“I’m a workaholic.” For some people, uttering those words is like a badge of honor they wear with pride.
“People say, ‘I’m a workaholic, but I love what I do,” says Malissa Clark, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia and lead author of both articles. This statement, she says, illustrates the confusion around the topic.
If you’re a true workaholic, you can’t help thinking about work, Clark says. “It’s like an addiction.”
Workaholics experience negative emotions both at home and at work, Clark notes, whereas workers who are engaged in their jobs reported feeling more positive emotions around their work and home life. Fast Company spoke with Clark about her research, as well as her advice to companies for managing a healthy work environment.
In the Journal of Management article, Clark and her team aggregated data from previous studies examining workaholism.
“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,” Clark says. “Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it, but because they feel internal pressure to work.”
Overall, Clark’s findings suggest workaholics experience more negative outcomes than their colleagues who simply enjoy their jobs. Study participants reported feeling less satisfied with their jobs and lives outside of work, feel burned out, experience greater work and family conflict, and are in poorer physical and mental health.
While there’s a split between psychologists who believe workaholism can be a positive addiction and those who believe there aren’t any benefits, Clark is firmly in the latter group. “Although some researchers propose there are short-term benefits [to workaholism], I’m hesitant to talk about any benefits . . . given the findings,” she says.
The most surprising finding, Clark says, was the relationship between gender and workaholism by age. According to the research, older women are more likely to be workaholics than their younger counterparts, while older men were less likely to be workaholics than younger men. Clark interprets this data cautiously, saying more studies need to be conducted. “It’s amazing how little research there is on this topic,” she says.
Ideally, Clark would like to see companies encourage their employees to have a work-life balance, pointing to recent research that shows taking mental breaks, like taking a walk or making time a coffee break; or physical breaks, such as time off from work, rejuvenates workers.
Problems can arise, however, if a company has a workaholic culture, where such behaviors are modeled to employees by leadership. One way to address this problem is to meet with supervisors exhibiting workaholic tendencies in an effort to curb the behavior. Alternatively, communicate to subordinates that’s not the expectation, and encourage work-life balance discussions between managers and their direct reports.
[h/t: University of Georgia]