Most people in the workforce will occasionally have to work long hours. What differentiates a reasonable work schedule from a workaholic’s schedule? Work addiction or workaholism can be defined in many different ways. Generally speaking, work addiction is the inability to disconnect from work to an unhealthy or pathological degree.
A person who is addicted to their work is often driven by their successes and ambition as well as an extreme fear of failure and rejection. In the United States, the myth of hard work – that if you work hard for long enough, you’ll get ahead – can promote a workaholic mentality. A person may be rewarded for their success and long hours, yet under the surface, their mental, physical and emotional health are rapidly declining. Thus, workaholism can have dire consequences.
In the past few decades, research on work addiction has become more common, however, there has been no scientific consensus as to the causes of work addiction. Because not a lot is known about it, there are many myths about work addiction.
Myth 1: Work addiction is a new behavioral addiction.
Fact: Work addiction has been studied for decades.
Clinical descriptions of work addiction started appearing in the early 1900s. Work addition was formally discussed in scientific literature by the 1970s. Scientific literature describing work addiction has varied substantially since that time.
It should be noted that a lack of scientific consensus on work addiction is likely due to changing societal values, culture as a whole, modern science and technology. Because society is constantly evolving and changing, and “work” is not the same as it used to be with the rise of the internet and telecommuting, the definitions of work addiction must be modified to reflect these changes.
Myth 2: Work addiction is a positive thing.
Fact: Work addiction cannot be positive when it negatively impacts an individual’s life.
In some instances, an individual who is a workaholic is portrayed as a positive asset to society. Traits commonly used to describe such people include: highly motivated, passionate, exceeds expectations and enthusiastic. Despite these positive traits, the long-term consequences and side effects of work addiction can impact a person’s life in a variety of negative ways. Some of these potential consequences include:
- Decreased job satisfaction over time
- Decreased satisfaction in life
- Excessive stress due to job performance
- Feeling burned out
- Emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted
- Worsening physical health
- Worsening emotional health
Myth 3: Work addiction only impacts the employee.
Fact: Work addiction can impact other people.
Work addiction can have negative consequences on more than just the employee. Namely, there is a significantly negative relationship with work addiction and family life. The obsessive work drive of a workaholic spouse can create a lack of spousal support and these individuals report more family conflict and poorer functioning at home than non-workaholics.
Additionally, relationships with children or dependents can suffer if parents or guardians are overworked. Children require support in every aspect of their lives, including their mental, emotional and physical health. Workaholic parents may be absent from large or small events in their child’s life due to work. This absence leaves a void in the child’s support system.
Myth 4: Work addiction and workaholism are the same.
Fact: Depending on the context, work addiction and workaholism can mean slightly different things.
In some cases, work addiction and workaholism can be considered synonyms. When considering work addiction vs workaholism, remember that work addiction references a more clinical definition and encompasses the following six elements:
- Salience (is noticeability)
- Conflict (it inevitably leads to conflict with family or other interests)
- Mood modification (people experience a buzz or high when working)
- Withdrawal symptoms (it involves withdrawal symptoms after abstaining from work)
- Tolerance (increasing amounts of work are needed to produce the same positive feelings)
- Relapse (it involves relapse potential)
In contrast, workaholism or workaholic is a more casual and generic term that describes work addiction and both the positive and negative experiences associated with working long and frequent hours.
Myth 5: Work addiction leads to improved productivity.
Fact: Work addiction often leads to burn out and decreased productivity.
In the workplace, it is a common myth that working hard addiction leads to increased or improved productivity. In some instances, work addicts may experience work burnout and actually become less productive. Overworking may first boost morale in the workplace, however with time, the increased pessimism and exhaustion associated with workaholic burnout diminishes morale and productivity decreases. Other mental or physical illness can also develop from working too hard and decrease the worker’s overall productivity.
As a way to combat work addiction and decrease employee burnout, several countries have experimented with decreasing the length of the workday. For instance, Sweden decreased its workday to six hours versus the conventional eight hours, and found that there was no decrease in employee productivity. Although this may be difficult for countries like the United States to implement nationally, individual companies could foster more reasonable work environments for their employees by emphasizing mental, physical and emotional well-being. Ironically, this can start by encouraging less work.
Myth 6: Working long hours is the only sign of work addiction.
Fact: Work addiction has many signs and symptoms.
During an industry’s busy seasons, many individuals may find themselves working longer or more frequent hours, but would not be considered work addicts. Long working hours are not the only symptom of work addiction. In some cases, it may not be obvious to an outside observer that an individual is struggling with work addiction. Some common signs and symptoms of work addiction include:
- Acting obsessively over work failures and successes
- Extreme fear of failure concerning work-related duties or tasks
- Constant worry over how an individual compares to others in the workplace
- Feeling negative or not good enough
- Escaping personal problems by working
- Working long hours without a reward or proper compensation
- Developing health issues like sleep deprivation as a result of overworking
- Stopping activities that once brought an individual joy in exchange for making more time for work
- Becoming increasingly isolated from family, friends and other employees as a result of overworking
Myth 7: Work addiction only has psychological consequences
Fact: Work addiction can affect more than just a person’s mental health.
Work addiction has a serious impact on a person’s mental health. Work addiction has a significant association with overall burnout, emotional exhaustion, becoming more negative and depersonalization. A person that works extremely hard or too often may start to lose touch with their sense of self, or feel disconnected from themselves and the ones they love. Work addiction is also associated with long-term stress, depression and anxiety. But the effects of work addiction can reach across many areas of an individual’s life, beyond their mental health.
The physical symptoms of overworking are tremendous. Overworking has been associated with an increased risk for developing serious health issues like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Additionally, if people have not developed adequate coping skills in times of stress, they may be at increased risk for developing substance abuse problems with alcohol and other drugs. The trickle-down effects that work addiction has on a person’s mental, physical and emotional health, as well as their relationships with others can be extremely negative.
Prioritizing your work-life balance is critical for your health. If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse and work addiction, The Recovery Village can help. Contact a representative today to discuss treatment options for both conditions.
Clark, Malissa. “Workaholism: It’s not just long hours on the job.” American Psychological Association, April 2016. Accessed May 30, 2019. Griffiths, Mark, Demetrovics, Zsolt and Atroszko, Pawel. “Ten myths about work addiction.” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, February 7, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2019. Lior, Oren, Abira, Reizer and Aviv, Weinstein. “Work addiction: An organizational behavior as well as an addictive behavior? Commentary on: Ten myths about work addiction (Griffiths et al., 2018).” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, December 13, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2019. Andreassen, Cecilie. “Workaholism: An overview and current status of the research.” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, December 6, 2013. Accessed June 19, 2019.
Clark, Malissa. “Workaholism: It’s not just long hours on the job.” American Psychological Association, April 2016. Accessed May 30, 2019.
Griffiths, Mark, Demetrovics, Zsolt and Atroszko, Pawel. “Ten myths about work addiction.” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, February 7, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2019.
Lior, Oren, Abira, Reizer and Aviv, Weinstein. “Work addiction: An organizational behavior as well as an addictive behavior? Commentary on: Ten myths about work addiction (Griffiths et al., 2018).” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, December 13, 2018. Accessed May 30, 2019.
Andreassen, Cecilie. “Workaholism: An overview and current status of the research.” Journal of Behavioral Addictions, December 6, 2013. Accessed June 19, 2019.