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Recovery From Workaholic Syndrome

Do you put in a lot of hours at your job? Do you find yourself thinking about work, even when you are not there? Do you feel uncomfortable being away from your work for an extended period, even if you are vacationing?

Uh oh…you may be a workaholic.

What is Workaholism and Who are Workaholics?

The term workaholism was coined in 1971 by minister and psychologist Wayne Oates, who described his own tendencies toward a “compulsion or uncontrollable need to work incessantly” in his book, Confessions of a Workaholic.

Barbara Killinger Ph.D, author of the blog The Workaholics, defines a workaholic as “a work-obsessed individual who gradually becomes emotionally crippled and addicted to power and control in a compulsive drive to gain approval and public recognition of success.”

Malissa Clark, PHD, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Work and Family Experience Research Lab at the University of Georgia, explains in an American Psychological Association ( Science Brief, that workaholics commonly display the following characteristics:

  • Feeling compelled to work because of internal pressures.
  • Having persistent thoughts about work when not working.
  • Working beyond what is reasonably expected of the worker (as established by the requirements of the job or basic economic needs).

What is the Difference Between a Hard Worker and a Workaholic?

Is workaholism more than just working hard and working long hours? Yes!

The difference is that a hard worker, despite the rigors of work, will be emotionally present for family members, co-workers and friends, and will maintain a healthy balance between his/her work and personal responsibility. A workaholic, however, will allow important work/life boundaries to become blurred or broken.

Interestingly, studies show that workaholism and the number of hours worked per week are only moderately correlated.

A more relevant correlation is the motivation underlying workaholic behavioral tendencies. While engaged workers are driven to work because they find work intrinsically pleasurable, workaholics are driven to work because they feel an inner compulsion to work – for example, they feel that they “should” be working more than they actually need to.

Other Personality Traits of Workaholics

Workaholics appear to relate primarily to maladaptive forms of perfectionism. According to Dr. Killinger, there are several sub-types of workaholics, each with specific traits:

  • The Pleaser has a hard time saying say “no” because they desperately want to be admired and liked, and will do almost anything to gain accolades from their boss and fellow workers.
  • The Controller craves control. They often feel that they have to be right, and have to do things their way. They are seldom able to see the viewpoint of others, and are often determined to achieve their own agenda, regardless of the consequences.

Workaholism and Psychiatric Disorders

In May 25, 2016, researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway published in the online journal PLOS ONE, an article titled The Relationships between Workaholism and Symptoms of Psychiatric Disorders: A Large-Scale Cross-Sectional Study.

The key findings established a link between workaholism and several psychiatric disorders:

  • 7 percent of workaholics studied met criteria for ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (vs. 12.7 percent among non-workaholics).
  • 6 percent met criteria for OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (vs. 8.7 percent among non-workaholics).
  • 8 percent met criteria for anxiety (vs. 11.9 percent among non-workaholics).
  • 9 percent met criteria for depression (vs. 2.6 percent among non-workaholics).

Researchers surmised that individuals with ADHD might compensate for their inattentiveness and lack of focus by over-working, in order to meet the expectations required by their job. People with obsessive-compulsive tendencies – such as a need to arrange things in certain ways to help maintain a sense of control, or a tendency to obsess over details – could be predisposed to developing workaholism.

It has been shown that workaholism, in some cases, develops from an attempt to reduce uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and depression. Because working hard is praised and honored in modern society, and it serves as a legitimate method for combating or alleviating negative feelings, it is one way that anxious or depressed people can feel better about themselves and feel more at peace.

Are You a Workaholic?

Test your own workaholic tendencies using the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, first published in April 2012, in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology:

Answer the seven questions below, using one of the following choices:

  • Never
  • Rarely
  • Sometimes
  • Often
  • Always
  1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  2. You spend much more time working than you 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 deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
  7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Answering “often” or “always” to four or more of the preceding questions indicates that you may be work-addicted.

Suggestions for Taming Workaholic Tendencies

To reduce your tendency toward workaholism, try incorporating the following suggestions:

  • Include fun in your schedule.Allow yourself to enjoy things other than work. Get out of the office; go outside, exercise, or eat lunch in the open air. Take part in non-work activities that you enjoy. Plan regular long weekends and short vacations, vs. one single long vacation each year. This allows you to rest and rejuvenate your brain, yet avoid feeling guilty for being gone too long at one time.
  • Re-evaluate how you value your work.Learn to view your work as one important part of your life, but not the most important part. Prioritize family, health, and peace of mind over money and prestige.
  • Accurately assess the “ROI” (return on investment) of your work.For any task you take on, ask yourself: How many people will gain a significant benefit once I accomplish this task? How many are eagerly waiting for me to finish? If the answer is hardly anyone, think again about the value of continuing with the task.
  • Don’t be “on call” all the time.Have “work-free” hours at home. Avoid checking your e-mails and taking phone calls during this time.
  • Strive for efficiency, not perfection.Set sensible limits on your work so that it does not overtake the rest of your life. Strive to work smarter, not harder.


Images Courtesy of iStock

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