People work hard for a variety of reasons.
Some work hard to ensure they can provide for their families, while others may work hard for financial gain or perks. In many cases, people confuse working hard for being a workaholic. Although people may use the terms interchangeably, being a hard worker does not make you a workaholic. There is a significant distinction between the two. Someone who works hard may put in long hours, but they still make time for non-work activities that they enjoy and give back to their loved ones. Workaholics often value work over everything else, even if it negatively affects their health or relationships with others.
People may call themselves workaholics because they work a few extra hours a week, but many of these people labeling themselves are doing extra work just to keep their jobs. Hard workers might put in extra work because they love their job or want to go the extra mile in order to finish a project. Workaholism is when work becomes all-consuming and joyless. It often goes above and beyond what is necessary for the job, and may cause the person to have little interest in any other activities. Work absorbs all of the person’s time and it becomes a recurring obsession. An actual workaholic will often develop health problems and suffer from depression, anxiety, and insecurity. They think about work constantly and feel anxious or depressed when there is no work to be done. They often push others as hard as they push themselves, causing them to alienate themselves and feel further isolated.
Hard Workers versus Workaholics
Although people may use the terms interchangeably, there are key differences between hard workers and workaholics. These include:
- Workaholics see work as a way to distance themselves. While hard workers think of work as a responsibility that is hopefully enjoyable, workaholics do not share this sentiment. Work is a way to separate themselves from unwanted feelings or relationships.
- Workaholics believe nothing is more important than work. A hard worker can balance their lives in a way that makes them available to friends and family. Workaholics will prioritize work above all else.
- Workaholics thrive off the excitement they get from meeting impossible demands. Hard workers do not share this sentiment.
- Workaholics think about work all of the time, regardless of who they are with or what they are doing. There is no “break” from work. Hard workers know when to take breaks and are able to do so.
Researchers E.J. Douglas and R.L. Morris have identified distinct reasons people work hard. Although being a workaholic carries a negative connotation, identifying a person’s motivation to work can help us better distinguish if they are a true workaholic or simply a hard worker.
- Financial rewards: Those who work hard may do so simply for financial rewards. Douglas and Morris refer to these people as “material goal seekers”.
- Substitution for leisure: Some people work hard because they get little satisfaction or joy from leisure activities. They are called “low leisure” hard workers.
- Perks: Some people work hard simply for the perks that come along with it. Whether it’s a great commute, fun co-workers, a good health plan, or other positive work conditions, these people are called “perkaholics” rather than workaholics.
- Working to work: A true workaholic is someone who works just to work. They may have no ulterior motive or outside motivation. They work because it is something they just do.
Although these are the four primary types of hard workers identified by Douglas and Morris, another type also exists. There are people who work hard simply because they love what they do. They may find their job rewarding, important, or enjoyable, and they cannot wait to get to work.
Identifying a Workaholic
There are several warning signs that are common among workaholics; however, there are different types of workaholics. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may struggle with addiction to work, the following signs may identify whether or not this is the case:
- Workaholics prefer work to leisure
- Workaholics will work anytime, anywhere
- Workaholics can be intense, extremely competitive, and driven
- Workaholics may exhibit signs of self-doubt
- Workaholics capitalize on their time, and work as much as possible
- Workaholics can be micro-managers and unable to delegate work
- Workaholics may try to turn other aspects of life into work, such as making a hobby into a new business
- Workaholics may have major health problems, including stress-induced illnesses, increased anxiety, depression, or chronic fatigue
Although these signs are often indicators of work addiction, not all workaholics will exhibit these signs or symptoms. The term “enthusiastic workaholics” is used to describe those who do not struggle with health problems as a result of being a workaholic, learn job requirements quickly, excel at work, and put a great deal of energy into their job in order to reap the benefits of their efforts. A “non-enthusiastic workaholic” tends to exhibit more of the symptoms detailed above, struggling with health problems, putting a great deal of time and effort into work, but without reaping the rewards. This may be because their work environment does not have an efficient system in place to reward exceptional work, or there may be internal bias that that works against their interests.
There are other symptoms of work addiction that, on the surface, seem like signs of a person who is committed to their job, but in reality, point to a compulsive behavior that is damaging both physically and emotionally. Workaholics will often justify their behaviors by highlighting the reasons it is “good” and how it can help them achieve success. Some symptoms that may indicate that a person has an addiction rather than ambition are:
- Intense fear of failure at work
- Long hours at the office, even when not required
- Losing sleep to work
- Obsession with work-related success
- Paranoia about work-related performance
- Working to cope with negative emotions
- Working in order to avoid dealing with stressful events such as divorce, a death, or financial trouble
Loss of close relationships due to work
Some workaholics may develop health problems as a result of substance abuse. Using drugs or alcohol to cope with the pressures of work can be dangerous. If substance abuse develops, the person must seek help in order to learn how to cope with their need to overwork themselves. Obsession with performance at work is more extreme than simply “working hard,” and it’s not worth risking your life over.
Coping with Work Addiction
If you think you or someone you know struggles with work addiction, there are mental health specialists that can help. Professionals such as psychologists, counselors, psychiatrists, and others can help you cope with work-related problems. Research suggests that engaging in therapeutic activities is incredibly beneficial. Cognitive behavior therapy also helps individuals identify the root causes of their work addiction by focusing on the individual’s thoughts, perceptions, and beliefs about work. This form of therapy addresses the negative thoughts that fuel addictive behaviors and helps change the individual’s perception to a more positive view. These types of therapies can also help mend relationships that have been damaged by workaholic behaviors.
Being a workaholic throws your life out of balance. In a world that reinforces workaholic behavior and prizes overachievement and financial success above most other things, it is easy to fall into negative work behaviors. With the ubiquity of technology, workaholic behavior can be fueled outside of the office through cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Although access to a cell phone is not to blame, it does make it easier to exclude other activities in favor of work. Preoccupation with work is at the center of what defines workaholic behavior. If working causes you to ignore family, relationships, your physical health, or other responsibilities, it is a problem.
Treatment for work addiction is not likely to be the same as treatment for drug addiction, but it may require similar elements, such as inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation in order to manage behaviors. While this is not common in treatment of work addiction, severe cases may require a more intensive approach. In some cases, work addiction is fueled by a co-occurring mental health disorder such as bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Work addiction can also cause mental health disorders to develop, making dual-diagnosis treatment critical.
Most people with work addiction find that 12-step programs and other group therapy programs are extremely beneficial. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can help individuals learn from their peers. Additionally, it is a great source of healthy support and can help individuals stay on track when learning to balance work and personal life. Work is unavoidable for most, so developing a healthy relationship with it is crucial. With proper balance, those with work addiction can find success and happiness in their personal and professional accomplishments without losing sight of either.