Workaholism is an addiction that is plaguing the average worker in the U.S. Research shows that almost half consider themselves “workaholics,” putting in four hours of unpaid overtime per week, and spending another four hours just thinking about work.
How can professionals manage their time in a more balanced way and push back to establish more work/life balance?
To learn more about this, I caught up with Dr. Ross Nelson, a licensed clinical psychologist. Nelson is a Behavioral Health Program Consultant at Crossover Health and a licensed clinical psychologist with over 12 years’ experience providing therapy, consultation, and leadership across diverse healthcare systems ranging from innovative startups, government agencies, large for-profit healthcare organizations, and non-profit mental health clinics. Nelson specializes in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and is devoted to shaping and scaling next-generation mental healthcare systems.
Prior to establishing his own practice, Nelson served as behavioral health clinical psychologist at Crossover Health, providing healthcare to employees of large technology companies in Silicon Valley.
He also served as a psychologist at Kaiser Permanente, providing expertise, guidance, consultation, department-wide didactic training, and treatment for individuals overcoming anxiety disorders and stress.
Here’s what he shares about workaholism that we need to know:
Ross Nelson: While the American Psychological Association does not yet recognize “workaholism” as a clinical condition, the phenomenon has been studied and well researched since the term was first coined in 1971. Consequently, we are aware of primary indicators of workaholism. These include:
- Being a workaholic means working more than what is reasonably expected (as established by the job requirements and individual economic needs) despite negative consequences (i.e. relationships, health, social life, or otherwise)
- Having persistent and frequent thoughts about work when not working
- Feeling compelled to work due to internal pressures without external evidence to support this compulsion
Caprino: Wow, by those standards, that’s almost every professional I work with and coach! Who is most susceptible to becoming a workaholic?
Nelson: In general, workaholism affects men and women equally and is not correlated to education level, marital status, or part-time versus full-time employment. Research shows that of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experience, and neuroticism), people high on conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, and openness may be more susceptible to becoming workaholics. Additionally, people who are achievement-oriented, perfectionistic, or show compulsive tendencies may also be at risk for workaholism.
It’s important to note that technology in the workplace may have a role to play in the prevalence of workaholism.
For example, the boundaries between work and home tend to blur with company-provided computers, emails pushed to smartphones and late-night text messages from bosses. Sadly, it’s common that workplaces with high-stakes positions, high salaries, pressure, and demand don’t exactly promote “work-life balance.”
Caprino: Yes, this has parallels to what I call “perfectionistic overfunctioning” which can be so damaging to our health, happiness, success and well-being. But have you found that workaholism can ever be a good thing?
Nelson: Yes, if someone is lonely, unhappy in their relationships, does not enjoy their hobbies or free time, or generally dislikes their life outside of work, then being a workaholic can be wonderful (please note tongue-in-cheek tone). Otherwise…no, I’m sorry. I can’t possibly recommend being a workaholic.
Some researchers have proposed that there can be short-term benefits, such as praise from bosses, but the long-term consequences (insomnia, stress, depression, anxiety, marital problems, decreased social life, etc.,) clearly outweigh the potential rewards received. To drive this point home, recently in Japan, the term “karoshi” has been surfacing, which is used to describe when someone has a heart attack, stroke, or commits suicide as a result of work-related stress.