Why Being a Workaholic Is Bad

By Sherry Baker and Temma Ehrenfeld @SherryNewsViews
August 30, 2022
Why Being a Workaholic Is Bad

Workaholics can feel energized, but health, relationships, and work performance can suffer. Here’s what you can do to limit your drive to work too much.

Teruyuki Yamashita kept a grueling schedule as a senior salesman in Tokyo. He made countless international trips and worked late into the night, typically sleeping just three hours before the next workday rolled around. But Yamashita’s busy life came to a sudden halt when he collapsed with a near-fatal hemorrhagic stroke, a condition blamed on his excessive work-around-the-clock lifestyle. 

Yamashita suffered from an extreme case of workaholism, a term coined by American psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971 that describes a behavioral addiction to work. You can have a behavioral addiction to gambling, gaming, shopping, sex, or any behavior that you do compulsively.


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About 10 percent of the population in countries like the United States seem to fit the definition of workaholism, researchers estimate. To get this diagnosis from a therapist or psychiatrist, you must be unable to stop or cut back the compulsive behavior despite its bad consequences.

Behavioral addictions typically hurt your mental or physical health and disrupt your relationships. For example, you're a shopaholic if you shop so much online you build up a big credit card debt and develop insomnia from worry over big bills you hide from your husband. You’re a workaholic if an otherwise strong marriage falls apart because you spend too many hours working and develop heart trouble.

Being conscientious, enjoying your job, and working extra hours when needed are signs of healthy job engagement. But workaholics are driven to work compulsively, so much so that their overtime backfires.

“Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they're at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety," University of Georgia psychologist Malissa Clark, PhD, explained. "Workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure.”  

They may suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder or, more often, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a 2020 overview noted. As with other addictions, including substance abuse issues, the compulsive behavior begins as a way of coping with a psychological problem.  

Some people call workaholism a “positive addiction” because working many hours suggests extra productivity. But when Clark and colleagues analyzed data about workaholics, they found the opposite is true. Burnout, ongoing job stress, declining mental and physical health, and personal conflicts hamper their productivity.

In another study, from the University of Padua, Italy, researchers analyzed survey results for 300 workers, again finding that working too much didn’t boost performance once symptoms set in. Workaholics had more work-disrupting symptoms — including digestive, memory, and sleep problems — than those who didn’t work compulsively.

Workaholics work “hard rather than smart,” said psychologist Alexander Falco, PhD.  

Psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, PhD, began studying workaholism because the subject hit close to home — he’s a recovering workaholic.

“A lot of people tease they are becoming a workaholic. We don’t tease about being alcoholic or overeating. It’s something people still don’t take seriously,” said Robinson, author of “Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians who Treat Them” (NYU Press).

“There’s still this notion that it’s a good thing. In my private practice I see people fall apart, their children are miserable. True workaholism within the context of the family is a devastating problem to everyone concerned.”

Are there any advantages to being what other people might call a workaholic? Yehuda Baruch, a management professor at the University of Southampton in the UK, thinks so, arguing that people who work hard are often energized by their work and successes. But by definition, you are not a behavioral addict unless there are negative consequences, and you are unable to change your behavior.

Working many hours can lead to career success, if you walk the tightrope between high levels of creativity and job satisfaction and equally extreme levels of exhaustion and frustration, according to Florida State University (FSU) researchers. Working for a boss who understands you can be crucial.

Good managers can provide equipment and social support that can help workaholics be successful without burnout, a study headed by FSU business administration professor Wayne Hochwarter concluded. “We discovered that workaholics really struggle when they feel that they are alone or swimming upstream without a paddle,” he said.

If you are a workaholic, you can take steps to rein yourself in, but you have to be conscious about making the break from your normal working processes.

For one, you can lock your smartphone and laptop in your desk at lunchtime and get out of the office. The same goes for when you head home on Friday.

Prioritize what’s important, such as family, friends, getting home before dark, maybe grabbing some quiet time in a park. Realize your work will still be there tomorrow but that forgetting about what’s really important may mean what’s really important may not be there tomorrow — if you let it slide.

Shorten your to-do list to five or six items; realize how much is reasonable to accomplish during a given day. Add new tasks that come up throughout the day to tomorrow’s list.


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August 30, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN