How to Tell if You’re a Workaholic

A strong work ethic has been lauded through the ages. Who doesn’t want to be perceived as someone who carries their load and contributes in a meaningful way? However, when your strong work ethic turns into an obsession, you are entering dangerous waters.

Unfortunately, it can be easier than ever to obsess over work. In an era where we are always connected via email, text messages and social media, it can be difficult to unplug. Therefore, it’s imperative that you make a conscious effort to regularly evaluate yourself and your work habits in order to maintain a healthy personal and professional life, and thwart workaholism. But before you can prevent yourself from becoming a workaholic, you must recognize what it means to be a workaholic.

What Is a Workaholic?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the word workaholic was created in 1971 by minister and psychologist Wayne Oates. According to Oates, workaholism is “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.”

That’s a simple definition that has since been refined and debated. Some consider it an addiction to work, others think of it as a pathology, others still think it’s a behavioral disorder and finally some say being a workaholic is just working hard and not enjoying it.

To try and codify the condition, psychologists have offered these three conditions that are illustrative of a person suffering from being a workaholic:

  1. Having an internal compulsion to work
  2. Thinking about work all the time, even when not at the office
  3. Working beyond what is reasonably expected

This doesn’t mean that if you’re working long hours that you’re automatically a workaholic. There’s a line between working hard and being a workaholic. Studies by the APA have shown that workaholism and hours worked per week only moderately correlate.

Studies on Workaholism

It can be hard to determine if you’re just burning the midnight oil or burning the candle from both ends. With such a blurry line distinguishing the two, there’s an outside opinion that being a workaholic might be a positive rather than negative thing.

Studies on workaholism have diverse conclusions. A minority point to workaholism as leading to job satisfaction and better job performance. Others note that these are short-term results, with negative long-term outcomes, such as poor health and relationship problems looming on the horizon.

However, studies that promote the workaholic lifestyle are outliers. Research overwhelming shows that workaholism is bad for you and speak to an unhealthy compulsion and not a pleasurable or even a responsible approach to one’s work.

What’s Wrong with Being a Workaholic?

You’re getting the work done, the boss is happy and the paychecks are fat. Maybe there’s no such thing as workaholism, and the studies are misguided. It’s just being dedicated. We live in a competitive culture that rewards work, work and more work. Leave the workaholic alone!

Who cares about the warnings, right? You can handle a little stress. Work is your life, and if you do burnout, well, you’ll light up the sky doing so. People will remember your name. They’ll put up a plaque to commemorate your great achievements.

That little story isn’t going to pan out for you. That’s because being a workaholic is not significant when measured against work performance. You can be a workaholic and still not get anything done. You might spend all your time working and thinking about work much more than your coworkers, to the detriment of your health and your personal life, but that behavior isn’t reflective of your performance.

7 Signs You’re a Workaholic

Whether you believe that workaholism is real or just psychology jargon, there is a practical base to the idea that people can work hard and poorly. From that base you can build up good work habits and get more done. But first you must determine if you’re a workaholic or, more accurately, if you have the symptoms that indicate you’re an unhealthy worker.

Let’s take a little test. Don’t worry. It’s nothing you need to study for. Just be honest when you answer. The test is the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, which was developed by Cecilie Andreassen, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Bergen, in Norway. It lists several statements, which participants rate on how strongly they relate.

The scoring goes like this: if you answer “never” that’s one point, “rarely” is two points, “sometimes” is three points, “often” is four points and “always” is five points. Okay, ready? Remember, be honest.

  1. You think of how to free up more time to work.
  2. You spend more time working than you planned to.
  3. Work is a means to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
  4. Other have suggested you cut down on work, but you’ve not taken their advice.
  5. If you can’t work, it stresses you out.
  6. You work instead of participating in hobbies, leisure activities and exercise.
  7. Your level of work is negatively impacting your health.

Well, how’d you score? If you said “often” or “always” on four or more of these statements, there’s a possibility that you’re a workaholic. Feel like one of your coworkers might be a workaholic? Print out the test below and find out.

workaholic quiz

How to Stay Healthy and Work Hard Too

There’s no hard science to say one way or the other if workaholism is really a disease. But it is a behavioral disorder, and the good news is that it’s not a diagnosis written in stone. You can change, and here’s how.

Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance

First, understand that work is one part of your life, and it must rest in balance with the other aspects of who you are. That means learning to value your family and relationships outside of the office. Make sure you have time each week to be with loved ones.

Don’t neglect your health. Just as you carve out time for the people in your life, do the same for yourself. Eat regularly and eat healthy. No more shoving junk into your mouth at the desk. Set aside time for a balanced meal and exercise. You’ll feel the difference in a short amount of time.

Evaluate Your Work Habits

Take a moment to evaluate your work and its impact. Are you getting a return on your investment? Are people benefiting from your actions? There’s surely work you’re doing that isn’t a priority, and that work should be assigned to someone else or abandoned altogether.

Do you have trouble turning down work? Get over it! You must limit the amount of work you accept, so as not to overly stress yourself. If you take on everything, your productivity and output quality will suffer.  If you can’t say “no,” at least learn not to be such a people-pleaser. You can be a nice guy and a good employee by saying “no” appropriately.

Be sure to limit the amount of time you work. There are only 24 hours in a day and if you devote all of them to work, something is going to go, and likely it will be you. You’ll break down and the work you do will be subpar at best. Set strict hours for when you’re working and set aside at least a day to recharge your batteries. No work on Sundays!

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Stay flexible. There are deadlines and then there is time management. You can’t change deadlines that are outside of your control, but you can set up a realistic schedule to get the work done without losing sleep. Also, everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Know what work just needs to be pushed through the pipeline and what work is going to demand special attention.

Learn to work more efficiently. Do a bit of research to uncover the successful methods and productive tools that are in your industry, and apply them to work smarter, not harder. There are tools and software that have helped people like yourself get work done more efficiently.

Speaking of tools, is a cloud-based project management software that has features to help any project, from start to finish. You can plan, monitor and report on your progress with real-time data, so you’re never behind the gun. Notifications and automation make sure you’re never blindsided. Plus, the platform fosters collaboration, so you don’t have to do it alone. Try it out for free with this 30-day trial.


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