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Workaholism – Definition, Signs, Causes, and Ways to Overcome the Habit

Workaholism – Definition, Signs, Causes, and Ways to Overcome the Habit

Updated on Jul 07, 2023

Workaholism – Definition, Signs, Causes, & Ways to Overcome the Habit

Workaholism simply means compulsion for work that is either paid jobs or any other endeavors of a person that are self-directed. This maladaptive response implies that a workaholic person suffers from an incessant need to go on working even if their internal resources start to show signs of depletion and ultimate burnout.

The person suffering from this work-related addiction finds it difficult to come out of the inner pressure to prove their worth. They get busy proving something unrealistic about their work performance. They will work much more than reasonable expectations.

This behavior brings out compulsive tendencies to perform more and more than their limits and abilities. The person feels that they should be working all the time and producing at unexpected levels.

In this article, we will elaborate on all the various sides of this addiction that is sometimes related to a form of behavioral maladaptation in real life.

Workaholism – Definition, Signs, Causes, and Ways to Overcome the Habit
Workaholism – Definition, Signs, & Causes
Workaholism – Definition, Signs, Causes, and Ways to Overcome the Habit
Workaholism – Effect and Ways to Overcome the Habit

Workaholism – Meaning

Workaholism is a compulsive and uncontrolled desire to work and perform beyond one’s ability. The workaholic person will show concern about his or her work much more than what is actually possible in reality.

“Workaholism” is a keyword frequently used in popular culture to characterize commitment to work in a favorable light. By identifying as workaholics, individuals often believe they are displaying their enthusiasm for their careers. However, we must avoid equating workaholism with having a robust work ethic, putting in a lot of effort, being committed to one’s work, enjoying one’s work, or even working late to meet a deadline.

Workaholism, often known as work addiction, is an actual phenomenon that can result in burnout, major health problems, or even death like a drug addiction.

The most significant workaholism-related studies, data, and statistics are summarized here to assist in explaining the distinction between good and bad work habits.

Research studies have shown that Workaholism is a serious matter and it is not anything that should be taken lightly. According to a study, it has been proved that workaholism can lead to impaired health as well as signs of conflict between family and work life are probable in most cases.

Another research finding has shown that workaholism can cause burnout and the recovery from this work-related burnout is taking much more time than usual. 

There are some major similarities between these study findings and by utilizing these, we can create a complete definition that consists of the following elements.

  • Feeling under pressure to work as a result of internal factors
  • Persistently thinking about work even when not working
  • Considering the potential for negative effects, going above and beyond what is legitimately desired of the worker (as determined by the job’s specific requirements or fundamental economic necessities) 
  • Prioritizing work more than family life.
  • Not taking any day-off
  • Constantly preoccupied with work-related thoughts as if unable to come out of the clutter.
  • Thinks about freeing up early from other personal commitments and making a space for more work
  • Tiredness, fatigue, and regular burnout still go on working all the time.

Several other study findings have revealed that people who suffer from workaholism have an innate need to feel busy all the time, otherwise, they feel guilty and insecure from within. When they have accomplished a goal successfully, they will plan out their next endeavor even if it is not the need at that moment in time.

The research finding published in has revealed some interesting facts about workaholism. It says that there is a difference between being busy or high performers and workaholism. People who work hard to finish tasks before a deadline will focus on a single goal at a time. 

They will not think of the next venture in line. However, a workaholic person will not feel secure unless they are preoccupied with thoughts about their next endeavor. They prefer to keep themselves busy all the time, maybe busy inside their heads with thoughts of work.

According to a survey, Great Britain is a workaholic nation where 4 out of 10 people suffer from work addiction. They cannot switch off after their stipulated work time.

Definition of a Workaholic Person

Wayne Oates, a psychologist, first used the term “workaholism” in 1971. The word “workaholic” is used to describe various behavioral patterns, each with a distinct value. For instance, persons who want to convey their positive commitment to their career may use the term “workaholism.” 

The term “work” here often refers to a paid position, although it may also apply to self-directed activities like music, games, art, and education. However, the word is most frequently used to describe an inadequate behavioral response defined as neglecting family and other ties to society while spending an unreasonable amount of time working and feeling driven to work hard.

Difference Between Being a Workaholic and Having a Good Work Ethic

The following chart will make things clear to the readers of this article:

WorkaholicHaving a good work ethic
Runs with time all the timeBeing punctual and up to date
Preoccupation and obsession with work-related thoughtsMaintaining good focus
Gets into the work in such a manner that they are unable to come out of the clutter and mess going inside their heads.Dedicated and professional
Results in stress, burnout, and mental illnessNo such mental health issues can be seen
Succumbs to work compulsively and feels insecure and suffers from poor self-esteemShows initiative and desires to improve productivity all the time. Never feels insecure from within
workaholic vs. people with good work ethics

Difference Between Being a Workaholic and Working Long Hours

All workaholics will work long working hours. They will sacrifice their sleep schedule to make space for more work. However, there are minute differences between a workaholic and those who wake up for long hours to ensure they meet deadlines on time.

Workaholic personA person who works for long hours
Cannot switch off from their work-related thoughts even after the accomplishment of the assigned task.Can easily switch off after the assigned task is done.
Feels the compulsion to work even after finishing the task. Constant thoughts of work will flood the person’s mind.The person will never feel the compulsion to do more work. There are no obsessive thoughts related to work.
The workaholic person develops health issues much earlier than those individuals who stay awake for long hours to get their work done.Fewer health issues than their workaholic counterparts.
workaholism vs. people who work for long hours

Workaholic Signs and Symptoms 

It might be challenging to spot job addiction in a society where striving for excellence and putting in extra hours are frequently encouraged. People with a job addiction frequently defend their actions by arguing that these work activities are beneficial and will further their achievement. They could present a dedication to their work or the accomplishment of their initiatives.

A person who is addicted to their job may work compulsively to escape other elements of their life, such as complex emotional problems or personal crises. In addition, just as with other addictions, the individual may act out without being conscious of the harm that their addiction is doing.

Signs of Workaholism

Since the early 1970s, work pressure involvement has been recognized as an issue, and its components have received some consensus. Here are some prominent signs and patterns of workaholism that are simple to spot.

  • You consider ways to make additional time available for work.
  • You labor considerably longer than you had anticipated.
  • You put in work to lessen your sense of shame, worry, helplessness, and/or sadness.
  • You ignored advice from others to reduce your workload when they were given to you.
  • If you are unable to work, you experience tension.
  • Due to your job, you put less importance on hobbies, recreational activities, and/or exercise.
  • Your health has suffered as a result of your excessive labor.

Symptoms of Workaholism

Workaholics may look agitated, irritable, and disengaged from their personal life while being utterly preoccupied with their jobs. They have a hard time thinking about or even participating in other activities. They disregard their loved ones, their home, and their well-being. Others could continue working even though it negatively affects their lives.

Technology’s pervasiveness, the ability to work from home, and the 24-hour workweek with its heightened expectations for quick responses have all contributed to the ease with which work has become an addiction.

1. You frequently put in more hours than anticipated or planned

There are occasions when working extra hours is vital if you want to take on new tasks, advance your profession, or please a customer. It’s okay that way. We are professionals after all, and we must take all necessary steps to accomplish our lofty goals. 

An unhealthy job commitment that might be a source of stress and, in severe situations, burnout may be indicated if you feel that overtime has taken over your life and you’re not comfortable with that.

2. You frequently put forth the extra effort to block out problems in other areas of your life

Workaholics prioritize their careers above anything else in their lives. Work-related chores double as pastimes, amusement, and even rehabilitation. If workaholics encounter difficulties away from the workplace, they try to change their attention and ignore the issue.

3. Your job schedule brings on relationship and health problems

If your spouse, parents, or coworkers complain that you don’t spend enough time with them, you tell them that your work comes first, or accuse you of letting your relationships suffer because of your work and yourself, you may be showing signs of workaholic tendencies. 

If you furthermore your work even after a certain point, then you may have migraines, exhaustion, forgetfulness, sleeplessness, and other problems.

4. You fail to acknowledge your addiction

Overworking is addictive, and one of the worst signs of workaholism is the inability to identify it. An issue cannot be solved if people do not recognize it. If those close to you are constantly criticizing how much work you do, how much more than your company requires you to work, or how you don’t maintain a work-life balance

5. You frequently strive to ignore problems in other areas of your life.

Workaholics prioritize their careers above anything else in their lives. Work-related chores double as pastimes, amusement, and even rehabilitation. If workaholics encounter any difficulties away from the workplace, they try to change their attention and ignore the issue at hand.

8 Causes of Workaholic Behavior 

Work addiction’s root causes are yet unknown with confidence. However, both theory and science have pointed to several likely explanations. Most workaholic instances probably have a variety of contributing factors.

Cognitive: Workaholics have trouble mentally disengaging from their work since they are preoccupied with it even when they are not working.

Emotional: Workaholics work as a habit. When workaholics aren’t working, they suffer unfavorable feelings like guilt and worry due to their personality traits.

Behavioral: Workaholics frequently put in more hours than is reasonable for them to put in for their company.

Motivational: People who are merely really involved in their occupations are not the same as others who are workaholics. They work excessively due to internal pressures; they do not appreciate their jobs. In other words, people go to work because they feel obligated to do so.

Workaholism may result from several other factors, such as:

1. Traits acquired by genetics

Conscientiousness, perfectionism, and success orientation are all traits that may be passed down genetically and can lead to workaholism when they are later used to demonstrate a person’s worth.

2. Environmental characteristics

Other characteristics that encourage workaholism may be learned as children, such as controlling conduct, unpleasant emotions, and difficulties delegating. To feel like they have some influence over the problems in their household, children frequently find it reassuring to believe that they are to blame. The extraordinary measures used to manage job results may result from this endeavor to control being their go-to method for managing anxiety and all challenging circumstances.

3. To make up for poor self-esteem

People who don’t feel good about themselves could boost their self-esteem by working long hours to raise their income or status and maintain adequate work relationships.

4. Social Modeling

Children may need to imitate their parents to get their affection and attention after learning through indirect means that hard effort is a virtue. By putting in more hours, they could feel pressure to keep up with or outdo their supervisors and colleagues. 

People who believe they must put forth the effort to achieve or blend in with their surroundings. An addiction that starts as an external motivator might develop into one with neurological motivations.

5. Unreasonably strict parents

When parents have high standards for their kids’ performance, the kids may internalize those standards to meet the parents’ demands. Overprotective parents may convey to their children that the world is a dangerous place where they must work extremely hard to live.

6. An unsteady attachment

People who did not have a close relationship with their parents may feel uneasy in their relationships and want to compensate by gaining success at work or financial stability.

7. Childhood Environmental Stressors

Children who grow up in insecure or destitute homes may be more inclined to feel the need to put in excessively long hours of work at the office.

8. Relationship discomfort and apprehension about intimacy

People who are averse to personal connections could feel more at ease with less-threatened professional partnerships and may be more comfortable with justifications for avoiding social interactions by engagement in work. They work to avoid these social engagements.

Characteristics of a Workaholic Person/Signs of a Workaholic Individual

 Some of the chief characteristics of a workaholic person are described below:

  • They find it quite challenging to unwind. They frequently, if not always, feel that they still have a few things to finish before they can rest and feel good about themselves. When they do these duties, they discover that there are still a few more to perform, and then more. Frenetic, obsessive labor is frequently the outcome of these irrepressible cravings. They find it very difficult to change this pattern.
  • They are frequently unable to see what they genuinely want to accomplish and need to do for themselves because they are so accustomed to performing what is required of them.
  • Even when they don’t want to, they frequently feel obligated to do certain chores because they are too afraid to stop.
  • When these individuals should be relaxing or having fun instead of working, they frequently sense animosity. During these moments, they put things off while often indulging in self-pity and criticism. They lose focus on the work at hand due to the “stinking thinking,” yet they are too afraid to take a break from it for a while and give themselves the breathing room they require.
  • Our judgments of how other people view our work performance and in other aspects of our lives have a significant role in how these people feel about us.
  • They frequently believe that they are either the most bright and capable persons they know or the most worthless and useless.
  • It is challenging to accept and recognize them as they truly are.
  • By caving into the demands of those whom they consider to be “in charge,” these people frequently betray their choices.
  • They function in a mini-crisis state as a means of avoiding feeling genuine feelings.
  • True tranquility is rare to come by these people.
  • An obsession drives them to comprehend every aspect of their existence, including their feelings. 
  • They can’t let themselves feel things that they don’t comprehend because they fear losing control. They harbor a deep-seated worry that, if they lose control and let the feelings show, they shall revert to being unstable for the rest of their lives.
  • Since they judge themselves based on successes, they are under the impression that to feel good about themselves, they must always work toward something meaningful.
  • They frequently engage in prolonged work binges under the delusion that they must get the approval of their superiors and coworkers to feel comfortable.
  • They believe that people would like them more by projecting a false sense of competence.
  • When they get praise from others, they frequently reject themselves as unworthy of it.
  • They frequently plan for work more than they can manage because they think that if they can accomplish more things quickly, people will like them more.
  • They frequently lie about their prior knowledge and current skills, choosing to downplay the setbacks and inflate triumphs. They think that as they are, others won’t appreciate or like them.
  • People who work excessively, internally suffer due to overburdening.

Effects of Being a Workaholic 

The effects of workaholism on one’s physical and mental health can be severe. Someone dependent on their job may suffer from physical issues like high blood pressure as well as mental health issues like burnout and depression.

Mental Wellness

Workaholics become exceedingly anxious and impatient when they are unable to complete their demanding jobs. When they are prepared to work, they may feel rushed and inflexible due to their need to finish their tasks. Workaholics either wish to believe they can keep forcing themselves to put in more hours or that they ought to be able to work longer hours.

However, the ensuing burnout, despair, and tiredness of the mind might result in a crisis where people feel miserable whether they are working or not.

Physical Fitness

In general, those who are workaholics retain poor physical health and experience an increased risk of health issues including high blood pressure and physical discomfort. Exercise is frequently neglected by workaholics, which can cause issues like cardiovascular disease. 

Additionally, they frequently skip doctor’s appointments, increasing the chance that serious illnesses may go undiagnosed. Workaholics are frequently more dependent on coffee, sugar, and tobacco than they are on a good diet because they are so busy. To further their professional objectives, they could also unnecessarily utilize cocaine, prescription stimulants like Adderall, and other substances.

Effect on the workaholic’s family

Too much drive to work frequently has a detrimental effect on those closest to the workaholic. Workaholic spouses report more marital conflict and less favorable feelings for their partners. In comparison to spouses of non-workaholics, their partners also feel that they have less influence over their life.

Effect on work and professional output

  • Low job satisfaction apart from an urge to finish off the task and move on to the next work.
  • Poor output or lots of errors in work
  • The chances of burnout are high
  • Lack of commitment can be seen as if the work is done out of an internal urge and not interest and commitment.

Types of Workaholics

We can find different types of workaholics’ seemingly moving around us. Some of them are described briefly in this section.

1. The defeatist

The fact is that the defeatist doesn’t feel that pleasure is worth it. They work to feel secure about their self-worth. These individuals believe that they are not worthy of any sort of relaxation and pleasure. They are always “too busy” to take a sunset stroll or make that dinner date. 

As they stay late at work and miss their children’s school play or forgo lunch because a colleague forgot their own, they prioritize the needs of other people before their own. ‘Too busy’ to complete coursework, hurrying through tasks, declining a pay raise to keep the managers happy, but secretly, frequently feeling unworthy. 

Someone else will always deserve it more. Opportunities for enjoyment, achievement, and goal-achieving may exist, but a pessimistic outlook gives the impression that these things are preferable in the short term.

2. A Saboteur

Work-related distractions and obsession cause the saboteur to behave carelessly. Finding items and connections consumes time that could be spent doing “work.” Spreadsheets are removed before being saved, while business laptops, phones, and keys are left in hotels, cabs, and airport security. Regularly, messages go unanswered, bills are paid late (resulting in additional fees), and sleep can be difficult to come by.

 Busyness is used as an excuse for messy diaries or unhealthy eating patterns. Even to those they care about, the Saboteur speaks things out that make others cringe. They claim, “I’m only being honest.” 

Careless remarks put positive connections in danger. The “Rush” is in attaining what is desired in the now and quickly, at the expense of making investments in one’s future health and long-term relationships.

3. The Punisher of Self

The Self-Punisher oversimplifies the concept of “no pain, no gain” by working all night long to finish projects because they believe that this is the ‘only way’ to get the job done. They put themselves in progressively dangerous circumstances that they are aware would cause them to suffer physically or mentally, but they reason that’s what they have to do to achieve. 

The self-punisher goes for the next seemingly brave action, rejecting sensible advice, getting into grief and difficulties, yet expects this to give bigger benefits for the risks taken, thus repeating unpleasant and stressful situations. 

Some people begin to think that they are nearly invulnerable to pain and stress and ignore the fact that their body is in agony and that stress is having an adverse effect.

4. A Martyr

This type ‘Saves’ the others from their difficulties by sucking up their suffering and worry. But because the martyr is always needed, the first “thank you” swiftly fades. 

The martyr fails to seek medical attention and declines offers of assistance, assuming that suffering and stress are natural aspects of life, as though any alleviation from their suffering would somehow degrade them. The martyr soon becomes necessary (at least in their eyes). 

They claim, “They really can’t do without me; therefore, I must go to work today despite the agony.” Martyrs hardly ever delegate since no one else can do the task to their standards. They discuss their challenges and the need for resources with a perception of hopelessness and pessimism.

How to Cure Workaholism? 

Inpatient therapy may be required to break the behavioral addiction to work in a secure location with restricted internet access. Workaholics could go through a psychological withdrawal that is difficult to handle in their typical home and work settings. 

Additionally, major depressive illness or severe anxiety inpatient therapy may aid in preventing the recurrence of job addiction. Through family therapy, the person may be able to comprehend how their employment affects their family, comprehend the dynamics and causes of their addiction, and seek assistance in creating new habits. 

Although there is relatively little meta-analytical research on how to treat work addiction effectively, treatment for similar conditions strongly suggests that various types of therapy may help treat workaholism which may be described as some sort of a personality disorder.

1. Medications

There are currently no licensed drugs to treat workaholism. However, drugs could be useful in lowering the anxiety that might result in job addiction, as well as in lowering the sadness brought on by overwork. But it’s important to remember that talking therapy and drugs work best together. 

Medications such as anti-anxiety drugs should be taken only if it is prescribed by a certified psychiatrist.

2. Psychological counseling

Finding the causes of emotional distress is the goal of psychodynamic therapy done by. To lessen the client’s fear and uncertainty, therapists and clients discuss how the client’s background led to their current usage of employment. Psychodynamic therapy may take longer than other types of treatment (between 6 months and 3 years on average), but evidence shows that improvements remain long after the treatment is over. However, there hasn’t been much study done especially on work addiction.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) challenges assumptions such as “I need to work by myself since I cannot trust others much,” Or, “I need to show that I can be efficient. It also sets concrete behavioral limits and suggests more manageable ways of acting regarding work. 

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is one form of CBT used to treat workaholism. Cognitive behavioral therapy often aims to achieve symptom reduction by using methods such as cognitive restructuring in a matter of months, though it may take longer.

4. Workaholic Anonymous

While not officially a therapy, this 12-Step program can help other workaholics who are also attempting to recover from job addiction by offering support and advice.

5. Psychodynamic therapy

This technique looks into the inner conflicts, insecurity, and root causes of emotional suffering and low self-esteem. The therapist will look into the childhood issues, and attachment issues so as to understand the major underlying causes leading to their workaholic tendencies. 

How to Stop Being a Workaholic? 

There are significant steps you can take on your own to become healthier, steps that you would need to take even if working with a professional. While collaborating with clinical psychologists may be the most effective way to achieve control over a work addiction, there are significant steps you can take on your own.

Here are seven self-help strategies to break your emotional dependency on work:

1. Examine yourself

To find out if you’re a workaholic, take one of the self-diagnostic quizzes provided below. Find out whether your friends, family, and coworkers think you work too much by asking them. Inform them of the changes you are making and solicit their assistance.

2. Discover & Recognize

Determine the non-financial reasons that employment may fulfill in your work life such as perfectionism, higher self-esteem, status, and life satisfaction.

3. Prioritize meaning and purpose in your daily work

Think carefully about your top priorities. Put this in writing, use it as your screensaver, and live your life in a way that genuinely respects them. Finding something more worthwhile to hang onto makes it simpler to break any habit.

4. Set boundaries

Decide how many hours you’ll work each day or each week, how much you will spend time working on the weekends, and how much time you’ll spend using technology.

5. Use active, healthy behaviors as a replacement

As an indication of overworking, keep an eye on bodily stress. To reduce anxiety and calm down, practice mindfulness, deep breathing, exercise, and meditation. Keep in mind that taking time off might make you more productive.

6. Make After-Work Plans

You may establish healthy boundaries for when the day is over by making arrangements for after-work schedules of fun and refreshment. In this way, you will have some other obligations to look forward to apart from the clingy work that you are doing. You should learn the skills to manage your time better. If you have a routine you can learn to use time wisely.

7. Consult with a therapist

If you believe that your coping techniques aren’t working, it’s critical to seek professional assistance. Speaking with a therapist is an excellent method to establish boundaries with work, create work-life balance among all of your responsibilities, discover the causes of an imbalance, deal with those underlying issues and improve work habits.

Workaholism Statistics

Workaholism – Definition, Signs, Causes, and Ways to Overcome the Habit
Workaholism Statistics – (Sources – Clockify, The Sun, PLOS ONE)

Summing Up From ‘ThePleasantMind’

A good profession is a beautiful objective as long as it doesn’t start to interfere with other aspects of your life. People develop workaholism for a variety of reasons, and occasionally they are unaware of it. You may set up some easy guidelines for yourself if you’re on the verge of succumbing to workaholism since they will prevent you from indulging in a more significant obsessive-compulsive habit that calls for specialized care. 

People who are addicted to working frequently labor to suppress their guilty thoughts about not working. Therefore, the recovering addict must establish a positive working connection. The majority of us must work to pay our bills, so striking a balance is essential.

Start by turning off email notifications after hours, organize after-work activities so you have the incentive to leave work on time, and take frequent vacations and breaks to refuel and restore your energy. Maintain your equilibrium and combat workaholic symptoms as quickly as you see them.

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