three ounces

to relax and he drinks a quart. A work addict may need, say, three hours to get out a report but he does it in such a way it takes twenty-three.”

Every month, when his sales report comes in from head office, the Canadian manager of a coast-to-coast firm shuts himself in his office, gulps cup after cup of coffee, and lets his mail pile up while he figures the loss or gain ih percentage on every item he sells. Says a former employee: “The only breakdown he really needs is on a few big sellers, to find out how his promotion is pulling.”

At noon hour this man will prowl through shops pricing competing products. If he notes a price rise he spends the afternoon with his calculator figuring how much profit he would make if he hiked his price. He sees nothing incongruous in his plaint that he needs an assistant but has no time to train one. As an addict, he is acting logically. He is making sure that he must work excessively.

“We’re pretty well onto all the tricks of the drug and alcohol addict,” says Bradley. “Now we're beginning to see through the work addict. He’ll talk about getting away from it all. He’ll protest board meetings, conferences, protocol. But all these things are pushed and inspired by him. I remember one of my patients came into my office and he was furious— he had to go to Kentucky on business. It was going to take the entire Easter week end, a terrible thing. When I talked to his wife I found he'd arranged it himself."

Equally meaningful is inappropriate behavior. “Two drinks to loosen up at a party might be fine.” Bradley says, "but we’d raise our eyebrows at two drinks to bolster yourself for a job interview. An addict does the right thing at the wrong time, or for the wrong reason.”

Life in “memoland”

Last year, after losing a football game, Montreal Alouettes’ coach Perry Moss.' a round-the-clock worker, roused assistants from bed to watch films of the game at 3 a.m. Jack Kent Cooke, a highly geared ex-Toronto publisher, used to run up a dozen flights of stairs rather than wait for an elevator, though waiting would have undoubtedly saved him time. "We're not much concerned with the physical energy that goes into work.” says Bradley. “We’re just as concerned with the railway engineer who presses a button and pulls a lever. Or the college professor who’s never in his life sweated for a dollar. It’s the terrible preoccupation that’s so damaging.”

The most significant symptom is grandiose behavior. The alcoholic, to make himself feel bigger, will buy drinks for everyone in the bar. The work addict, for the same reason, seldom delegates authority. He is given to such statements as: “If you’re going to do something right, do it yourself.” He complains that he cannot find competent assistants. "I’d love to get away for a week,” he says, “but there isn’t a chance with this new quota control system.”

“Stock heroics.” Bradley labels this. “A delusion. As condemning a symptom as a blackout in alcoholism.”

Such behavior is common. Three years ago the vice-president of sales for a large Canadian company had a staff of ten, including secretaries. He insists on making all decisions, so his aides spent half thenday writing memos to keep him in the picture. Studying and answering these took so much time that he hired more help. Now, with nine percent more business, his staff totals twenty-one. While he digests memos, his secretary sits idle till 4 p.m. He works most week nights, Saturdays and Sundays. “We call his depart-

ment memoland,” says one colleague.

“Completely irrational,” says Bradley. “No one's indispensable. How many companies have gone out of business because a key executive died? None that I know of. If an alcoholic dies and leaves a young wife and family, we despise him. If a young executive dies, a member of the Stock Exchange, a director of a fund for crippled children, that’s terrible — he didn’t realize he was overworking. Nuts! He had friends who were doctors. He read every day of men who died in their forties from overwork. But he had this

wonderful mechanism of rationalization, of explaining his behavior to himself.”

“In spite of all consequences,” says Dr. Gordon Bell, “our mental mechanisms defend addiction. The addict maintains his way of life by cover-up, alibis, lying, blaming others for his problems, and resenting anyone who tries to change him.”

In the Fortune survey, ninety percent of the 221 executives denied that they worked too hard. They answered, not simply "No,” but, "Absolutely not! It's ridiculous to think I overwork!” Asked if their wives and doctors thought they over-

worked they answered yes, but their wives just didn’t understand.

"Denial is getting close to psychosis,” Bradley says. “An insane person can deny reality by deciding he's Napoleon or Julius Caesar. That’s not much harder to understand than the guy who sees his friends die from overwork and says, ‘This can’t happen to me.’ ”

FOR MOST NONADDICTS THE lethal dose of morphine is a half-grain, yet a drug addict can take up to ten half-grains a day. This phenomenon, known as tolerance, is

notable in the work addict. He can labor far beyond normal fatigue.

“We check his metabolism, heart rate and cardiac output.” says Bradley, “and it isn’t any different from the rest of us. Yet he can work day and night without sleeping, eating or resting properly. We sit back in awe of his achievement.”

At the height of her career as writer, broadcaster and publicist. Kate Aitken kept twenty-one secretaries busy. Pierre Berton. the current prodigy. Canada’s best-known daily columnist, fills his spare time with a daily television program, three weekly television and radio shows, skits for an annual revue, books, after-dinner speeches, breeding cats and growing tropical plants.

EVERY EVENING AND WEEK end the work addict faces a crisis: withdrawal of his supply. "This is when he reveals himself,” says Bradley. "When you withdraw you go through the various stages of anxiety— restlessness, nervousness, loneliness, fear, irritation, a tremendous number of syndromes—so we have a routine five o’clock behavior.”

The addict usually handles the first twenty minutes, Bradley says, "by driving aggressively, fast and hard, on the way home.” Then he paces around the house seeking a substitute for work.

“Course one.” says Bradley, “is purposeful activity. He cleans the cellar, mows the lawn, fixes the car.” One executive buys every home-improvement book that comes out. He seldom makes anything, but it gives him something to plan.

A hobby will have strong therapeutic overtones. As William H. Whyte notes in The Organization Man, it is “not a joy in itself but simply a means of restoring themselves between rounds. To this end some executives go through an almost

compulsive ritual—like watering the flowers at a regular week-end time whether or not it has just rained. To borrow an old phrase, they are never less at leisure than when they are at leisure.”

Course two is purpose/e.v.v activity, escape through a kind of self-induced amnesia. "Here’s a reasonable guy who knows his wife has had the kids all day," Bradley says. “He's heard the news on TV that morning. He’s read it in the morning paper. He’s listened to it on the radio on the way home. So he buries his head in the paper and reads it again. Sometimes reason breaks through and he plays with the kids, but in twenty minutes he’s reaching again for the paper.”

Television or fiction serves the same purpose. The American Management survey showed that a corporation president, when he did read for pleasure, read for

escape. Author Sloan Wilson considers this “close kin to dissipation. Does this not explain the enormous appetite for violence which causes such demand for books, movies and television dramas emphasizing loveless sex and the most graphic enactments of killing, shooting and slugging?” To enjoy constructive art requires some serenity, self-enjoyment. But unless the addict is working he is bored with himself.

He confirms this boredom by often withdrawing completely. "My husband’s either working or sleeping.” many wives complain. Says Bradley, “Maybe he’s bored because his adrenals are tired of exploding. I don’t know, we need a lot more research. But there’s something tense about boredom. I’m convinced that boredom is anxiety.”

Week ends confront the addict with two full workless days—-unless he can find his solace in his brief case. Like the alcoholic who returns to the bar for the cigarettes he “forgot,” he thinks of something he simply must have and "crashes down to the store in his car,” says Bradley. "Or he organizes a party, a big deal. Or that modern classic, the week end conference."

Anything he can organize is good. Ernest Warwick of Blenheim, Ontario, who sells more seed corn behind Communist frontiers than anyone else, often asks a friend to go for a drive after work. "A drive!” said one. "He spends two and a half hours at his farm giving orders to his managers, then he loads his back seat with onions, tomatoes, cucumbers or peaches and returns to town to distribute them to his friends.”

Gordon Tamblyn, who labored from early morning till late every night building Canada’s largest drug chain, finally took up golf to relax. According to Harold Browne, now a retired Tamblyn’s president.

“He played golf the same way he ran his business. If he muffed a shot he brooded through the rest of the round.” He suffered a heart attack playing golf at the age of fifty-five and died that same night.

The work addict cannot relax. He makes recreation a task, strips it of spontaneity, gives it a goal or a strong combative element. He drives 600 miles a day sightseeing at seventy miles an hour. He rips apart the stillness of wilderness lakes with his speedboat. He skis with grim determination, golfs competitively.

But turning play into work does not generate all the tension he needs and by Sunday evening, says Bradley, "he’s getting hard to live with. He reads for twelve or fifteen minutes, then he’s in the fridge. He watches TV, then he’s up and eating again. None of these things, in themselves, are abnormal. But he’s irritable, nervous. He snaps at his wife. He bawls out the children. After they’re in bed he may seem to settle down, but he's really planning Monday’s work in his mind.”

Vacations are hectic, strenuous, or mere camouflage. On a recent hunting trip Erie Stanley Gardner, creator of Perry Mason, took along his recording machine. He sat moping at the first campsite, abruptly lifted his head and said: "What do you mean, vacation? I’m starting a new book!"

Gardner, long wealthy, claims he loves hunting and fishing, but in fifty years he has never had a work-free vacation. Similarly. most company presidents in the American Management survey dream of a leisurely round-the-world cruise while frequently boasting that they "haven’t had a vacation in ten years.”

Retirement is unsettling even to contemplate. Half the company presidents surveyed refused to plan for it. One described it as "hell on earth.” Ten percent said they would never retire. Lying in hospital

after a heart attack in 1959, corn king Ernest Warwick received a stream of visitors, answered 300 get-well cards and ran his business by telephone. When his doctor protested he threatened to replace him. In a month he was touring Europe selling corn. “I’ll never quit,” he says, “as long as I’ve got my strength.”

Perhaps this instinct is sound. Dr. Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic mentions his “many case profiles” of successful hard-driving people who “have attempted to retire, to reap the fruits of leisure, only to collapse physically or mentally, and often to proceed to an untimely death.” Such people are the subject of endless speculation. Where do they get their energy? What makes them run?

MONEY is CERTAINLY AN incentive, but in the Fortune survey, executives with independent means worked as hard as any. Executives themselves list ideals of service, a sense of responsibility and desire for prestige. But first and foremost they talk of the pressure within, the demon drive. They want to work, they enjoy it. As one says, “Overwork is simply work that you don’t like.”

“They think they enjoy it,” says Menninger. “Indeed they do enjoy it more than they would enjoy the anxiety that they would suffer if it were not possible for them to express their aggressions in this way.” Compulsive workers, he says, are neurotics with abnormal aggressive urges which work sublimates and sometimes crowns with success.

But, warns Dr. Fredrick C. Redlich of Yale, though success can be the consequence of a strong neurotic drive, the neurosis will eventually make trouble.

MOST DOCTORS AGREE WITH Britain's noted Dr. Melville Arnott that “none of the known effects of work can harm healthy tissues.” The damage arises from tension, described by McGill's Dr. D. E. Cameron as a state of "preparedness for action.”

Awaking from sleep, our lowest point of tension, our efficiency rises as tension mounts, until we reach optimum tension and efficiency. Beyond this, says Dr. W. H. Cruickshank. former medical director of The Bell Telephone Company, efficiency drops. We grow edgy, disturbed in sleep and appetite, anxious, depressed.

It is possible that some addicts work near optimum efficiency, but this balance of work and neurosis is precarious. The risk of failure is heightened with each step upward. Each move to a new social level increases the strain. A crisis can push the addict into a confidence-sapping spiral of overtense effort with dwindling results.

Prolonged tension or stress, says Dr. Hans Selye, Montreal’s eminent medical investigator, causes overactivity of the adrenal cortex, a gland that sends hormones into the blood stream to prepare the body, among other things, for combat or flight. The gland can be triggered by stressful emotions — fear, anger, worry — and these, says Selye. often accompany the stress of overwork.

It appears, then, that the addict derives his force from the interaction between his neurosis and his adrenals, whose hormones help keep him in high gear. They also produce a sense of well-being and buoyancy, Selye says, equivalent to several drinks. We can. in effect, become tipsy on our own stress hormones. But, like alcohol, too much stress exacts a toll.

A U. S. study of West Coast accountants showed that four-fifths had a rise in blood cholesterol just before the incometax deadline. The stress-prone person manufactures cholesterol, thinks Dr. Stewart Wolf of the University of Oklahoma, to provide fuel for his extraordinary effort.

High levels of cholesterol, a fat which can clog the arteries, usually accompany heart disease. The connection between emotional stress and ulcers, of course, is well-documented.

Dr. Charles E. Thompson of Chicago has sketched the health history of a typical executive. Under forty, he is strong, athletic, energetic, ambitious. He enjoys work and combat and works ten to twelve hours a day. At forty to forty-five he is fat, balding, aware of fatigue, and under strain in working more than eight hours.

Exceptional men over fifty-five, usually

board chairmen or presidents, may remain fit. says Thompson, because "of a rather stern, self-disciplinary mode of living.” Their associates, however, are likely to have high blood pressure, one or more heart attacks, frequently some arthritis or gout, and an occasional cancer.

SOME WORK ADDICTS MAY be born, some may achieve it. but most have work addiction thrust upon them. Let us take the case of the man we will call Dorn Anders. Six years ago he became vice-president in charge of a large Canadian firm. No one

that year got a salary increase. One executive, Will Johns, mustered nerve enough to ask why. “You should express your loyalty in some other way than by asking for more salary,” Anders said. He himself had turned down a $9.000-a-year raise.

Later. Johns put an idea in the suggestion box that saved the company $18,000 a year. “I thought I might get ten percent of the first year’s savings,” he says. “Instead, Anders asked me why I hadn't thought of it sooner.”

Anders never rewarded or praised. He took extra effort for granted. He was

usually first to arrive at the plant and last to leave. A perfectionist, he roamed the factory, constantly criticizing. Gazing after him, his men would say, “That's one funeral I'd like to go to." But they would admit that his criticisms were always technically correct. He lived for the plant; human beings counted for little.

At bi-weekly meetings he would ask Johns to report. “Well, sir.” Johns would begin, “I think—” Anders' fist would slam down on the table. “I don't care what you think! I want facts!"

At 5:10 one evening Anders met Johns

in the hall. “Where are you going?” Anders asked.

“I'm going home,” Johns said.

“At ten after five! If you had any interest in your work you'd be here till nine.”

Until that moment Johns had never worried about his job. Now he began working seven days a week to allay his anxiety. He patterned himself after Anders and he, too, became a work addict.

Four years later he experienced whirling and spinning sensations, hot and cold spells, tremors, sleeplessness. He was thir-

ty-ninc, an ex-pilot who had never been sick in his life. Today, after eighteen months of psychiatric care, he is fully recovered but jobless because of the stigma attached to a breakdown. He is one of seven people who have cracked up under Anders.

“The real work addict has this total disregard for the needs of his fellow men,” says Bradley, "and industry encourages the self-ccntredness that goes with addiction. If you're not producing, out you go. I may know your wife, your kids may play with mine, but 1 find it only mildly embarrassing to fire you. It’s approved.”

The economy’s gain through addiction may be more apparent than real. For every superefficient executive genius there are several dozen addicts whose purposeless work is enormously costly.

Always, the hint of the automaton

A few months ago a Canadian marketing manager wrote to manufacturers for samples of their fastest selling line. For two days he worked into the evening comparing these products with his own. He involved the manufacturers in a breakdown of sales and his head office in voluminous correspondence. In the end he decided what associates believe he knew all along: that it wasn't practicable to change his own line.

This man has a reasonably hard-working sales manager whom he’d like to replace with "a real worker like myself, a driver." Because he distrusted his sales chief he asked all salesmen for weekly reports. The sales manager was then forced to spend two days a week checking reports. The marketing manager then complained that he spent too much time on paper work. The sales chief now takes most of it home—another work addict in the making.

Shari Lewis, a fast-rising young television star, is the product of the educational theory of the thirties. Her father, an educator, believed that with proper motivation. work could be made palatable. He motivated her to play six instruments, dance, and learn handicrafts. Every time she picked up a book he would gently suggest she do something constructive. When she broke her leg he confiscated her novel and taught her puppetry. When she caught measles he urged her to put together a television show. Today she drives her two writers and her producer as tirelessly as she drives herself. She literally had not learned how to play.

“Put enough pressure on anyone.” says Bradley, “and they’ll become addicts.” One man. pushed by the wife he loved, now has everything she wanted, a $50,000

house, two cars, a maid—and she is divorcing him because he is interested only in work.

Addiction thus becomes a vicious circle. Divorced, separated or bereaved women often feel bitter and resentful. This acts on their glands, charging their bodies with energy. And they, too, pass on their neurosis.

Through fear or admiration, the work addict molds his children. He can damage their lives as much as an alcoholic, says Dr. Bell. "Not so much because he fails to give them time, but because he never gives himself. They feel rejected.” If he plays with them “it’s more in the nature of a ritual,” Bradley says. “His behavior is automatic, obligatory.”

In everything the addict does is this hint of the automaton, as if he had been wound up and set in motion. As the wife of one says, “We’ve adjusted to his working from seven a.m. to five, and from seven p.m. to eleven. If he’d just be with us from five to seven! He’s there in body but not in spirit."

Executives in the Fortune survey were well aware that they gave too little time to their families. They admitted they would probably never get around to building that long-put-off boat with the boy. "I sort of look forward to the day when my children are grown up,” says one. “Then I won't have to have such a guilty conscience about neglecting them.”

There is no social pressure on a work addict to change-—only the obligation to his family. But although he is conscientious and kind he has little feeling for them. He seldom stops to recharge the emotions drained by work. When several wives of Bradley’s patients forced a choice between job anti family, none chose the family.

"Any change must come from within." Bradley says. "We can attack addiction with rules about work and vacations, but the only real answer is religion. A new set of values.”

But. ironically, the nature of the malady insulates us. Religion is rooted in feeling. in the unity of love. “Love?” says the hero of Wlmt Makes Sammy Run’, Budd Schulberg’s portrait of a work addict. "How the hell have I had time to love?"

A practical man, the work addict tries to shape the world in his image. He fills schools with the “practical” subjects that turn education into training. He fills churches with social projects that turn religion into sociology. His uncontrollable urge to master, dominate and win creates an Alicc-in-Wonderland world wherein we talk peace and provoke war, a competitive world in which work is no longer a means, but the end. it