Why is Workaholism Dangerous? Understanding the Risks and Finding Balance

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Workaholism can be a dangerous trap that consumes individuals, causing detrimental effects on their physical and mental well-being. While some people find joy and fulfillment in their work, others fall into the perilous spiral of obsession, which can lead to a conflict between work and other areas of life. In this article, we will explore the dangers of workaholism, how to identify it within ourselves, and most importantly, what steps we can take to overcome it.

What is Workaholism? Understanding the Addiction

Coined by psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971, the term “workaholic” refers to individuals who possess an uncontrollable need for continuous work, almost akin to an addiction. Workaholics are characterized by an internal compulsive drive, constantly thinking about work and experiencing feelings of guilt and anxiety when they are not engaged in work-related activities. It’s important to note that workaholism is distinct from simply working long hours. One can work overtime without being obsessed with work, and conversely, obsess over work while working fewer hours.

The Detrimental Effects of Workaholism

Studies have confirmed that workaholism, regardless of the number of hours worked, can have severe consequences on one’s health. Workaholics are more likely to experience health problems and have an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. Additionally, they exhibit a higher need for recovery, suffer from sleep problems, increased cynicism, emotional exhaustion, and are prone to depression. On the other hand, employees who work late but do not display workaholic tendencies do not face the same risks.

Workaholics find it challenging to detach themselves psychologically from work, leading to anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances. Chronic stress often accompanies workaholism, taking a toll on the body. When faced with stress, the body activates various systems such as cardiovascular and neuroendocrine. Imagine having a deadline for an important project—your stress hormone levels, blood pressure, and pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines surge. However, once the project is completed, these levels return to normal. However, when workaholics consistently push themselves beyond limits, the body’s setpoints may change. High blood pressure becomes chronic, and cortisol levels remain outside the normal range.

Identifying Obsessive Passion for Work: A Self-Assessment Quiz

To determine if your passion for work has turned obsessive, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you have enough energy? Are you genuinely passionate about your work and do you find joy in what you do?
  2. Is your self-identity solely tied to your work? If you were to visualize yourself as a pie, what proportion would work occupy?
  3. How positive is your self-image? Obsessive passion often stems from a negative self-image, where one associates themselves with unpleasantness subconsciously.
  4. What is your internal monologue like while working? Does it consist of phrases like “I want,” “I can,” and “I can’t wait,” or is it dominated by phrases such as “should,” “must,” and “have to”?
  5. Can you easily disengage from work when you choose to? Recent studies show that individuals with harmonious passion for activities, such as online gamers, experience positive emotions while engaged in their pursuits. In contrast, those with obsessive passion experience more negative emotions, even when they are unable to engage in their activities. Do you feel compelled to work even when you genuinely don’t want to?
  6. Do you experience a state of flow? Does time seem to fade away as you work, or do you constantly feel burdened by responsibilities? Flow is a pleasurable experience, while obsessive involvement impedes relaxation.

If you answered “no” to these questions, it indicates that your passion for work may be leaning toward the obsessive side rather than the harmonious.

Recommendations for Overcoming Workaholism

If you find that your level of obsessive passion for work is too high, consider implementing the following recommendations to regain balance:

  1. Schedule dedicated breaks: Help yourself detach from work by scheduling activities throughout the day that are unrelated to work. Meet a friend for lunch, take a walk, or engage in a hobby. Allocate time after work or on weekends for family, friends, and personal hobbies. Establishing a schedule will enable you to honor your commitments outside of work.
  2. Create boundaries: If possible, separate work from your personal life entirely. Avoid bringing work-related items home, such as your laptop or papers. Maintain distinct email accounts for work and personal matters and refrain from checking work emails outside of working hours. Remember, obsessive passion is a habit that can be broken.
  3. Shift your work mindset: Emulate the mindset of individuals with harmonious passion until it becomes your own. Transform thoughts like “should” and “must” into “want” and “desire.” Initially, this may feel uncomfortable, but over time, the obsessive mindset will diminish along with the associated behaviors. Recent studies have shown that altering thought patterns can enhance self-esteem and foster harmonious passion.
  4. Cultivate new hobbies: Overinvestment in one project often stems from negative self-esteem. Engaging in activities outside of work that contribute positively to your sense of self can help reduce the space occupied by the “thirst for overproduction” and decrease the likelihood of burnout.

By implementing these recommendations, you can take significant steps toward achieving a healthier work-life balance and overcoming the perils of workaholism. Remember, true success lies not only in professional achievements but also in personal well-being and fulfillment.


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