Are You Hooked on Work?

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Larry Forthun, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Do you know any workaholics? If you’re like most of us, you probably do. The U.S. places great value on working hard—it’s part of our culture as a nation. In fact, many use the term “workaholic” proudly to describe themselves. But stop for minute and really consider the origin of the word! It comes, of course, from “alcoholic.”

Defining the Term

How do we define workaholism? It’s a good question. After all, some people have to work many hours due to financial need. Others are happy to work a lot because they love what they do. Experts specify that you don’t qualify as “workaholic” just because you’re working two jobs to keep food on the table, or because you enjoy what you do and put in more time than most. Instead, workaholics have an internal need or compulsion to work longer and harder than other people–well beyond what’s necessary or expected of them. Workaholics tend to put work above all other concerns, including family and their own well-being. It’s very hard for them to disengage from work, even for a short time—their minds are always “at the office.”

What are Workaholics Like?

A recent analysis took a look at over 89 studies of workaholism to learn more about the causes and effects of this problem. People classified as workaholics tended to have classic “type A” personalities, meaning they were achievement-focused, ambitious, and competitive. They were likely to be perfectionists, and to have a hard time delegating tasks to others.

Workaholics’ personal and family lives suffered as a result of their compulsion to work. Compared to nonworkaholics, they experienced more work-life conflict and more family and marital problems. They also were more burned out, felt more job stress, had lower life and job satisfaction, and reported worse physical and emotional health.

Does Overwork Pay Off?

But…were they also doing an amazing job at the office or workplace? Surprisingly, no. Workaholics didn’t seem to perform better than other workers, despite putting in more hours. Although they were slightly more likely to be managers and to report strong career prospects, and were somewhat more engaged in their jobs than others, their dedication to their careers didn’t really seem to be paying off. They weren’t very productive or positive in how they interacted with their coworkers, either.

As these researchers point out, workaholism doesn’t just harm individuals—it hurts families and even coworkers, who may feel they have to “measure up” to this new standard and engage in workaholic behavior themselves. It also doesn’t appear to improve performance. If you recognize yourself in these descriptions of those with a compulsive need to overwork, you may want to consider whether it’s time to make a change. For more, consult the resources in Further Reading.

(Photo credit: The Workaholic by herval. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading

Workaholics Anonymous

Are You a Workaholic?


Clark, M. A., Michel, J. S., Zhdanova, L., Pui, S. Y., & Baltes, B. B. (2014). All Work and No Play? A Meta-Analytic Examination of the Correlates and Outcomes of Workaholism. Journal of Management. Advance online publication.


Posted: December 9, 2014

Category: Relationships & Family, Work & Life
Tags: Health And Wellness, Mental Health

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