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Workaholics Create Problems for Themselves and the Organizations They Work for

Some people might find it humorous that addiction to work, also known as workaholism, is even a thing. What is the harm in people choosing to work all the time? It seems like work addiction would be something employers look for. 

Indeed, in a midnight email to Twitter employees shortly after he bought the company, Elon Musk wrote, “We will need to be extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

Research has shown, however, that workaholics cause problems in the workplace, at home, and for themselves: It is “a genuine problem related to significant harm.” Workaholics create unsettled workplaces. They perceive themselves as working harder than others because they often put in ridiculous hours. Musk claims to work as many as 120 hours a week.

Not only do workaholics think they work harder than their co-workers, they believe they are smarter than their co-workers and deserving of greater rewards. Workaholism is associated with perfectionism and narcissism. Having a perfectionist, narcissistic workaholic in the workplace is not conducive to teamwork or team productivity, whether as a boss or a co-worker.

An inability to delegate combined with a lack of team spirit leads workaholics to feel isolated and anxious at work. Because they work so many hours, workaholics tend to lack a social life and often have difficult relationships at home, resulting in “psychological distress, poor emotional well-being and psychosomatic complaints.” And yet they maintain “an uncontrollable tendency to work excessively.”

Anna Lamche, a reporter for BBC News, recently sat in on a weekly Zoom meeting of Workaholics Anonymous, headquartered in the U.K. with members all over the world. Her article sheds light on how workaholics harm themselves most of all:

  • an inability to form intimate relationships
  • missing out on family gatherings and celebrations
  • lying about what you are really doing with your time: working
  • feeling like there is nothing in your life but work
  • declining all social invitations until people stop asking
  • working to avoid having to examine painful life choices
  • a continuous feeling of not doing enough
  • difficulty sleeping, irritability and fatigue

Workaholics Anonymous offers a 20-question quiz to help people determine if they are workaholics. If you answer “yes” to three or more questions, they suggest, “You may be a workaholic.” One question illustrates the comorbidity of workaholism with other disorders, including sleep disorders and substance use disorders: “Do you resist rest when tired and use stimulants to stay awake longer?”

Corine I. van Wijhe, Wilmar B. Schaufeli, and Maria C. W. Peeters offer their suggestions on the design of therapeutic interventions for workaholism in the essay, “Understanding and Treating Workaholism: Setting the Stage for Successful Interventions,” in the book, Risky Business: Psychological, Physical and Financial Costs of High Risk Behavior in Organizations. They recommend:

  • using a reward-based approach since workaholism is a reward-based behavior
  • interventions should focus on the environment as well as the individual
  • the workaholic needs to alter their environment to disarm cues and triggers
  • family members should be included in prevention and treatment programs
  • encouraging the uptake of at least one hobby that is not related to work

Unlike Elon Musk, these authors recommend organizations set clear rules requiring a work/life balance and discouraging excessive working, emailing, texting, or in other ways communicating with coworkers during non-working hours. Organizations that focus on the quality of life of their employees experience less burnout and greater retention, according to these authors.

The author of “Work Addiction,” cited earlier, is especially concerned about the impact of workaholic practices on young persons. “Prevention initiatives directed at young populations are indispensable to decrease the high prevalence of this disorder in industrialized countries.” We’ll continue to look for interventions for work addiction that really work here on AddictionNews. Please stay tuned.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published March 25, 2024.


“Workaholics Anonymous: The people who say they can’t leave work alone,” BBC News, March 16, 2024.

“Elon Musk demands Twitter employees commit to ‘extremely hardcore’ culture or leave,” The Verge, Nov 16, 2022.

“Work Addiction,” by Paweł Andrzej Atroszko, from the book, Behavioral Addictions, September 2022.

“Understanding and Treating Workaholism: Setting the Stage for Successful Interventions,” from the book, Risky Business: Psychological, Physical and Financial Costs of High Risk Behavior in Organizations, Routledge, 2016.

Image Copyright: adam121.


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