Workaholism Facts: Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Workaholism
48% of Americans consider themselves to be workaholics. This makes work addiction the most prevalent form of addiction today. While it might sound benign, workaholism can have quite a few negative consequences and harm a person’s well-being.
In this guide, we’ll talk about what workaholism is, discuss the most important facts surrounding workaholism derived from addiction research, explain how you can recognize a workaholic, and recommend strategies you can use to stop being a workaholic.
The difference between being a workaholic and working hard
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 a physical addiction to work and succumb to excessive working. They have poor stress management skills and feel negative emotions, such as anxiety, when they’re not working. Hard workers, on the other hand, are passionate about work, all while working average hours.
Job satisfaction – People that suffer from work addiction are usually dissatisfied with their job, while hard workers are generally happy with the work they do.
Work-life balance – Workaholics’ lives revolve around work. Unlike hard workers, they have no balance between their personal and work life and live in a constant state of 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 have plenty of activities they enjoy doing outside of work. Workaholics, on the other hand, usually have no life outside of the excessive work they do.
Productivity – Lack of job satisfaction and no balance between their personal and work life causes workaholics to actually have low job performance, and they end up being less productive compared to hard workers.
Risk factors for developing work addiction
While anyone can become a workaholic, some people are at greater risk of developing work addiction. These are some of the biggest risk factors for becoming a workaholic:
History of addictive behavior – People that have a prior history of substance abuse and other addictive behaviors are more likely to develop work addiction as well.
Studies show that this connection works the other way around, too: people working 50 hours or more per week have up to 3.3 times higher rates of alcohol-related problems compared to people working less than 50 hours per week.
Perfectionism – Workaholics tend to be perfectionists, so people with perfectionist tendencies are at a greater risk of becoming workaholics.
Family of workaholics – If a person has family members who are workaholics, they are likely to learn workaholic behavior and develop a work addiction themselves.
Types of workaholics
There have been at least seven different classifications of workaholics since the 1970s. Most of these classifications mention the following types of workaholics:
Compulsive workaholics – These individuals show symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder and associated personality traits. They prioritize work and want to spend all their time working.
Perfectionist workaholics – Workaholics of this type are very detail-oriented and aim to complete all their tasks perfectly.
Procrastinating workaholics – Procrastinators who work in binges, delaying starting work on a task until the last minute.
4 ways to stop being a workaholic
Think you or someone you know might be a workaholic? Here are a few tips that can help.
1. Take regular work breaks
Workaholics avoid taking breaks because they’re looking to get as much work done as possible during the workday. The negative consequences of this include exhaustion and reduced productivity.
You need to take breaks at regular intervals to reduce both mental and physical fatigue. Short and long breaks, as well as lunch breaks, all have a positive effect on your well-being.
Studies show that taking regular lunch breaks helps to increase energy levels at work and prevents you from feeling exhausted. Micro-breaks, such as leaving your desk to grab a snack or talk to a co-worker, support well-being and have a positive impact on productivity.
Here’s how to make the most out of your breaks:
2. Unplug completely when you’re off the clock
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 go back into work mode during off-hours.
You need to make an active effort to unplug completely 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 out to-dos for your next workday at the end of the current one. This will help to get everything out of your head and allow you to relax once you’re finally done with work.
Don’t check your inbox – Once you’re off the clock, resist the urge to check your inbox or Slack notifications. Spending a couple of minutes to check notifications can easily turn into working for another two hours just to finish this or that.
Create an unplugging ritual – Design an after-work routine that you can stick to consistently. Make sure it consists of activities you look forward to so that you’ll be excited to finish work. For example, you could go out for a walk, make yourself a drink, or prepare dinner.
3. Use up your vacation time every year
More than half of Americans don’t use their vacation days, which amounts to a total of 768 million unused vacation days every year. There are a number of reasons why people refrain from taking any vacation time, including:
Wanting to show that they’re dedicated to their job
Being afraid that they’ll be seen as replaceable
Thinking that it will increase their chances of advancement within the company
If you work at a company with even a remotely healthy work culture, this type of thinking isn’t necessary. You should use up your vacation time every year and look at vacation as an opportunity to recharge your batteries and then return to work refreshed.
Here’s how to take a vacation that will allow you to actually recharge and feel better once you come back:
Take care of priorities before you leave – Clear out your to-do list and wrap up important projects before you leave for vacation. This will ensure that you won’t be thinking about unfinished projects and other work-related tasks during your vacation.
Reduce smartphone usage – Try to use your smartphone as little as possible during the vacation. You might still need it for things like Google Maps, but stay off social networks and anything else that might distract you from fully enjoying your vacation.
Make yourself unavailable – Finally, don’t reply to work-related emails and messages during the vacation. This is your time to relax, so don’t allow anyone to pull you into work mode.
4. Take up a hobby
Hobbies allow you to decompress and reduce stress. Apart from being beneficial for your mental health, engaging in a hobby can also lower your blood pressure and cortisol, staving off the negative outcomes associated with work addiction.
When engaging in a hobby, make sure to:
Look for something you’re genuinely interested in – Not sure what kind of hobby to take up? Try going back to a hobby you enjoyed in your childhood. Or, give something you’ve always wanted to try a go.
Schedule time for your hobby – Most people that don’t have a hobby think they lack the time for it. However, the truth is that most of us can find some time in our week to engage in a hobby. You just need to schedule a time for it on your calendar.
This is where a technique like time blocking can help. Fire up your smartphone’s calendar app and block out 8 hours a day for work.
Add in time blocks for meals, sleep, and other essential daily activities. See all the time you have left? That’s your free time. Fill it up with hobbies and fun activities you’d like to do.
Stick to it – Once you find a hobby, stick to it. Try to engage in your hobby at least once a week. This will help you reap all the benefits of having a hobby consistently.
Encourage team members to take time off
We’ve already talked about 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?
If that’s the case, you need to encourage them to take time off by instituting the right policies. Here are some things you can do:
Establish time-off minimums – Institute a policy that states that team members must take a certain number of days off every year. This will show them that it’s both fine and expected to take time off.
Limit vacation rollover – A lot of employees save vacation days because they think that they’ll take a longer vacation next year. However, statistics show that most vacation days end up unused. To prevent this, limit or forbid vacation rollover.
Set a deadline for time-off requests – You can also increase the chances of team members taking time off by setting a deadline for time-off requests. This will trigger your team’s fear of missing out and increase the chances of team members requesting time off.
Make it easy to request time off – Use a software solution like Hubstaff to simplify the process of requesting and approving time off. This will ensure team members request time off more frequently.
Experiment with a 4-day work week
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.
A New Zealand study showed that implementing a 4-day workweek decreases employee stress while increasing overall work satisfaction. The same study also reported a 20% increase in productivity for workers who participated in the study.
Here are some tips to help you implement a 4-day workweek effectively:
Avoid salary reductions – Some companies have attempted implementing 4-day workweeks while reducing people’s salaries to reflect the new hours worked. This can often result in a lot of disgruntled employees who’ll be opposed to the new schedule.
Start with a one-week trial – As with implementing any new policy, it’s a good idea to test it out for a brief period first. Start with a one-week trial of your new 4-day workweek, and then re-evaluate once the week is over. This is a low-risk way of testing out a 4-day workweek at your company.
Be prepared to switch back – There’s no shame in trying something out. If things don’t work out or employee satisfaction goes down, be prepared to switch back to your regular 5-day schedule.
Are you a workaholic?
By now, you should know how detrimental work addiction can be to a person’s health. If you suspect that you or someone on your team might be a workaholic, here’s what to do:
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 test comes up negative — great. If, on the other hand, 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. For example, you could put in a time off request right now and then think about rekindling an old hobby.
If you’re a manager looking to address workaholism in your team, look into ways of improving your time off policy to encourage team members to take more time off. Try establishing a time-off minimum or setting a vacation rollover limit, for example.
Consider professional help – Finally, if you feel like you can’t address your workaholic tendencies on your own, consider getting professional help.
There are plenty of therapists who specialize in occupational health psychology and addictive behavior that can help you and create an addiction recovery plan adapted to your specific situation and personality traits.
Simplify taking time off with Hubstaff
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.