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workaholic meaning: why work addiction is all wrong

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written bySenior Marketing Manager, EPAM Anywhere

What is the meaning of workaholic? How would you define it? Many people associate the term workaholic with enthusiastic and productive workers who excel in their careers and live lavish lives as a result. In reality, the workaholic meaning is quite different.

Workaholism is considered an addiction. It may begin as a way to escape from problems with relationships, health, finances, etc. Unlike other addictions, society doesn't stigmatize it, so it may not seem alarming when people lose their sense of a healthy work-life balance and become addicted to work. Workaholism gives them a feeling of being important, respected, and recognized.

Workaholism is actually encouraged in the tech industry, where influencers and startup founders popularize and romanticize being obsessed with work.

This guide will discuss workaholism from the inside out. We'll review the root causes, its potential consequences, and make suggestions to help you avoid the trap of emotional burnout.

Main workaholism causes

The key factors that can lead to work addiction are:

1. An attempt to escape from problems

Workaholism is a legal and socially acceptable option to escape from a stressful or unpleasant reality. The problem is that unaddressed and unresolved issues can snowball, making people work ever harder to escape them.

2. Anxiety

Anxious people may be prone to workaholism because they doubt their competencies and professionalism. Achievements at work can help workaholics gain recognition among colleagues and raise their self-esteem.

3. Seeking attention

Loneliness, absence of social connections, or a subconscious desire to earn love can result in an obsession with work. When parents, family, and friends don’t meet the workaholic’s emotional needs, they may resort to gaining recognition and approval from bosses, management, and colleagues.

4. Approval from society

Modern society encourages being addicted to work. In western culture, the model of a happy and successful person is focused on the accumulation of wealth and material possessions as the basis for success and social recognition.

Signs and symptoms of work addictions

The danger of work addiction is that it can occur unnoticed not only by the workaholics themselves but by people around them. With addictions like substance abuse, relatives and colleagues likely notice change in behavior and physical appearance. Workaholism addictions, on the other hand, are not so easily spotted, and changes may only be obvious over the longer term. 

An employee exhausted from work

There are, however, several signs and symptoms you can look for, either doing a self-check or checking for another:

  • Persistent and intrusive thoughts about work and feelings of shame if you decide to do something other than work.
  • Feeling of constant pressure and a compulsive need to work.
  • Distractibility and being unable to focus on tasks.
  • Difficulty socializing and maintaining healthy relationships with family and friends.
  • And there are others...

Consequences of workaholism

You might expect that an obsessive devotion to work would lead to success and happiness. More frequently, however, being a workaholic means a negative impact on physical and psychological health, and on relationships with colleagues and loved ones.

Among the physical symptoms a workaholic may develop are:

  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • flare-ups of chronic conditions
  • digestive issues
  • insomnia.

Also, a constant excessive workload, and sacrificing sleep, exercise, and healthy eating, can result in deterioration of the musculoskeletal system and cardiovascular systems. A weakened immune system and a disinclination to take the time to visit a doctor can further erode physical health.

Emotional and psychological consequences include:

  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • forgetfulness
  • anxiety.

Sadly, workaholics’ efforts are generally counterproductive - they do not correspond to improved job performance or productivity. To the contrary, the negative side effects of workaholism can cause them to make mistakes, redo their work, or procrastinate, jeopardizing important projects. Because the stress continues to grow, workaholics feel less satisfaction from work, and from life in general.

Work addiction has a highly negative impact on the personal and social lives of the people who suffer from it. At work, the personal characteristics of workaholics can make them very challenging to communicate with. They tend to disagree with their colleagues, prefer not to delegate responsibilities, and try to control everything.

In their non-work lives, family and friends find it hard to maintain relationships with workaholics due to the lack of attention, commitment, and common bases for conversations. Some psychologists suggest that workaholics reach a plateau in their personal development, interfering with their ability to form and nurture relationships of all sorts.

How to prevent workaholism

The sooner you spot the first signals of workaholism, the better. Consider some of the tips below to avoid emotional burnout and work obsession:

  • Self-diagnose. First, you need to figure out if you're really obsessed with work or if it's just a temporary phase. Tests like Workaholism Battery (WorkBAT) and Dutch Work Addiction Scale (DUWAS) can help you self-diagnose workaholism and start seeking assistance if necessary.
  • Calculate working hours. If you tend to work overtime constantly, over a prolonged period of time, that’s a reason to hit “pause” and take some days off or, better yet, a full-fledged vacation. Needless to say that during a vacation, you have to relax, not work.
  • Get some perspective. Think about the real price of your work obsession. What family moments do you miss? Do your relatives need your presence in their lives, not just your financial support?
  • Listen to yourself. Think about the root cause(s) of your strong work commitment. Do you work to make more money or to get recognition from colleagues? What does workaholism bring you in the long-term (for example, a promotion or a raise)? If you don't discover a legitimate answer to your questions, it makes sense to reevaluate your position.


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How to stop being a workaholic

Whether a self-test or a mental health professional diagnoses workaholism, don’t be disheartened, you can make your way back to normal life. Psychologists have identified several powerful techniques that can help you turn your life around.

Of course, the first thing you should do is to learn to say "no" when a colleague or boss violates your reasonable personal boundaries. However, if it was just that simple, however, workaholism would scarcely be a problem.

The good news is that we’ve collected some actionable tips and recommendations on how to stop thinking only about work and be where you are to provide you with a broader picture of the ways to recover from a work addiction.



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Wrapping up

Workaholism means an addiction that manifests over time. Certain "red flags" can help you spot this issue: obsessive thoughts of work, disengagement from your relatives and friends, negative mood, and a host of physical and mental health issues. Once you spot some of these symptoms, you should immediately seek appropriate professional help and decrease your workload. 

A group of office employees

Remember that workaholism won't help you excel at your career. In the short term, you may achieve certain targets and may even be proud of yourself. In the long run, workaholism’s negative effects will predominate, leading to low productivity, chronic stress, and emotional burnout. Make sure you take the time to take care of yourself.

written bySenior Marketing Manager, EPAM Anywhere
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