Staying Healthy
Fact Checked

Are You a Workaholic?

Working long hours does not mean that you are a workaholic, but both can affect your health.
Last Update:
August 16, 2021
Fact Checked
Are You a Workaholic?
Are You a Workaholic?
Working long hours does not mean that you are a workaholic, but both can affect your health.
Last Update: August 16, 2021

“Workaholic”: We may hear this when we work long hours and do not have enough time to spend with family and friends. People also associate workaholics with colleagues who have high work engagement, which for some can seem like a compliment. The truth is that a workaholic is more than someone who works hard, and workaholism can bring harm to your personal life and relationships, but also to your mental and physical health.

What is “workaholism”?

The term “workaholism” was coined by psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971. It is defined as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly” (in other words — “work addiction”). Since then, researchers have been arguing over ways to define and measure it.

Although workaholism is not an officially recognized diagnosable mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, there have been studies showing that workaholism is a negative phenomenon that impacts mental health.

What is the difference between workaholism and high work engagement or working long hours?

Some professions, such as healthcare workers and lawyers, simply require long working hours but it does not mean that every person in these jobs is actually addicted to work. You may at times work longer hours or over-time because you have a deadline to meet and you do not think you will be able to finish everything in usual working hours.

In fact, it is possible to work fewer hours than other people and still experience all the negative mental and physical outcomes brought by workaholism. While working long hours merely means that you work more time and can affect your physical and mental health because, for example, you have less time to sleep, leading to fatigue and bad mood, being addicted to work can bring the similar effects or worse as a workaholic is unable to psychologically detach from work even during non-working hours.

So, what’s the difference between workaholism and high work engagement? Simply put, workaholism is characterized by an obsessive attitude towards work, whereas high work engagement represents a positive and healthy pattern of thoughts and feelings about work.

How does workaholism affect your health?

A study conducted in 2012 shows that as a person struggles to detach from work and the mind is occupied with work-related matters, it can lead to great levels of stress, depression, anxiety and fatigue.

Constantly feeling stressed will lead to the development of chronic stress, which, if untreated, can contribute to higher blood pressure. Hypertension is one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which can be very serious health conditions that lead to death.

In addition, ruminating about work even when you are with family and friends, or during personal hours, can seriously damage relationships. People around you may not be happy with your mental absence and may eventually spend less time with you, leaving you socially isolated.

Research from 2016 shows that workaholism is also significantly associated with the symptoms of many psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

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How to know if you are addicted to work?

A new instrument, the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, was developed in 2012 by Norwegian researchers to measure the degree of someone’s workaholism. It uses 7 basic criteria to identify work addiction. Each criterion is scored on the following scale: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always:

1 - You think of how you can free up more time to work.

2 - You spend much more time working than initially intended.

3 - You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.

4 - You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

5 - You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

6 - You de-prioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.

7 - You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

According to this methodology, if you answer “often” or “always” to at least 4 of the 7 criteria, you may be a workaholic.

How to overcome your work addition?

Workaholism is certainly treatable. If you believe that you may have work addiction, try to follow the tips below in order to improve your work ethic.

#1 Set strict boundaries between work and personal life.

Set times when you cannot do anything related to work so as to unwind yourself. It may be difficult for people who have an uncontrollable need to work. Therefore, remember that resting and taking breaks, instead of working nonstop and burning yourself out, allows to work better.

#2 Learn not to be harsh to yourself.

It is not necessary to always aim for a promotion, more responsibilities, or more income without knowing what is actually right for you. While it is always good to improve, aim for realistic goals that are within your optimal abilities.

#3 Schedule activities after work.

Make a point to scheduling leisure activities you enjoy during your no-work period, so as to keep your mind focused on the activities themselves instead of your work.

#4 Seek professional help

Last but not least, seek help from mental health professionals if you are still struggling to detach yourself from work. Since workaholism is sometimes related to other mental illnesses, seeking help as soon as possible can prevent the situation from getting worse.

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This article was independently written by Alea and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and should never be relied upon for specific advice.