“Addiction to work is a kind of psychological and social problem that is characterised by two primary features –

  • working excessively and
  • working compulsively”, says Mario Del Líbano,

The study, published in the Spanish journal Psicothema, not only confirm the two dimensional structure of workaholism, but also relate the results with psychosocial wellbeing (perceived health and happiness), in order to highlight the negative features of addiction to work.

“People are only workaholics if, on top of working excessively, they work compulsively in order to reduce anxiety and the feelings of guilt that they get when they’re not working”, Del Líbano explains.

“This study helps to evaluate addiction along with other phenomena that affect the psychosocial health of workers, without the time taken to fill in the questionnaire having any impact on their motivation”, he adds.

The cut-off point – 50 hours per week

Data on the worldwide prevalence of addiction to work vary from one study to another. It is placed at around 20% in countries such as Japan, while in Spain the figures are between 11% and 12%, according to research carried out in 2004 and 2006.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says that 8% of the working population devotes more than 12 hours per day to their profession in order to escape from personal problems. According to the experts, spending more than 50 hours per week working could be a determining factor in addiction.

Addiction to work is characterised by

  • extreme activity in and devotion to work (with people even working outside working hours, at weekends and on holidays),
  • compulsion to work (inability to delegate),
  • disproportionate involvement with work (people relating their self esteem to their work), and
  • focusing on work to the detriment of their daily lives (poor interpersonal communication).

Some risk factors that can lead to work addiction include

  • financial, family and social pressures;
  • fear of losing one’s job;
  • competition in the labour market;
  • the need to achieve a desired level of success;
  • fear of overbearing, demanding or threatening bosses;
  • high levels of personal work efficiency; and
  • lack of personal affection, with the person trying to make up for this with their work.

In addition, workaholic people can also end up taking illegal substances to help them work harder, enabling them to increase their workplace performance and overcome tiredness and the need for sleep.

References: Del Líbano, Mario; Llorens, Susana; Salanova, Marisa; Schaufeli, Wilmar. “Validity of a brief workaholism scale”. Psicothema 22(1): 143-150, febrero de 2010.

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