Workaholism is a growing problem in our society. The pressure to succeed and stay productive can often lead us down an unhealthy path. It’s easy to become consumed by work and not realize that it has taken over your life until it’s too late, especially in this age of hustle culture.
Avoiding the pitfalls of workaholism is possible, though. Discovering the difference between loving your job versus being addicted to working is the first step. Next is looking for signs you’re developing a work addiction, potential causes, and the adverse effects on your mental health and well-being.
Concerned about how much you work? Continue reading — we’ll look at strategies to manage your addiction so you can enjoy success without letting it take control of every aspect of your life. Learn everything you need to know about the symptoms of workaholic tendencies so that you can overcome them.
What is a Workaholic?
The true workaholic definition is someone who works excessively and compulsively, often to the detriment of their physical and mental health. As a result, they may have difficulty taking breaks or time off from work, even when necessary for their well-being.
Workaholics are driven by an intense need to succeed professionally. They tend to be highly motivated individuals with strong organizational skills.
Workaholism vs. loving your work
It can be challenging to differentiate between loving your job and being addicted to it. However, some key differences set these two things apart. First and foremost, if you’re wondering, am I a workaholic, there’s a good chance you might be.
Loving your work: A person who loves their job generally has a healthy balance between work and personal life. For example, they’ll take regular vacations or days off without feeling guilty.
Workaholic: Workaholics prioritize their jobs over anything else, generally without regard for self-care or leisure activities. Someone with a work addiction may feel anxious if they don’t stay on top of all tasks, regardless of how much time they spend focusing on work each day.
Signs of Workaholism
Workaholic symptoms can include working long hours, feeling anxious when not working, and having difficulty disconnecting from work. Understanding the underlying causes of workaholism is critical in developing strategies to manage it.
- You think about work constantly, even when you’re not working.
- Your mind is always on your job, and it’s hard for you to relax or focus on anything else.
- You prioritize work over everything else, including family, friends, hobbies, and leisure activities.
- You feel guilty if you take time off from work or don’t finish all your daily tasks.
- You find yourself working late into the night more often than not, with little regard for how much sleep you get each night.
- When faced with stressors outside work (such as relationship issues), you bury yourself in your job instead of dealing with them head-on.
- Even if you don’t have any pressing deadlines, you still choose to stay late at the office past working hours.
- Long hours have become a habit, regardless of how tired you are.
If these behaviors sound familiar, you may have an unhealthy obsession with your career.
Causes of Workaholism
Workaholism is a type of addiction where someone becomes overly focused on their hard work to the point that it interferes with other aspects of life. It can lead to physical and mental health problems and relationship issues. What causes this type of addiction?
- Intense need for achievement or success: One cause of workaholism is an intense need for success. People driven by this often put in long hours at work and take on more tasks than they can handle. This can lead them down a path where they become addicted to work or push themselves beyond their limits.
- Perfectionism: Perfectionists tend to be highly critical of themselves, which leads them to strive for excellence in everything they do, including their work. They may feel like nothing less than perfect will suffice, so they spend excessive time trying to get things just right – even if it means sacrificing other important things in life.
- Fear: Fear-based motivation can make someone want to keep busy. They might be afraid that something terrible will happen if they don’t keep up (for example, getting fired).
- Difficulty saying no: Difficulty saying “no” is typical for workaholics. They may worry that colleagues or superiors think they’re weak or incompetent.
- Thinking you like this “mode”: Some people just enjoy hard work and find satisfaction in accomplishing complex tasks. They may not necessarily have any underlying psychological issues driving their workaholic behavior. Rather, they might derive pleasure from being productive and successful at what they do best: working. That’s not to say their addiction is healthy, though. Balance is key in everything we do.
How work addictions form
People who become addicted to work often share similar personality traits. They might show extreme competitiveness, ambition, self-discipline, and dedication. That said, everyone’s experience with workaholism will vary depending on their unique circumstances and motivations behind why they work too much.
What type of personality is a workaholic?
A workaholic has an excessive need to work and often puts their job before other aspects of life. As a result, they may have difficulty relaxing or taking time off and feel guilty when not working.
Workaholics are typically highly driven, ambitious individuals who strive for success in all areas of their lives. They can be perfectionists and tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to achieve goals. While these traits can lead to great success, workaholics must learn to balance their professional and personal lives to maintain good mental health.
The Negative Effects of Workaholism
Workaholism can be difficult to identify because many people are proud of their hard-working nature. Still, it’s time to take action when it interferes with your mental, physical, and social health.
Mental health burnout
Aside from being overwhelmed by work, it’s pretty common for workaholics to eventually experience burnout due to the constant stress they put on themselves. They may feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they’ve taken on or find that they don’t have enough energy left for anything else after working long hours. This can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety, as well as difficulty concentrating or making decisions, which is why it’s important to learn how to avoid burnout.
Workaholics tend to neglect relationships with family members and friends in favor of work obligations. This can cause tension between them and their loved ones, who may feel neglected or resentful that so much attention is being given to work instead of them. Additionally, those who are married or in a relationship may struggle with communication issues if one partner works too much. It’s wildly important to know how to communicate in a relationship.
Spending too much time at work doesn’t just affect mental health. It can impact physical health, too. Not making the time for exercising or eating healthy can lead to weight gain, fatigue, headaches, and more.
In addition, sleep deprivation caused by late nights working can also contribute negatively to physical health over time. Research shows that lack of sleep can lead to potential chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
Poor quality work in the long run
Overworking yourself can lead to a state where we actually become less productive than usual. This can be due to an intense need for more concentration, focus, creativity, and decision-making skills that become overwhelming.
“While our society often values working long hours and “the grind,” it’s important to remember that the negative effects of workaholism are significant. Your mental and physical well-being, along with personal and professional relationships, are impacted by the intensity of work addiction. Work addiction can slowly take over your life, but help is available to find balance again.”– Talkspace therapist Jill Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH
How to Overcome a Work Addiction
There are multiple approaches you can take to help manage workaholic symptoms. Learn to overcome your tendencies to make work your first — often only — priority.
Take the work addiction risk test (WART)
Taking the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART) can give answers to anyone looking to identify signs of workaholism. WART is a standard questionnaire focused on detecting workaholism. It can be a helpful starting place if you’re looking to examine their work behaviors.
Meditation for stress helps still the mind so you can begin to separate yourself from your work. If you’re new to meditation, there are a lot of excellent meditation apps, such as Insight Timer and Calm, which have a vast library of meditations to choose from. Vipassana is a style of guided meditation that teaches you to detach from your thoughts and anxiety that comes with workaholism and feeling like you’ll never be able to get everything done.
Journaling for mental health can be a great way to process your thoughts and feelings through a safe outlet. It’s a quick and inexpensive therapeutic tool that can be done anywhere, anytime. For example, journaling first thing in the morning can let you dump all your worries for the day. Writing down your thoughts can also bring clarity when you feel burned out or bad about boundaries.
Find a friend
Finding a friend who can hold you accountable — whether that’s at work or someone from your personal life — can be a great way to help you stick to your commitment. Breaking any addiction can be difficult, so having somebody who understands can be instrumental in you making fundamental changes in your life.
Set boundaries — and stick to them
Knowing how to set boundaries is a great way to manage addiction of any kind. When you identify lines that cannot be crossed and then enforce them, you become firm in your convictions and in changing your habits. Your boundaries can be about when you work, how late you work, where you work, or setting rules for yourself or others about what is (and is not) acceptable in your work life.
Reflect on what triggers you to work too much. Is it fear of failure? Low self-esteem? A need for approval? Once you identify your triggers, you can start developing strategies to manage them without relying on excessive work as an escape mechanism or distraction from difficult emotions or situations.
When dealing with a work addiction, taking care of yourself should always come first before anything else. What is self-care exactly? Self-care can include many things. For example, getting enough sleep each night, eating healthy meals throughout the day, exercising regularly (even just 20 minutes per day), meditating or praying, and journaling are all critical for maintaining good physical and mental health. You can break workaholic tendencies.
Individual and group therapy
Individual and group therapy can be beneficial when battling a work addiction. Discussing group therapy topics is great if you want to connect with others going through similar experiences. In both instances, therapy offers a safe space to get the support and understanding you need to recover from your work addiction.
Changing your relationship with work can be a long process. Still, it is possible to create a healthier work-life balance. If you need help with your fight against work addiction, consider online therapy with Talkspace. It’s a convenient, confidential way to work with a licensed therapist who can help with those hard-to-establish boundaries.
- Sleep and chronic disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html. Published September 13, 2022. Accessed December 22, 2022.
- Ravoux H, Pereira B, Brousse G, et al. Work addiction test questionnaire to assess workaholism: Validation of French version. JMIR Mental Health. 2018;5(1). doi:10.2196/mental.8215. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5829463/. Accessed December 22, 2022.
Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.
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