Americans are addicted to work. Hard-driving employees are skipping lunches, sacrificing vacations, and staying late at the office in order to stay on top of their workloads and please their bosses. Half of full-time employees spend more than 40 hours per week at their jobs. But when does being willing to make some sacrifices for your career cross the line into being a bona fide workaholic?
Many people put in long hours at work or dedicate their lives to their career, but that alone isn’t enough to make them workaholics. Only 10% of people have a true work addiction, according to estimates.
Though there’s no universally agreed-upon definition of workaholism, experts tend to agree excessive work becomes a problem when it takes over a person’s life and starts to negatively affect their health and relationships. Workaholics may feel compelled to keep working, even if they don’t enjoy their jobs and get little satisfaction from their work.
“If you’re working to the exclusion of your family, your marriage, other relationships, and your life is out of balance, or your physical health is out of balance — when work takes an exclusive priority to everything else, that’s the more extreme end of the spectrum where it becomes a problem,” Edmund Neuhaus, PhD, director of the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., told WebMD.
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway have looked into the question of what separates genuine workaholics from the average worker bee. They’ve identified seven signs of work addiction. If you choose the “workaholic” answer to at least four of the following seven questions, you might need to reassess your attitude to your job.
1. If you had an extra hour in the day, how would you spend it?
A. You’d finally become a gym regular.
B. Work, obviously.
C. Get some more shut-eye.
D. Spend more time with your family or catch-up on your to-read pile.
The workaholic’s answer: B
Most people would relish an extra hour in the day to spend more time with family, catch up on sleep, or pursue hobbies. Workaholics, on the other hand, would likely use those extra 60 minutes to check their email or put the finishing touches on a project. Constantly looking for ways to free up more of your time for work is a sign of a budding work addiction, according to the Bergen Work Addiction Scale.
2. Which scenario best describes your typical workday?
A. You usually work 8 or 9 hours a day, though you don’t have a problem staying late or coming in on weekends during crunch time.
B. Strictly 9-to-5. You have a life and aren’t going to sacrifice your free time to make your employer happy.
C. You love your job and are constantly “on” – checking emails, taking phone calls — even when you’re not at the office.
D. You always intend to leave work by 6, but you’re often still at your desk at 8 or 9 p.m.
The workaholic’s answer: D
Simply working long hours, like the person in response C, isn’t necessarily a sign you’re a workaholic. Someone who loves their job may not have a problem with a 60+-hour week, just as a dedicated employee isn’t going to balk at the occasional overtime request. But not being able to leave your desk, even when you’ve told yourself you’re going to quit at a certain time, suggests you’re addicted to work, according to the University of Bergen scale.
3. What motivates you to work?
A. Your job is your passion. Sometimes you work long hours, but you truly love what you do.
B. Three words: Cold. Hard. Cash.
C. Your job distracts you from other things in your life. When you’re not working, you feel anxious, depressed, or guilty.
D. You want to provide for your family and be financially secure.
The workaholic’s answer: C
Everyone has different motivations for going to work every day. Some are looking to get rich, some want to provide a good life for themselves and their loved ones, and some are incredibly passionate about what they do. Workaholics may put in long hours because they’re trying to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness, and depression. Extreme dedication to a job often occurs alongside conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder, ADHD, anxiety, and depression, a separate University of Bergen study found.
4. Have your friends and family ever said you need to work less?
A. Yes, they tell me all the time I need to stop working so hard, but I never really listen.
B. Nope. Some have even implied that I’m a slacker.
C. Sometimes my friends complain when I have to cancel dinner plans, but they know things sometimes come up at work.
D. Long hours are part of my job, but I always make time for friends and family, so they don’t feel neglected or ignored.
The workaholic’s answer: A
Working long hours isn’t always bad for your personal life. Some career-focused people realize work demands leave less time for relationships, so they take care to make the hours they do have count, a study found. Workaholics aren’t able to achieve the same balance. If your kids are complaining you never make it to their soccer games and your spouse is starting to mention they’re feeling neglected but you still can’t cut back on work to make time for them, you could have a problem with workaholism.
5. You’re on vacation and can’t access your work email. How do you react?
A. You don’t even notice. Vacations are for having fun and relaxing, not staring at your phone.
B. Panic. You need to check in at work and will spend your entire vacation figuring out how to do so, even if it means skipping snorkeling or passing on a chance to see the Mona Lisa.
C. Annoyance. You planned to keep tabs on your messages while on vacation, but realize these things happen. Your co-workers will understand.
D. Relief. Now you don’t have to feel guilty about not staying connected to the office while you’re away.
The workaholic’s answer: B
Only 37% Americans take all their vacation days in a year, a British Airways survey found, and when they do get away, they tend to stay tethered to the office, spending about a half-hour every day working while supposedly on break. Ten percent of vacationing workers are slaving away for an hour per day or more. Occasionally checking in at the office from the beach isn’t unusual, but workaholics get stressed out when they can’t work, according to the Work Addiction Scale, and they’re the ones who are likely to panic if their plans to work while on vacation get derailed.
6. How much time do you devote to your hobbies or other fun activities?
A. What hobbies? You can’t remember the last time you were able to squeeze non-work activities into your schedule.
B. At least 10 to 15 hours per week. You believe it’s important to have balance in your life.
C. Not as much as you’d like, but you make time for weekly yoga classes and brunch with friends.
D. A lot. You work to live, rather than living to work.
The workaholic’s answer: A
Workaholics will often give up hobbies, forgo leisure activities, and neglect to exercise so they have more time to work. But total dedication to work doesn’t necessarily make you work better. Activities outside the office not only create much-needed balance in your life and offer a way to escape day-to-day stress, but they may also help you do your job better. People with hobbies are better able to come up with creative solution to work problems and are more likely to help their co-workers, researches at San Francisco State University found.
7. Do you ever feel work is negatively affecting your health?
A. Occasionally. You sometimes have trouble sleeping because of a work problem or have anxiety before a big presentation.
B. You sometimes let work stress get to you and could do a better job of exercising, but you try to stay healthy.
C. All the time. You’re stressed and overweight. Your doctor would probably say you should work less – if you made the time to go for a check up.
D. Only when your workaholic co-workers show up when they have the flu.
The workaholic’s answer: C
Working too much can literally kill you. The notoriously hard-working Japanese even have a word for it, karoshi, or death from overwork. Researchers have linked burnout and job stress with heart disease, anxiety, obesity and insomnia.
“Research show workaholics have higher burnout rates, truncated career trajectories, and that they’re at higher risk for heart attack and type 2 diabetes. They also have a compromised immune system,” Bryan Robinson, a psychotherapist and author of Chained to the Desk, told U.S. News & World Report.