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Workaholism is arguably the most prominent form of addiction today. That might sound dramatic to some, but workaholism can be dangerous and detrimental to your well-being.
Workaholism impacts almost half of the United States: 48% of Americans consider themselves workaholics. If you’re experiencing this issue, you’re not alone.
Managers can help prevent workaholism: Certain individuals are predisposed to overworking, but there are crucial strategies managers can use to help avoid workaholism on their team.
Today we’ll cover:
What workaholism is
The most important facts surrounding workaholism derived from addiction research
How you can recognize a workaholic
Strategies you can use to stop being a workaholic
Let’s start by defining workaholism.
Workaholism is the uncontrollable desire to work more than is necessary or healthy. You may hear the term workaholic used to describe people who are preoccupied with work and spend most of their day working or thinking about work.
Sometimes referred to as work addiction, workaholism is a widely recognized concept in popular culture — but it’s still not a formally recognized medical condition. Still, like other types of addictions, workaholism can negatively affect a person’s health and relationships.
It’s important to note that a person can be a hard worker without being a workaholic. Here are some of the main differences between the two:
Physical addiction vs. passionate attachment: Workaholics have poor stress management skills and feel negative emotions when not working. On the other hand, hard workers are passionate about work but have a healthy attitude about their achievements and work average hours.
Job satisfaction: People suffering from work addiction are usually dissatisfied with their job, while hard workers are generally happy with their work.
Work-life balance: Workaholics’ lives revolve around work. Unlike hard workers, they have no balance between their personal and work life and live in constant work-life conflict.
Live to work vs. work to live: Hard-working individuals use work as a way to fund their lifestyle. They engage in hobbies and enjoy plenty of activities outside of work. Workaholics, on the other hand, don’t have much of a life outside of the excessive work they do.
Productivity: Lack of job satisfaction and balance between their personal and work life can cause workaholics’ performance at work to slip. Hard workers can be productive without burning out.
Workaholism is often caused by:
Lack of satisfaction with other areas of life: Some workaholics are not satisfied with other areas of their life, like their family, friends, and romantic relationships. They may use overworking as a coping mechanism.
External factors: Certain demanding jobs (e.g., lawyer or doctor) require people to work long hours. Even in roles where grueling hours aren’t a requirement, there’s often a culture that stigmatizes those unwilling to work longer.
Existing mental health conditions: Addiction research shows that mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder can amplify workaholism.
While anyone can become a workaholic, some people are at greater risk of developing work addiction. These are some of the most significant risk factors for becoming a workaholic:
History of addictive behavior: People with a prior history of other addictive behaviors are more likely to develop work addiction. Studies show that the inverse is also true: people working over 50 hours a week are 3.3 times more likely to develop alcohol-related problems.
Perfectionism: Workaholics tend to be perfectionists. People with perfectionist tendencies are at a greater risk of becoming workaholics.
Family of workaholics: If a person has family members who are workaholics, this can cause them to learn workaholic behavior and develop a work addiction themselves.
While there are individual differences between workaholics, most of them share a few traits and behaviors.
High blood pressure
Constant stress and sleep deprivation can result in underperformance at work, leading to even more stress for those prone to workaholism. Once you start to develop this behavioral pattern, it can be tough to get out.
Work addiction can have significant negative consequences for a person’s physical health. Research suggests that people with workaholic tendencies are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular diseases and chronic fatigue.
Other adverse outcomes include declining mental, physical, and emotional health. Additionally, workaholics are more prone to various job-related injuries. People working 60 hours per week or more have a 23% higher chance of getting injured at work.
Workaholics have an inner compulsion to work all the time, but there are only so many hours in the day. That’s why they often end up sacrificing other activities in their personal lives to increase the number of hours they work per week.
In 54% of cases, workaholics prioritize work before their personal lives. They will often sacrifice recreation and hobbies so that they can work more.
Studies link workaholism to psychiatric symptoms and disorders like anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
The rate of mental distress is significantly higher among people with workaholic tendencies compared to non-workaholics.
Many workaholics try to increase their hours worked per week because they think that will help them get more done. But longer work hours don’t necessarily lead to increased productivity. In fact, countries with the most productive workers have relatively short workweeks, ranging from 29 to 33 hours per week on average.
You might wonder how you can recognize whether you or someone you know might be a workaholic. Here are a few telltale signs you should look out for:
They check their email first thing in the morning
They’re the first person to arrive at work and the last one to leave
They prioritize work over other activities
A more scientific way to determine whether a person is a workaholic is to use the Bergen Work Addiction Scale to perform a personality assessment. The scale, developed by researchers from the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Bergen, is based on seven core components of addiction:
Salience: being preoccupied with work
Mood modification: work having an impact on mood
Tolerance: the need to work longer hours to experience the same mood-modifying effects
Withdrawal: experiencing unpleasant feelings when unable to work
Conflict: work causing conflicts in one’s social relationships
Relapse: the tendency to revert to addictive tendencies after a period of abstinence or control
Problems: health-related issues occurring because of work
Keep in mind that the results of this test are meant to be used as a general guide and are in no way guaranteed to diagnose someone as a workaholic correctly.
Take regular breaks to reduce mental and physical fatigue. Lunch breaks, grabbing a quick coffee, or even going for a short walk can positively affect your well-being.
Studies show that taking regular lunch breaks helps to increase energy levels and prevent exhaustion. Micro-breaks, such as leaving your desk to grab a snack or talk to a co-worker, support well-being and positively impact productivity.
Technology makes it hard to unplug after work. With emails and other work notifications available at the tap of a button, it’s easy to return to work mode during off-hours.
You need to make an active effort to unplug when you’re off the clock. Here are a few tips that can help:
Close the loop before you get off work: Reply to all the unanswered emails in your inbox and write to-dos for your next workday. These best practices are the foundation of numerous productivity methods successful people swear by.
Don’t check your inbox– Once you’re off the clock, resist the urge to check your inbox or Slack notifications. You can also learn to use Do Not Disturb (DND) for your favorite apps.
Create an unplugging ritual: Design an after-work routine to stick to consistently. Ensure it includes activities you look forward to so that you’ll be excited to finish work.
More than half of Americans don’t use their vacation days — that amounts to 768 million unused vacation days every year. You should use your vacation time every year and look at the vacation as an opportunity to recharge your batteries. It will help you return to work feeling refreshed.
Apart from being beneficial for your mental health, engaging in a hobby can also lower your blood pressure and improve your physical health. Additionally, studies have shown that hobbies can help improve self-efficacy and boost job performance by 15% to 30%.
I talked with some of my Hubstaff teammates to see what hobbies they use to reset outside of work:
Fishing: Chris from our Customer Support team spends his free time fishing in the mountains. As soon as he’s done with his work day, he heads to the nearest stream to fly fish.
Surfing: Kylie, our Growth Marketer, lives in Costa Rica and spends her free time surfing. She even uses our flexible work schedule to catch some waves on her lunch break.
Biking: Dmytro, on our development team, unwinds by biking. When he’s not developing Hubstaff features, he spends his time riding bikes with his kids at a local park.
There are so many different hobbies out there, but what really matters is finding one that helps you decompress. Use this as a time to reset and recharge your mental battery. Your team will thank you for it.
Apart from harming employees’ well-being, work addiction can also hurt businesses through low work engagement and decreased productivity.
Work-life balance: The first thing you can do to prevent team members from developing work addiction is to let them know that it’s okay to be unavailable during off-hours.
Default to asynchronous communication: At Hubstaff, we encourage asynchronous communication. Team members are not required to reply to messages instantly. Instead, we have a 24-hour grace period for all communications (excluding weekends, holidays, and vacation time).
Offer flexible work hours: Flexible working hours can allow your team members to create a schedule that works for them. It gives them space to make time for hobbies, spend time with family and friends, and anything else they’re interested in.
Encourage team members to take time off: We’ve already covered the importance of taking time off. But what if team members are unwilling to use their vacation time throughout the year for one reason or another? You can use a workforce management tool to keep tabs on your team’s mental health.
A software solution like Hubstaff makes it easy to:
See hours worked, employee activity, app and URL usage, and
Request and approve time off
See highlights, meeting vs. focus time, and more with the Insights add-on
Experiment with a 4-day workweek: A 4-day workweek, when implemented correctly, can be a great way to help your team achieve better work-life balance and stave off work addiction.
By now, we hope you understand how detrimental work addiction can be to one’s health. If you suspect that you or someone on your team might be a workaholic, here are some steps you can take to help:
Take the workaholic test: Use the Bergen Work Addiction Scale and the accompanying test to determine whether you or your team suffer from work addiction. If the results suggest that you or someone on your team suffers from workaholism, follow the next step.
Create a plan for dealing with workaholism: Look through this guide again and choose two specific tactics you'll use to combat work addiction. It can be hard to know where to start, but having a game plan can help you deal with workaholism strategically.
Consider professional help: Finally, if you feel like you can’t address workaholic tendencies on your own, consider getting professional help. There are excellent therapists who specialize in occupational health psychology that can help you create an addiction recovery plan for your unique situation.
Track time off and simplify time tracking so it’s easy for your team to unplug when they need to. Easy start and stop timer
promotes more flexible work days.