The mere mention of the word ‘work’ usually evokes an instant emotional response. For some, it is the best part of their day, for others simply a means to an end and yet others something they yearn to be away from. Work is a complex issue. Many people define themselves by their job. Others find it protects them from boredom or even diseases like depression. On balance, most experts agree that work is a good thing. But what happens if work becomes an all-encompassing issue? Is excessive work something to worry about? Can people become addicted to work to the point where they and others suffer?
Mark Griffiths is Professor of Gambling Studies at the International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, in the UK. He points to the fact that work has a unique set of characteristics any one of which can provide powerful rewards. Rewards in the form of things we find personally reinforcing are the roots of addictive behavior.
Looking after the workforce has become more of a priority as the number of hours people commit to their job increases. Work-life balance is an issue workers are asked to consider. A healthy worker is one that knows how and when to switch off from work and remind themselves there are other things and other people worth considering. But how much is too much and what defines you as a workaholic?
Griffiths views a workaholic as exhibiting six key characteristics which, he argues, are also the core components of addiction, these are:
Work dominates thinking. It becomes a total preoccupation whether they are at work or not.
Work modifies mood. Either the person gets a hit from being at work or they escape from a troubled personal life.
In order to get the fix, more and more work is taken on over time.
When away from work the person has withdrawal symptoms. Irritability and even tremors are signs.
Conflict. Either with people, other possible activities, or themselves. So-called intra-psychic conflicts occur with the knowledge that too much time is being given over to work and/or a fear of loss of control if time is taken off.
Reverting to excessive patterns of work after periods of control.
A lot of people can think of times when work has dominated their life for a period of time. It may be as a result of some deadline, but doesn’t go on beyond that point. This isn’t a feature of the workaholic. The workaholic is someone who gives themselves to work over a protracted period of time.
Excessive work is relative of course. In some cases business and pleasure may coincide. For example, for a single person there may be no relationship concerns, so they are free to move away from their base for lengthy periods of time if required. So, the worrying issue is not so much that an individual chooses to work all the hours available to them, so much as the extent to which such activities affect other aspects of their life negatively. As Griffiths suggests, an activity can hardly be considered an addiction if there are few, or no, negative consequences.
Do you live with a workaholic? Maybe you’re one yourself? What effects have you noticed on yourself or others.
Griffiths, M (2011) Workaholism - a 21st-century Addiction. The Psychologist. Vol 24, 10, 740-744
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.