Most people consider hard work as a positive attribute. Hard work can often lead to positive benefits of success or personal satisfaction. However, too much of a good thing, even hard work, could have negative consequences when unchecked.
Before classifying yourself or others around you as a workaholic, know the signs of a workaholic is more than just working long hours or loving your job.
Working hard can have its benefits, but it can also go too far. Learn how to identify when working becomes a health issue.
What Is a Workaholic?
The term workaholism originated from psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971. Since then, the exact definition has varied slightly among psychologists.
However, here are some commonalities for what is considered a workaholic.
- Internal pressures of feeling compelled to work
- Thinking about work when not working
- Working beyond what is expected of job requirements despite negative consequences that may result in personal life (i.e. marriage strain).
Note that a workaholic is much more than working long hours a week. In fact, working long hours does not necessarily equate to workaholism. A workaholic may or may not work really long hours, but they are always thinking about work when not working.
Signs of a Workaholic
If you are wondering if you or someone you know is a workaholic, check these common warning signs.
Mentally at Work All the Time
Workaholism is not just the amount of hours someone works. Instead, a sign someone is a workaholic is their mind is still at work even when they are physically not.
As a consequence, work intersects every area of their life. They may seem distracted or mentally absent when at home because their thoughts are at work, and they feel guilty when not working.
Workaholics can feel anxious or depressed when not working and may feel relief and satisfaction when working. However, eventually emotional burnout, even when working, will occur.
Workaholics may appear emotionally unavailable, drained and may feel ambiguity for other topics besides their work. Stress, relationship conflict and anxiety can also increase with workaholism.
Using Work to Escape Negative Feelings
One reason why someone may be a workaholic is working distracts them from negative feelings like depression, anxiety or guilt. Like addictions, workaholism can be a way to “escape” feelings experienced while not working.
Losing Interest in Hobbies and Other Activities
As someone gets consumed by work, their desire for other interests outside of work goes away. Someone who once loved exercising, playing sports or socializing with friends/family no longer has interest in these activities. They would instead choose to do something related with work.
Health Impact of Being a Workaholic
Harvard researchers found those who are workaholics have an increased risk for metabolic syndrome. The metabolic syndrome can include any of the following:
- High blood pressure
- High blood triglycerides
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol
- Carrying extra weight around the midsection
- Elevated blood sugar
Interestingly, those who worked long hours, but were not workaholics, did not have an increased risk for metabolic syndrome. The reason for this difference is likely due to workaholics not being able to detach from work even when they are not at work. This can cause stress levels to build up which can promote inflammation and cardiovascular stress.
Sleep issues can be negatively impacted by workaholism such as low sleep quality, insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Self reported headaches and stomach aches have also been reported as a health impact of being a workaholic.
How to Stop Being a Workaholic
Good news: there are steps workaholics can take to get back to work/life balance. With working from home on the rise, these steps as well as signs to look for are important to note.
Recognize the Problem
Similar to an addiction, it is often hard for a workaholic to recognize they have a work problem. The first step is admission so they can get back to balance and to the root issue of why they are battling workaholism. This takes an honest look at how they view work and how it impacts other areas of life.
Set Work Boundaries
In order to stop being a workaholic, there needs to be clear work boundaries. Set limits for how long and when you work.
Accept that everything may not get done on a work day, and that is ok. Set boundaries for checking work email outside of work so there is a clear detachment from work when not physically there.
Setting boundaries may be more difficult when working from home. It is important to still keep your work hours and boundaries with checking work email even at home. If possible, designate a spot at home that is “work only”.
Find Other Interests
Spending time with friends, family members, or doing a hobby can help take the mind off work. Find or rediscover things to do in free time that can help you psychologically detach from work.
Take Time Off
Workaholics tend to not take time off and find it difficult to delegate work when not there. Taking time off whether for a vacation or to do other personal obligations is a healthy balance to fight workaholic tendencies.
Overall, surrounding yourself in a different atmosphere can help you relax and “forget” things going at work.
Reach Out for Help
Last but not least, do not be afraid to reach out for help to people you trust around you or from mental health experts. Let others know what you are going through so they can provide support and/or accountability.
Also, consider joining Workaholics Anonymous for group support from others going through similar struggles.
Being a workaholic means to mentally always be focused on work even when not physically there. You lose interest in other activities and may feel anxious or guilty when not working. The reason to address workaholism is it can negatively impact emotional, physical, and mental health.
If you or someone you know is a workaholic, there are ways to combat this condition. It is important to recognize the problem and be open to changing some work habits such as setting work boundaries, taking time off, and finding other interests.
Are You a Workaholic? Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. Published October 5, 2020. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/are-you-a-workaholic/.
Brummelhuis L, Rothbard N. How being a workaholic differs from working long hours- and why that matters for your health. Harvard Business Review. Published March 22, 2018. https://hbr.org/2018/03/how-being-a-workaholic-differs-from-working-long-hours-and-why-that-matters-for-your-health.
Clark M. Workaholism: It’s not just long hours on the job. American Psychological Association. Published April 2016. https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2016/04/workaholism.