Some people are constant clock-watchers on the job, eager for the end to the work day. Others are usually the last to leave the office, losing track of time as they delve deeper into whatever they're working on.
Members of the latter group are usually called workaholics, unable or unwilling to shift their focus from their work to other parts of their lives. What's behind this obsession?
That's what Cecilie Schou Andreassen and colleagues at the University of Bergen, in Norway, wanted to find out. It's not like work addiction is a new phenomenon – it's been the object of study for at least 4 decades.
Schou Andreassen wanted to find out how many true workaholics are among us and in that area, the research is thin. The field primarily relies on limited measures used in small non-representative samples from the U.S.
For her study, which appears in the journal PLOS One, Schou Andreassen and her research team have identified 7 criteria to measure work addiction – 7 ways you can tell if you are a workaholic.
First, you think of ways you can free up time so you can work more. This is the exact opposite of most people, who look for ways to increase leisure or family time.
You put in more hours than you expected. For example, you plan to stop off at the office on a Saturday to pick up a folder but don't leave until hours later, unable to walk away from an unfinished project.
You find work is a great outlet. When you are working, you feel less guilt, anxiety or depression.
People are always commenting on your great work habits, expressing admiration but telling you to take more time for yourself. You always ignore their advice.
You get upset if something prevents your from working. You might be working at home on the weekend when a power outage stops your work, making your feel stressed.
You give up hobbies and leisure activities you once enjoyed because you now consider them an intrusion into your work time.
Finally, your commitment to work begins to affect your health. You don't get enough exercise or eat right, because you are always grabbing something from the vending machine and eating at your desk.
“If you reply ‘often’ or ‘always’ to at least 4 of these 7 criteria, there is some indication that you may be a workaholic,” Schou Andreassen said. “This is the first scale to use core symptoms of addiction found in other more traditional addictions.”
In a completely unrelated survey, TripAdvisor has released a survey of workers and found that 77% said they had worked while on vacation in the last year. Five percent said they really enjoyed it, suggesting that group might be defined as workaholic.
Young adults most affected
The Norwegian study found, as a whole, 8.3% of its subjects appear to be addicted to work. Both men and women tend to equally compulsively overwork. But there was one distinction.
“We did find that younger adults were affected to a greater extent than older workers,” said Schou Andreassen. “However, workaholism seems unrelated to gender, education level, marital status or part-time versus full-time employment.”
Another distinction was people with children living at home were more likely to be workaholics than those without children.
Why study it?
One possible reason work addiction doesn't get the attention of, say, meth addiction, is that being addicted to work isn't always viewed as such a negative thing. But like other addictions, it can interfere with relationships.
But the workaholic is essentially being more productive. Isn't that a good thing? Ebeneezer Scrooge was a workaholic, and that didn't work out too well for the people around him.
Dr. Barbara Killinger, writing in Psychology Today, sees the dark side of work addiction. Most workaholics are displaying an ambition, she believes, rooted in the search for power.
“Power is the seductive mistress that lures workaholics whose obsessive and compulsive focus is increasingly on work related goals that take them away from personal and professional responsibilities to family, friends, colleagues and staff,” she writes. “The acquisition of money and worldly goods can be a showcase of power and influence, or the individual may chose a more private lifestyle to avoid the envy or resentment of others.”
Schou Andreassen points out that workaholism may have contradictory psychological, physiological, and social outcomes. She would like to see more awareness of it among employers and health professionals.
“As workaholism is not a formal diagnosis the development of treatment models and real treatment offers has been lacking,” she said.