“Work is worship”, “the more you work the more you earn” certainly these are not only proverbs to pass on to generations but have been practised for centuries. Long working hours and working hard for livelihood have been common in practise in almost every century but there must be no such terms to define these practises.  

The term workaholism has been coined in 1971 by Wayne E. Oates with the definition “uncontrollable need to work incessantly” and identified as an addiction very similar to gambling, sex, and alcoholism. Oates further explains a workaholic as “a person whose need for work has become so excessive that it creates noticeable disturbance or interference with his bodily health, personal happiness, and interpersonal relation and with his smooth social functioning”.

Since then (1971) almost 45 years “workaholism” has been studied regularly and thanks to digital media the term workaholism is now on everyone’s lips. Digital media definitely adds a new facet to the concept of work addiction. New inventions and technologies – smartphones, tablets, laptops, and internet come up with opportunities to work from remote areas.

Technologies provide ease to life and boost capabilities. It brings changes in the shift from taking work home that muds the line between leisure and works to working from home with full comfort. But workaholics always seek either low comfort or no comfort. For them working more is the priority than having fun and leisure, and sharing space with friends, families, or colleagues. Calling workaholics ambitious may not be wrong but what matters is achieving those ambitions on the ground of unnecessary sacrifices.

From the outer shell, workaholism seems inspiring, motivational, influential, persuading, and energizing but the core has a different story. Internal needs, external factors, underlying personality traits, and more are the driving forces for workaholism. Workaholics may dedicate excessive time and energy to work to fulfill physiological needs i.e. a need for competence. May be they don’t feel competent in other areas of their lives. They may work more just to keep themselves engaged either to avoid their emotional imbalance or to ignore their capriciousness.

External work factors, highly demanding jobs, and meeting deadlines are considered as major driving forces behind workaholism. Other possibilities are a workaholic may have hidden tendencies to work for long hours or to get a job which have perks like long working hours and extreme work commitments.

‘Time is money’ is again a motivating factor for workaholics. Those in a job after meeting their deadlines or on project completion may get leisure or enjoy their weekends but for entrepreneurs, the roads are full of thorns and spikes. Disengagement from work, missing important calls on weekends, not responding to emails on time may come to lost revenue.

Are you a workaholic?  Scale yourself.

Norwegian researchers from the Department of Psychological Science at the University of Bergen created a work addiction scale which uses the following seven criteria to assess that an individual is a workaholic or work addicted or not.

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You de-prioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

If the answers are ‘often or always’ to any of these points, that’s probably a sign of a workaholic. This study also suggested that around 10% of the average population in other countries are workaholics.

Today’s generations are digital. They are fast-paced supported with new age technologies and facilities which allow them to work from anywhere, all they need is a good internet connection. Smartphones and tablets are the desks at hand reducing the chances of getting low internet bandwidth. With this they are consistently moving towards “hustle culture” – ‘to be successful you need to be at the top of your work game every day’ resulting longer working hours, work addiction, detachment from fun activities, leisure, etc.

The inability to detach from work may initially prove to be productive and offer instant recognition and success but over the time it may end up with personal issues like health issues, relationship breakdown, less productivity, and alcohol addiction. Working long hours are one of the roads to earn more money at the cost of emotional instability. It brings no time for play, vacations to enjoy that hard-earned money.

Generally, workaholics are always opinionated with “those who love their jobs are workaholic”. In fact people with the stable-positive-fulfilling mindset along with perseverance are likely not a workaholic. They are engaged in their work because they find it pleasurable. Engagement in a particular work and engagement in work what one likes/loves to define the tendencies for work addiction. The impact of this difference is simple. Workaholism is almost related to feeling more guilt, anxiety, lack of passion, anger, and disappointment both at work and at home but on the other hand work engagement are related to feeling more joviality, enjoying, attentiveness, and self-assurance.

Workaholism is not an achievement or a status symbol. Anything which comes at the cost of health can never be an achievement, workaholism is one of them. Workaholism is an obsession whereas work engagement or doing what one likes brings enthusiasm in work. If someone is experiencing high stress and no enthusiasm in work they should observe their routine and bring changes in them accordingly. Developing self-awareness of any tendencies of becoming a workaholic is the best way to bring stability in life.

The Last Corner

Workaholism is different than work and hard work. Everyone works for their survival and livelihood. Everyone works hard to achieve something in their life, hard work is something which one does after finishing their routine work. Work and hard work are not addictive, both are done willingly but being a workaholic is to work incessantly ignoring other activities in life.

This difference will help to develop self-awareness and self-awareness will help to develop a healthy and wealthy lifestyle.

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