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The Cost Of Workaholism

Workaholism is unreasonably lauded in many cultures, because it lies on the far end of the ambition continuum. Talking about how busy one is and not having time for oneself or ones family, is somehow regarded as a badge of pride

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The increased awareness towards mental wellness in the workplace has led researchers and employers alike, to study how poor mental health can influence productivity and overall success of a company. 

One of the outcome measures that is studied is addiction behaviour. As workplace stress increases, employees who lack social and emotional support could turn to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs to self-medicate.

While these behaviours provide a temporary distraction from stress, they are not healthy coping mechanisms. Drug and alcohol addiction in the workplace is often a topic in employee assistance programmes (EAPs), research journals, and counselling sessions; however, there is another type of addiction that is far less discussed – addiction to work itself.

Workaholism, or work dependence, has been compared to alcoholism and other substance addictions because they have certain key characteristics in common, such as increased time spent on the activity despite its negative impact on health and relationships, negligence of social or recreational aspects due to involvement in the activity, etc. 

People who are work dependent also go through feelings of depression and lack of purpose when they retire or if they are forced to not work due to medical reasons. 

This can be compared to the withdrawal aspect of drug and alcohol dependence. However, unlike addiction to substances, addiction to work is not seen as a serious concern because it is often confused with hard work.

Workaholism is unreasonably lauded in many cultures, because it lies on the far end of the ambition continuum. Talking about how busy one is and not having time for oneself or ones family, is somehow regarded as a badge of pride. 

The difference between ambition and workaholism could be narrowed down to work-life balance and self-care. When an ambitious person lacks the ability to regulate work habits and compulsively overworks to the point where relationships and personal health are compromised, that person can be characterised as being work dependent. 

There is also a fundamental difference between working hard and being dependent on work – in the latter, work is seen as an escape from idle time, in which existential worries, such as contemplating one’s purpose, might abound.  Hard workers seem to work to see results of their efforts, whereas people who are work-dependent often work solely to remain busy.

People who work long hours and seldom focus on self-care are seen as pioneers and role models of ambition. But at what cost? Research on work dependence has linked it to burnout, emotional difficulties, family disintegration, marital concerns, and even heart disease. 

Furthermore, children of work dependent parents are shown to be at increased risk for psychological and emotional issues. Workaholism is often a vicious cycle – due to constantly working, the person experiences negative consequences which leads to lower productivity. In order to compensate for that, the person ends up working more hours.

In order to prevent the negative outcomes of work dependence from impacting one’s life, it is imperative for individuals to recognise that they have such tendencies. Moreover, seeking professional help to learn skills on prioritising one’s health and relationships, focusing on self-care, deriving self-worth from other activities, etc. should be encouraged not just by friends and family, but also by employers. 

Ultimately in the case of workaholism, professional burnout, fragmented relationships, and poor physical and mental health are a hefty price to pay in exchange for the misunderstood outward appearance of ambition.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Tags assigned to this article:
workaholism ambition Mental Health

Nitika Gupta

Nitika is Psychologist at Mpower. She has received her professional counseling license in the U.S. after having completed her bachelor's degree at University of Southern California and master's degrees at University of Pennsylvania. She has over 5 years of mental health experience working with children, adolescents, and adults.

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