Workaholism Is Harmful to Health and Happiness, Study Finds

By Victoria Kim 11/06/14

Despite being tagged as a "positive addiction," workaholism has negative consequences for employees and employers alike.

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Being a workaholic is bad for employers and employees alike, damaging one’s health, happiness, and interpersonal relations, according to a new study.

The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Management, used existing data to relate the causes and effects of workaholism, a term coined by American psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971.

In a culture that glorifies workaholism, some researchers go so far as calling it a “positive addiction,” according to Malissa Clark, lead author and assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Georgia.

“We recognize in this study that [workaholism] brings a negative outcome for yourself and the people around you,” Clark said. “The mixed rhetoric and research surrounding workaholism provided the need for a thorough quantitative analysis.”

Workaholism is not defined by hard work itself. It is when one’s need to work becomes so excessive that it inevitably interferes with personal health and happiness, interpersonal relations, and social functioning. The quality of work is not relevant, but it is the act of working, itself, that defines workaholism.

Clark refers to this as the difference between workaholism and work engagement. “One is feeling driven to work because of an internal compulsion, when there’s guilt if you’re not working—that’s workaholism,” she said. “The other feeling is wanting to work because you feel joy in work and that’s why you go to work everyday, because you enjoy it. And I say that is work engagement.”

The study revealed that other aspects of a workaholic’s life are negatively affected by this behavior—such as stress level, health, and relationships—which ultimately causes one’s productivity to suffer as well.

“My prior research has shown that workaholics experience negative emotions, both at work and at home. Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they’re at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety,” she said. “Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction.”

The next generation of workers inspire hope that the workaholic culture will not last, said Clark, making way for a more family-friendly culture. She noted that millennials tend to “care more about work-family balance than previous generations,” which could mean that in the future, more companies will promote a healthy work-life balance over working too hard.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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