New concerns for workaholics

New concerns for workaholics

As times change and technology continues to advance, we are taking our work home with us more and more—sending emails on our phones while on vacation, in the bath, even in bed. But do you know when to stop?

A recent national Norwegian study determined that workaholism commonly co-occurs in individuals with cases of attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression.

As defined in the study, workaholism is the condition of “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and investing so much time and effort into work so that it impairs other important life areas.”

16,000 respondents, ages 16 to 75 years, were assessed using the following criteria and a rating scale of 1 (never) to 5 (always) to determine addictive and non-addictive behavior:

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness or depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Those participants who scored 4 (often) or 5 (always) on four or more criteria were identified as a workaholic.

Respondents were then asked questions on another 1 – 5 scale in order to indicate psychiatric disorder symptoms. Among those determined to be workaholics:

  • 32.7 percent met criteria for ADHD.
  • 25.6 percent met criteria for OCD.
  • 33.8 percent met criteria for anxiety.
  • 8.9 percent met criteria for depression.

The incidences among non-workaholics were 12.7 percent for ADHD, 8.7 percent for OCD, 11.9 percent for anxiety and 2.6 percent for depression.

“The study highlights a finding common in clinical settings—that excessive devotion to work can put one’s life out of balance and lead to emotional symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and compulsiveness,” says Dr. David Kemp, a psychiatrist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., and co-medical director of the behavioral health service line for Advocate Health Care. “It should also be noted that workaholics commonly develop psychosomatic symptoms, such as stomachaches and headaches, that may also reflect the presence of excess stress.”

“Because workaholism can negatively affect interpersonal relationships and interfere with leisure time and mood—similar to addiction to alcohol and drugs—therapies for behavioral addictions can be an effective treatment,” Dr. Kemp says. “The workaholic may have a set of core beliefs about the meaning of work which are distorted. Through therapy, misguided assumptions and thought patterns can be modified, leading to a greater balance between work and other aspects of life that are rewarding.”

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  1. I would think the complete opposite is more accurate. People with ADHD, OCD and depression are more likely to appear to be workaholics because they have difficulty focusing and completing tasks. So, a task that might take an ordinary individual 30 minutes might take a workaholic two hours. The disorders degrade productivity.

    • Holly Brenza

      Hi Tammy,

      The study determined ADHD, OCD and depression frequently co-occur with workaholism in many individuals. The researchers pointed out similar aspects to those you are bringing up–that those with ADHD may need to spend more time than allotted in a typical work day to complete tasks due to distracting environments; that those with OCD may obsess over work-related details so much so that they need to spend more time on their work; etc. The study points out a higher incidence level of psychiatric disorders in workaholics than non-workaholics, so for some, being a workaholic could mean something more.

About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.