As a professional in the healthcare, legal, or aviation field, you probably put in long hours at work. Does that mean you are addicted to work? We often refer to someone who works a lot as a workaholic, but what does that mean exactly?
Not Just Working Long Hours
Most physicians, lawyers, and pilots put in long hours on the job. It does not necessarily make you a workaholic if you are one of those who spend more than 40 hours at work. In these fields, your job usually requires that you are available during extended hours, something for which you are prepared as you understand the nature of the industry.
Others may call you a workaholic, perhaps even jokingly, but the term applies to a specific set of circumstances, not just the number of hours you put in on the job. In fact, it is possible to work fewer hours, perhaps as little as 35 hours a week, but still be obsessed with work.
In a study conducted to unravel the difference between behavior (working long hours) and mentality (a compulsion to work, or what we call workaholism), researchers found that workaholics reported more health complaints and had an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, regardless of how many hours they worked. The workaholics also reported a higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more emotional exhaustion, and more depression than those employees who worked long hours but who did not show signs of being addicted to work.
An Addiction to Working
First coined in 1971 by psychologist Wayne Oates, workaholism is defined as “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” Workaholism has since been defined as an addiction to work, as a behavior pattern, and as a syndrome that is comprised of high drive, high work involvement, and low work enjoyment. Even though the definitions of a workaholic may differ, there are some common components with which you might identify, including:
- The feeling that you are compelled to work because of internal pressures.
- Persistent thoughts about work even when you are not working.
- Working beyond what is reasonably expected of you (as established by the requirements of your job or by basic economic needs) despite the potential for negative consequences.
Work Engagement vs Workaholism
Researchers have found that there is a significant difference between being engaged in your work and being addicted to work. Work engagement is defined as a “positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption.” Although work engagement and workaholism seem similar, given that in either case the individual works harder than others, there are definitely key differences.
One of the more significant differences is the underlying motivation for each type of behavior. Engaged workers are driven to work because they enjoy it, finding it intrinsically pleasurable. When you are addicted to work, you are driven to work because you feel a compulsion to do so. You feel as though you “should” be working.
When you are trying to determine whether you are addicted to work yourself, take a look at some aspects of your behavior, including your self-talk. Are you ambitious or are you addicted? When you have a work addiction, you may justify your behavior by explaining why it is a good thing and how it can help you become successful.
You may be addicted to work if you engage in compulsive work to avoid other aspects of your life, such as personal crises or troubling emotional issues. Just like other addictions, you may be unaware of the negative effects this behavior is causing you and those around you. Some symptoms of a work addiction include:
- Obsessing over work-related success
- Losing sleep so you can engage in work projects or finish tasks
- Feeling an intense fear of failure at work
- Being paranoid about your work-related performance
- Neglecting personal relationships because of work
- Using work as a way to avoid relationships
- Being defensive toward others about your work
- Working in an attempt to cope with feelings of guilt or depression
- Working in an attempt to avoid dealing with crises like death, divorce, or financial trouble.
Help for Professionals Available at Providence Treatment
Addiction and mental health issues can be especially challenging when you are in a professional position in the medical, legal, and aviation fields. At Providence Treatment, we understand the stigma that may have you concerned. We are a recognized leader in the treatment of behavioral health disorders and substance use disorders, and we also know how important it is for you to be able to prioritize your mental health during COVID-19. We use a telehealth technology that enables us to remain HIPAA-compliant and ensures your confidentiality is maintained. If you need help, contact us at 484.469.9592.