girl working on laptop

Being a hard worker has always been praised and many people still look at long hours at the job as proof of their work ethic. Colleagues who burn the midnight oil are often the ones who are awarded promotions and bonuses.

However, in more recent years, addition to work has been linked with increased psychological and physical health risks such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

It is now a widely growing health concern in major counties all over the globe. A research indicates that 5-10% of the population of the United States meet the criteria for work addiction. In Asian counties like Japan, an average worker clock in 1714 hours a year with only 33% per cent of people taking all their annual leaves. This culture is now becoming equally popular in European countries such as Norway and Poland.

Given the rising prevalence of work addition, it is an important issue to understand.

What is Workaholism?

“Workaholism” was coined by Wayne Oates in 1971, who compared workaholism to alcohol addiction. Much like someone with alcohol addiction, a workaholic gets a “kick” from working. This, in turn, prompts them to keep repeating the behaviour that gives them this kick despite the negative ways it may affect their physical, psychological, or social life.

Work addiction or workaholism is a mental health condition which is characterized by an inner compulsion to work. It often stems from a desire to be successful and is commonly seen among ‘perfectionists’.

More demanding jobs frequently required increased hours from employees to get the job done. And the boom in internet and technology has blurred the boundaries between work and personal lives. Therefore, it is now more difficult than ever, if a person is addicted to work or is simply a highly dedicated and self-motivated worker who is ready to walk an extra mile.

In general, work addiction could be referred to as when someone puts in more than 7-8 extra hours than others per week. Financially instability, workplace pressure or family problems are the common reasons why an average person works overtime. However, work addicts stay excessively involved in their work even when they are not required or expected to do so.

Signs & Symptoms of Workaholism

Pulling long hours at work and earning big is considered to be a modern mark of success. People with obsessive and out-of-control urge to work often justify this behaviour by emphasizing its benefits in the workplace and how it can help them achieve success.

Living in a society that supports the development of workaholism, it can be difficult to recognize work addiction. People with work addiction can be difficult to identify and may simply appear committed to their job.

Some common symptoms that indicate workaholism are:

  • Constantly thinking about work
  • Pulling in long work hours even when not required
  • An obsessive urge to achieve success at work
  • Revolving life around work to the exclusion of personal life and hobbies
  • Using work as an excuse to avoiding personal relationships
  • Working to avoid dealing with personal issues like marital problems, financial issues, or death of loved ones
  • Self-neglect

These signs are somehow subjective and just because some of them apply to you doesn’t necessarily mean you are addicted to work. It is never a good idea to self-diagnose so you may need to seek professional advice.

However, before jumping the gun, you should consider a few questions. Does the thought of working get you more excited than spending time with your family? Do you have hobbies or interests that take up your time when you are not working? Do you deliberately spend more time working? If your answer to these questions is a yes, then it is highly likely you may be addicted to work.

Who is at risk?

Individuals in active and high demand jobs are more likely to be at risk for work addiction than other job groups. Some other factors that contribute to workaholism are:

  • You have suffered from other addictions before such as food, alcohol, or drugs
  • You like being known as a workaholic
  • You come from a family of workaholics
  • You are a perfectionist
  • You like being pushed to the limits
  • You feel lonely

Effects of Workaholism

It is normal to experience work-related stress in your career. However, for work addicts, this stress becomes the norm. Losing in work brings about many consequences. It all starts with worsening relationships with family & friends.

But for some, obsession for work comes at the expense of everything else. Health, relationships, and even work quality can suffer. It’s a huge price to pay. A 2019 research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology found a clear association between work addiction and poorer quality of life.

Work addiction can result in several health issues, including:

  • Loss of sleep     
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Physical problems associated with stress such as obesity and hypertension
  • Weak emotional state and mood changes
  • Dissatisfaction at work
  • Fatigue & burnout

How to Treat Workaholism?

If you feel like you’re treading workaholic water, it may be time to rethink and dive toward a better quality of life. Psychotherapists who treat work addiction usually take a step by step approach to help the addict begin to better balance work and life.

Unless someone can completely leave his job, in most case, a conservative approach to treatment works best.

Some of the key steps involved in treating work addiction involve:


Therapy sessions help workaholics get to the heart of why they feel so obsessed to pull long hours at work despite the negative effects. Treatments can also be supplemented with auxiliary measures such as acupuncture, massages, and yoga that can help the patient relax.

Setting Clear Boundaries

It is critical to separate office from personal life. When at home, refrain from checking or responding to office emails. A work addict may not be able to set these boundaries, so treatment can help this goal.

Forming Healthy Relationships at Work

When at work, talk to your colleagues about their interests or weekend plans. These water cooler talks have been happening way before the invention of a water cooler and give employees a much-needed break from the next task. As a result, employees feel fresh when they’re back and it leads to increased productivity.

Know When to Say No

A work addict may have to start saying no when their bandwidth is full. It may lead to some friction but is important for the long-term health of work addict.

Working for Fixed Time

Workaholics need to learn to maximize productivity by working for only a fixed amount of time every day. By starting and stopping work each day at the same time, they have fixed hours to do the job. This may not work when deadlines creep up, but it is still a powerful way to establish a work-life balance.

Planning the Day

The problem of being too obsessed with work leaves no time to spend with family and relax. While undergoing treatment, work addicts learn to plan their day. This includes allocating time for family, exercise, shopping, reading, or any other hobby.

You Deserve Rest

The person who knows when to take rest is more efficient at work and has been confirmed many studies. The journey towards a better work-life balance starts with a small step.

Setting right expectations and accepting self-care as part of your routine will lead you to better choices when it comes to handling work addiction. Your self-worth isn’t hidden in offices or emails. It’s the way you take care of your health and your relationships with people close to you. Start working to live instead of living to work.