Workaholism: a new perspective

Workaholism is a contentious topic. Being a workaholic is largely associated with negative stereotypes. However, new research provides greater insight into the true impact of workaholism, putting a new spin on this much debated topic.

Historically, workaholics have been viewed in a negative light (Oates, 1971). People have typically associated workaholics with: unhappiness both at work and home; poor work-life balance; and poor psychological and physical well-being (Burke, 2004). Research has historically focused on the phenomena as a form of addiction. As such, it has been associated with obsessive tendencies, lower performance and relationship difficulties with co-workers (Oates, 1971; Porter, 1996). However, more recent research has begun to challenge this extreme perspective and explore the positive side of workaholism (Snir & Zohar, 2008) with some interesting implications for how we might manage these people in our workplaces.

Rather than assuming that workaholics are all unhappy and addictive individuals, Snir and Zohar broadened their analysis to look at a number of different variables and succeeded in showing a far less polarised view of workaholics. Their study found that workaholics actually: 

  • Have a greater focus and engagement with work
  • More positive emotions at work
  • Greater preference to work over leisure activitie
  • It also appears that workaholics are no less likely to experience positive emotions or the physical symptoms of stress once they get home on the weekends.

Everyone is different. All people differ to the extent that they need balance in their life. When managers and HR personnel come across workaholics in their workplace, they should seek to understand that individual’s unique perspectives and not assume that they are doing the person a favour by introducing blanket rules or standardised practices aimed at eliminating their workaholism.

5 TIPS FOR MANAGING WORKAHOLISM (Fassel & Schaef, 1989)

  1. Pay attention to performance and work habits of employees—be alert to the wa
    ing signs of workaholism.
  2. Do not reward addictive behaviours.
  3. Recognise the employees who are productive but also lead balanced work-leisure lives.
  4. Ensure employees take holiday leave
  5. Limit job insecurity and work overload while increasing autonomy and career opportunities.

So what does all of this mean for business?

This study is a valuable reminder that we must accept our staff for the individuals they are. Maybe a few workaholics here and there isn’t such a bad thing. Provided we manage them carefully.

References:

Burke, R. J. (2000). Workaholism in organizations: Concepts, results and future research directions. International Jou
al of Management Review, 2
, 1-16.

Fassel, D., & Schaef, A. W. (1989). The high cost of workaholism. Business and Health (January), 38 42.

Harpaz, I., & Snir, R. (2003). Workaholism: Its definition and nature. Human Relations, 56, 291-319.

Oates, w. (1971). Confessions of a Workaholic: The Facts about Work Addiction. New York: World.

Porter, G. (1996). Organizational impact of workaholism: Suggestions for researching the negative outcomes of excessive work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology,1, 70-84.

Snir, R., & Zohar, D. (2008). Workaholism as discretionary time investment at work: An experiencesampling study. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 57, 109-127.

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