Workaholism Is Really Bad for You

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American actresses Vivian Vance (1909 - 1979), as Ethel Mertz, and Lucille Ball (1911 - 1989), as Lucy Ricardo, work side-by side at a candy factory conveyor belt in an episode of the television comedy 'I Love Lucy' entitled 'Job Switching,' Los Angeles, California, May 30, 1952.
Photo: CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

If workaholism has a negative connotation these days, it does so only barely. People often use the term in a humblebrag sort of way, “I’m a total workaholic” being shorthand for possessing the striving sort of personality of a successful person. But a recent metanalysis about this trait published in the Journal of Management shows that it can be pretty damaging, personally, and that it also doesn’t lead to better work performance.

To the press release:

[Lead author Melissa] Clark said that while promoting a workaholic culture in the U.S. and elsewhere is often seen as promoting hard work and a viable route to moving up in a company, negative consequences are also apparent.

Our results show that while unrelated to job performance, workaholism does influence other aspects like job stress, greater work-life conflict, decreased physical health and job burnout that indicate workers aren’t going to be productive,” she said.

The researchers found no connections to external explanations for workaholism relating to financial reward or self-efficacy. Instead, the condition was highly related to perfectionism and the achievements of so-called Type A personalities.

Clark also said that it’s also important to separate workaholism from work “engagement”:

When you look more broadly at the outcomes that were overwhelmingly negative and compare those to other analyses of work engagement, which were overwhelmingly positive, we see that there are two very different constructs,” Clark said. “One is feeling driven to work because of an internal compulsion, where there’s guilt if you’re not working—that’s workaholism. The other feeling is wanting to work because you feel joy in work and that’s why you go to work everyday, because you enjoy it. And I say that is work engagement.”

So for those of you reading this bleary-eyed from a cubicle, wondering whether you’re working too much, a Monday morning might be as good a time as any to ask whether you’re actually addicted to your work in a potentially harmful way as opposed to happily, healthily engaged with it.