It might be the one truly acceptable addiction.
In the workplace, an alcoholic’s the one with a problem. They show up late, they look disheveled, there are rumors about their breath, about bottles found in the restroom trash, about behaviors at an office party. A workaholic? They might not be fun to be around, but they’re headed for the executive track.
American psychologist Wayne Oates coined the term “workaholic” suggesting that labor could become as compulsive and addictive as alcohol is for an alcoholic. The idea of a workaholic might sound silly, but it has received serious study. A study published in a 1992 issue of the Journal of Personality Assessment described workers who work compulsively hard without a sense of enjoyment or fulfillment. And consider the Japanese term “karoshi.” Roughly translated as “overwork death,” it’s a genuine problem in Japan and possibly responsible for deaths from heart stress and suicide related to work.
What is a workaholic?
There’s a fuzzy line between being a go-getter and being a workaholic. As a way to better determine the difference between a strong work ethic and potentially harmful behaviors, a research group from the University of Bergen in Norway devised a tool they call the Bergen Work Scale, which was published in 2012 in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology.
The scale asks respondents seven questions about their work habits:
- Has working excessively damaged your health?
- Do you prioritize work over exercise, hobbies and other leisure activities?
- Do you become stressed when you are prohibited from working?
- Have you ever been told by others you needed to reduce your work? Did you ignore them?
- Do you work for longer periods than you intended?
- Have you ever worked to reduce feelings of anxiety, guilt and depression?
- Do you think of new ways to devote more time to your work?
Respondents then use a five-point scale to grade how true the statements are for them: never, rarely, sometimes, often and always. UiB’s researchers claim having scores of “often” or “always” to at least four of the questions is a potential indicator of being a workaholic.
It’s easy to assume that a workaholic, whatever else they may be, is an ideal employee, but that’s not the case. A study which appeared in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in 2013 looked at over 300 workers. The data showed a strong relationship between psychological strain and workaholics. This kind of strain was also associated with absences due to sickness along with overall poor job performance. Additionally, the data showed workaholic behaviors were a strong predictor of absences as well.
It’s long been known that anxiety and stress are associated with workaholics. An additional study conducted by UiB’s researchers may have found workaholics run an additional risk of having other mental disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as well.
Depression and anxiety disorders a risk for workaholics
In the study, the researchers examined the mental health of nearly 16,500 Norwegian workers, studying them for psychiatric symptoms as well as signs of being a workaholic. Afterwards, the researchers looked for connections.
For the workaholics the study uncovered, the researchers found:
- Almost 9 percent met the criteria for clinical depression
- Over 25 percent had obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Around 33 percent had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Almost 34 percent had anxiety
“Workaholics scored higher on all the psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics,” said UiB psychologist and study author Cecilie Shou Andreassen in a press release. “Whether this reflects overlapping genetic vulnerabilities, disorders leading to workaholism or, conversely, workaholism causing such disorders, remains unclear,” she added.
Recognizing a problem
Americans certainly work hard. The American Time Use Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed Americans worked an average of 8.57 hours on a given day in 2014 – a slight increase from the previous year. Also, nearly 35 percent of Americans worked weekends and/or holidays during 2014.
It’s important to occasionally take stock of one’s self. The capacity to work hard should be rewarded, but not if it comes at the price of one’s mental and physical health. Anxiety and depression are serious mood disorders which benefit from treatment. Sovereign Health of California offers a wide range of effective, evidenced-based treatment programs for mood disorders, other mental conditions and substance abuse. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for Sovereign Health. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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