Why Being A Workaholic Doesn't Actually Pay Off

Illustrated by Jenny Kraemer.
Last month, Details magazine called workaholism "American's new lethal addiction." That hyperbole is not actually too far off: We already knew that working more wreaks havoc on your health and doesn't even mean you're being more productive. Now, we know more about why that is.
Advertisement
In a study published online earlier this year in the Journal of Management, researchers performed a meta analysis of many other studies in an effort to define workaholism and its effects. They found that while the condition is associated with having a Type-A or perfectionist personality, there weren't many other related personality factors. They concluded that true, diagnosable workaholism can be conceptualized as "an addiction to work that leads to many negative individual, interpersonal, and organizational outcomes."
The term "workaholism" is often traced back to a 1968 essay and later book in which psychologist and theologist Wayne Oates confessed to his work addiction. He also drew a comparison between work and alcohol addictions, suggesting that they cause us to exhibit similar behaviors through similar mechanisms.
Since then, we've come to understand workaholism as more than simply being devoted to or engaging in extra work because you love it so much. Instead, it's now being described as working oneself to the point of no longer being productive, possibly thriving on the adrenaline rush that comes with pressure — whether or not you even enjoy the work. In this way, it's often thought of as a type of compulsive disorder linked to perfectionism, rather than a true medical addiction. It's not specifically listed in the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual, but it's present in approximately 10% of the U.S. population.
Our working patterns have also changed since the term was coined, making long, long days the norm: We're now working longer days with fewer vacations — and our basic snack-and-ping-pong needs are often met in the office. This has led to numerous studies detailing the issues with stress, heart disease, constant sitting, relationship strain, and even premature death that working extended hours (usually at computers) can create. Working and overworking affects nearly every part of your being.
And, because it's an addiction that is often celebrated, actively enabled by, or even ingrained in the culture of a workplace, workaholism is particularly pernicious. Of course, being constantly connected to our job emails through our phones isn't helping. On the flip side, taking time off can make us happier, healthier, and more productive. And, there are several programs out there devoted to helping overcome a work addiction. But, to truly address widespread workaholism, we'd need a pretty large-scale overhaul of the New York City American work ethic. So, for now, just remember that you are more than what you "do" — your work identity doesn't need to be your entire identity. And, if you're reading this from your office, go home and just watch some Workaholics.
Advertisement