What is Meant by the Term ‘Workaholism’? Is it a negative Feature of Modern
Developed Economies? Why or Why Not
Work has many purposes and can be seen therefore as a positive activity. But the workaholic individual may over commit themselves to their work. This will prove to be detrimental both to themselves and those around them. Oates, as early as 1971, described it as akin to alcoholism. Yet Thorne described it in 1987 as an apparently acceptable addiction. Who has the right answer?
The research on the subject
Hamilton and Dennis record how the number of men, working excessively long hours has increased over the past 20 years. ( page 86, Affluenza, 2005) . The situation also affects an increasing number of women.
Bartolome in 1983 defined workaholism as an attempt to escape the unpleasantaries of life through excessive work. He also went on to say that non-workaholics, who may also work as much, simply neglect their private affairs as they struggle to succeed. He saw the difference as the attitude of those involved. Elsewhere the workaholic has been described as using their busyness in order to avoid getting emotionally involved.(Seybold and Salomone 1994)
In their article ‘The Balancing Act – At Work and at Home’ page 426ff, Volume 33, Organizational Dynamics, Quick et al describe the balance all working people need to maintain between work, home and self. The workaholic has got this balance out of kilter. They become over anxious and depressive and this affects every aspect of their lives and their relationships. Seybold and Salome describe several researchers as saying that workaholism is an attempt to control life. However this is a negative occurrence as the individual finds himself more and more cut off from positive emotional experiences. They also quote several people as saying that competition, often a positive dynamic in industrialized societies, may be in this case be a cause of the problem. Yet is it a problem? There are those whom some would describe as workaholic who are happy with their life style – they enjoy their work more than any outside activity.
Bonebright et al in their study of 2000 divide workaholics into two groups – the enthusiastic and the unenthusiastic. Often the person will see working long hours as necessary, whether for financial gain or other reasons such as job satisfaction, even when he becomes aware that this is having a negative effect on his relationships. He may see it as the only way to succeed. Bu t when relationships begin to be affected he starts to feel guilty because he stays late. The quality of his work will suffer as a result, so that extra work in fact has a negative impact. He tries ever harder to succeed, putting in even more hours and becomes trapped by events. He can’t spend time with his family because he is working so hard to provide for them, but their lives are all the poorer for his efforts.
So, despite the need for companies to succeed, for targets to be met and for the economy to grow, workaholism has a negative effect on the community as a whole. This is, according to Quick et al, especially true in a partnership where both have careers. They say that the amount of conflict between the needs of work and home that one partner has increases the similar conflict felt by the other partner and this has a negative effect on the family as a whole leading to resentment and worse. Quick et al go on to describe the negative effects on companies as these workers are more liable to take time off ill or even leave because of the stress that they are under, and the company has the problem then of covering for them or training a replacement.
So what forms do these conflicts between work and home take? Time – there just isn’t time left over for family activities. This doesn’t just mean time spent away from the family, but time spent at home but pre-occupied by work matters. Strain- the strain of the work role makes it difficult to also play the role of parent or spouse. This can take the form of tiredness or bad temper. Finally Quick et al describe behaviour based conflict, when the worker tries to behave at home as he would at work. For instance he may expect young children to react in the same way that he expects his co-workers to do when he gives an order.
As well as stripping the time that people would generally have to devote to community activities, overwork seems to shape people’s mindsets in such a way that they feel that their community is something from which they must protect themselves rather than a resource on which they can draw and to which they can contribute. Page 95, Affluence, Hamilton and Dennis, 2005
Such an individual is heading for a breakdown – often described as burnout – whereby he becomes emotionally deficient. His positive achievements decrease to the extent that he may feel depersonalized – just a machine. Some see the problem as related to an obsessive –compulsive personality e.g. Naughton in 1987.
The community must be negatively impacted by such attitudes, whether that community is just a partnership of husband and wife or whether it is the world at large. It is a problem that is increasingly recognised by society and it is one that it needs to be able to deal with. Companies and individuals should be more aware of the problem before it gets out of hand and have facilities to deal with it in the form of easily available counselling sessions.
Workaholism may appear at first to be a positive thing. It may seem good to a boss if he has someone who is always willing to work the extra hours. Bonebright et al quote Kiechell as saying that ‘These people are an employer’s dream…impelled by both joy and fear.’ Yet traits of workaholism, according to Bonebright et al, include such things as perfectionism and an inability to delegate, both of which can be great time wasters and can reduce efficiency. So we see that if the time worked is ultimately counterproductive for the individual, it will also be counterproductive for the company and for society as a whole.
Hamilton and Dennis Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Allen and Unwin, Sydney 2005
Oates,W. Confessions of a Workaholic: the Facts about Work Addiction, World Publishing, New York, 1971
Bartolome, F. (l983). The work alibi: When it’s harder to go home. Harvard Business Review, 61, 66-74.
Keichel,W.(1989) The Workaholic Generation, pages 50-62, Fortune,119
Thorne,P. (1987) Workalholism – the Acceptable Face of Addiction? International Management ,71
Naughton,T.(1987) A Conceptual View of Workaholism and Implications for Career Counseling and Research, pages 180-187, The Career Development Quarterly,35
Bonebright,C. et al The Relationship of Workaholism with Work-life Conflict, Life Satisfaction and Purpose in Life, pages 469 – 477, Vol 47, Number 4, Journal of Counseling Psychology, 2000
Quick, J.et al ‘The Balancing Act – At Work and At Home’ Organizational Dynamics, pages 426-238, volume 33, Number 4 , 2004
Seybold, K. and Salome P. Understanding Workaholism,: A Review of Causes and Counseling Approaches, Journal of Counseling and Development, page 4 , Volume 73, 1994 found at
http://www.stetson.edu/~bboozer/RWBStetsonSite/XMBA/Understanding_workaholism.htm accessed 6th August 2007