Why Your Enneagram Type is Driving You To Work So Hard (And What To Do About It)

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on July 25, 2022

It’s a myth that the only workaholics on the Enneagram are type Threes. Any of the types can be extremely hardworking to the point of overwork, but for very different reasons. When many of us are struggling with burnout or exhaustion, it can be useful to know what is driving us to work beyond our limits. 

Hopefully, these descriptions will give you a greater sense of why you are working so hard and what you can do to create more balance. You will also understand why some of your loved ones and colleagues can’t stop working either.  

For deeper insights, watch the video here.

Enneagram Nines

Not all Type Nines spend their time chilling on the couch watching television. In fact, some Nines work just as hard as Threes. The only problem is, they work hard on everything but what’s important to them. 

Nines toil away on behalf of others and the groups they are a part of. They work hard to support their family, their team, organization, hobbies, friends and community groups, and to ensure their customers are getting what they need. At a deeper level, Nines work hard to feel a sense of belonging, whether that is to their team, organization or another person. 

Action steps: If you are a Nine, it’s time to put yourself in the picture and consider what’s important to you. Make a list of what you don’t want in your working life, then after taking some time to reflect, make a list of what you do want. Then get some support to help you start prioritizing. 

Enneagram Eights

Enneagram Eights can work incredibly hard to make the world a fairer or more just place. They are particularly sensitive to injustice, and when they see it, they move quickly to rectify situations. Some Eights choose careers where protecting the weak and defenseless is a core part of their work. For example, animal rescue, child protection or a human rights lawyer. 

As Eights move so quickly into action, they act immediately the moment they sense injustice. They find it hard to leave tasks undone or for others to do, especially if they feel others move too slowly. 

Action steps: If you are an Eight, pause and reflect whether moving too quickly into action does not support your bigger goals. Sometimes, we have to let people try and fail, and support them as they learn, rather than doing it for them. And consider how allowing others to help you can also make a bigger difference in the long run.

Enneagram Sevens

Enneagram Sevens can work incredibly hard at more than making the world one big party. They can devote time and energy to relieving others' pain, for example, as a grief counselor, pastor or doctor. Or, they help colleagues or customers avoid suffering by ensuring products and services are enjoyable to use. They can work tirelessly to help others avoid painful experiences. 

Action steps: If you are a Seven, take stock about what’s really behind your devotion. Observe underlying anxiety and fear that you may be avoiding by working long hours. Become more comfortable experiencing your own feelings of sadness and pain. 

Enneagram Sixes

Enneagram Sixes work hard to prevent bad things from happening, which isn’t always appreciated by others. They devote a lot of mental energy to forecasting potential problems, playing out worst-case scenarios and thinking outside the box, all to ensure that realistic threats aren't realized. 

Sixes work hard poking holes in plans as a way to stress test them before they are implemented. They are excellent troubleshooters, but because they play devil’s advocate so well, others can see them as trying to undermine the project instead of fortifying it. 

Action steps: If you are a Six, become more aware of your underlying anxiety and how it drives you. Notice how much you focus on negative information. Pay more attention to your own strengths and what’s going well for you and in your projects. 

Enneagram Fives

To outsiders, it’s not always obvious when an Enneagram Five is overworking. Like Sixes, a lot of that work is unseen, taking place inside their mind. Fives work very hard to become experts on a particular topic: researching, analyzing and conceptualizing. 

What is hard work for Fives is connecting with others – whether that is collaborating, being in emotionally charged situations or colleagues dropping too much personal drama on them.  Fives find it easier to withdraw and work independently until calm has returned.  

Action steps: If you are a Five, acknowledge how you are using information and “expertise” as a shield to protect you from emotional drama - yours and others. Practice tuning into your emotions a little more, and notice when you feel the need to raise your shield. Explore your fears about sharing information about yourself, and practice opening up to more people.  

Enneagram Fours

Driven by envy, Enneagram Fours can be very competitive, both with themselves and with others. This competitive drive isn't always obvious to other people. But being envious of qualities they perceive they lack can have them working very hard.  

Fours constantly compare themselves to others. Some Fours can be quite stoic, throwing themselves into work in a tenacious pursuit of a goal or vision. They may disregard their own safety and wellbeing as they do. Fours can also be great humanitarians, driven to improve conditions for others. 

Action steps: If you are a Four, pay attention to who or what you are comparing yourself to and when that leads to being competitive. Explore what competition means to you, and the role it plays in your life. 

Enneagram Threes

Enneagram Threes focus on achieving their goals and being recognized for their achievements, and this can drive them to work very hard. They also focus on efficiency, and get frustrated by any obstacles in their way. They can be tough on colleagues who block their plans, and may not listen to others’ opinions. They might even cut corners to avoid failing. Threes can become so fixated on success that it takes a physical illness to get them to pause and take stock. 

Action steps: If you are a Three, it’s time to get a better understanding of the risks of your current lifestyle. Notice how busy you are, your need to keep moving, and keep ticking things off a list. Observe how little space that allows for your emotions. And look a little deeper into the consequences of prioritizing work over relationships. 

Enneagram Twos

Enneagram Twos work hard on behalf of others. They focus on a select group of people who are important to them, identify what they need, and aim to provide it. They have a strong work ethic around selfless service, even though they are secretly hoping for praise and recognition in return. 

Given their empathy, they can quickly identify the source of others' pain and how to relieve it. But not stopping to take care of themselves can leave them feeling exhausted, overburdened and resentful. 

Action steps: If you are a Two, tune into your own feelings and needs. Reflect on what you like and dislike about your work and workplace and how you would like it to support you, because you can only truly help others if you are also taking care of yourself. 

Enneagram Ones

Enneagram Ones are known as hard workers. They carry around a belief that they must be responsible and that requires putting work before play. They spend time correcting others' mistakes and struggle to delegate to people with low standards.

Their focus on perfection can also lead them to push for impossible standards. This places undue stress on themselves and others. They can try to criticize themselves and other people into self-improvement, often where little is actually needed.    

Action steps: If you are a One, slow down and notice how hard you are being on yourself and others. Observe how you equate quality and standards with being virtuous, and how that drives you to work hard. Notice how you resent others having fun. Aim to become more comfortable delegating, trusting others, and allowing work to be less than perfect. 

What’s next?

Now is a great time to take stock of what’s driving you to work so hard. There are many different reasons we do so, including both internal and external motivations. But unless something changes, you will continue to find yourself working hard and never quite feeling secure or satisfied. 

Take the time to look beneath the surface. Ask yourself the “five whys” to gain a deeper perspective. For example, if someone casually asked you why you were working so hard, you might say “my customers expect it” or “it’s written into my KPI’s” or “this change project is full on” or “no one else will.”

But if they then asked you “why is that?” five times, you will find yourself discovering an answer you would rarely share in casual conversation. It might be to avoid the pain of failure, or because you want to be approved of, or you don't want someone to have to experience what you have. Whatever it is, understanding that deeper drive can help you start to create greater boundaries around your work life.

Samantha Mackay

Samantha is the Lead Trainer at Truity and will shortly be a certified Enneagram Coach. She believes knowing your personality is the key to navigating life's strangest hurdles. Samantha is an ENTP and Enneagram 7, who is always surrounded by a pile of books, a steaming cup of tea and a block of her favourite chocolate. Find her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samanthamackay/. Check out her course "Unlocking the Power of Your Personality" at www.truity.com/training

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.

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