The High Price of Workaholism: Unraveling Negative Impacts of Workaholism on Personal Productivity and Well-Being


For most individuals, work is an ordinary and necessary aspect of life that offers numerous positive outcomes. It provides a source of income, structures our days, shapes our identities, fosters relationships, and instills a sense of purpose.  However, despite the many positive aspects of work, some people are seemingly driven by internal and external forces to work excessively and compulsively. 

In a society driven by persistent ambition and the pursuit of achievement, the problem of workaholism has become an increasingly common concern, putting a shadow over personal productivity and well-being.

Once in a while, you may experience a desire to work more than your employer or company culture requires of you. That’s understandable. But if you stick to your overworking tendencies, you may qualify yourself for other, more severe issues that make you a workaholic, and there are a lot of negative impacts of workaholism.

Unlike people who merely work long hours, workaholics struggle to detach from work psychologically. And that ongoing rumination often goes together with stress, anxiety, depression, and personal relationships. Stress levels in workaholics are, therefore, often chronic, which leads to ongoing wear and tear on the body. Thus, read on to find out about the detrimental effects of workaholism while learning a path toward a healthier work-life balance. 

Definition of workaholism

Workaholism (sometimes called ‘work addiction’) as a construct stems originally from the term alcoholism. It was first defined as “addiction to work, the compulsive and uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” In roughly 40 years, the term has become a part of colloquial language. Workaholism is an obsessive and compulsive need to work to an excessive degree.

It is important to note that workaholism is sometimes confused with work engagement, attributing positive consequences to work addiction. This is misleading, as work engagement is neither obsessive nor compulsive.

Workaholics, driven by an unrelenting pursuit of success, work harder than their job prescriptions require. They put much more effort into their jobs than is expected by the people with whom or for whom they work, and in doing so, they neglect their lives outside their jobs

Typically, they work so hard out of an inner compulsion, need, or drive, not because of external factors such as financial rewards, career perspectives, organizational culture, or poor marriage.

So, why do workaholics tend to work longer hours? It’s because they (or sometimes their organizations) think it makes them more productive.

Yet, some research indicates otherwise. The number of hours worked is not linked to productivity, at least not in terms of GDP per hour worked. Some research also shows that productivity per hour declines sharply when people work more than 50 hours a week. After 55 hours, productivity drops so much that putting in any more hours is pointless. And those who work 70 hours a week only get the same amount of work done as those who put in 55 hours.

Workaholics do not appear to be productive workers; to the contrary, workaholics may indeed end up costing organizations more money through decreased health and well-being or increased counterproductive work behaviors.

The detrimental effects of workaholism

Workaholism puts a serious toll on individuals, affecting many aspects of their daily lives. It affects personal productivity, damages mental and physical health, and strains relationships. As we peel back the layers of workaholism’s influence, the following sections dig deeper into their consequences. 

Decreased personal productivity

Many workaholics try to increase their weekly hours because they think that will help them get more done. But longer work hours don’t necessarily lead to increased productivity. The workaholic’s relentless pursuit of tasks may breed a culture of quantity over quality, ultimately hindering overall productivity.

The problem is that workaholism doesn’t lead to success. From top to bottom, workaholism isn’t just wearing you out; it’s eroding the productivity of your entire work. 

Doing business and being busy are two different things. Workaholics hinder the generation of new ideas and doing business differently. Essentially, workaholics never give their brains the rest required to create new ideas or focus on the task at hand, resulting in poor productivity. Overworking leads to workaholics, resulting in lower productivity and lower profits for the organization.

Poor mental and physical health

Workaholics are associated with poorer mental health because they are obsessed with their jobs, leading them to constantly think about work even when they are off the job. Because workaholics do not have sufficient time and opportunity (e.g., leisure activities) to recover from their excessive work effort, they become emotionally or cognitively exhausted over time.

Clinical observations show that workaholics, like alcoholics, experience withdrawal symptoms such as high stress and anxiety levels when they cannot work. Therefore, they are prone to experience physical and mental health problems. In addition, they can have difficulties in recognizing the compulsive nature of their behavior.

Workaholics may also experience poorer physical health than non-workaholics because they lack leisure and exercise. This lack of leisure and exercise can negatively impact health directly (by increasing blood pressure and cholesterol) or indirectly (by contributing to lower resistance to infections, increased smoking, decreased sleep, weight gain, etc.). It even leads to extreme symptoms (e.g., ulcers, chest pain) and even death.

More prone to burnout

Prioritizing work over physical, mental, and emotional well-being is a recipe for burnout, regardless of where you are in your career. The more you fall into the spiral of working long hours at the cost of your health, the harder it will become to recover from the long-term effects of overwork. 

When people think of burnout, they usually raise the alarm because of the wide range of associated negative consequences. As burnout is a syndrome of chronic exhaustion and negative attitudes toward work, it can be expected that it influences people’s functioning in the workplace unfavorably.

Workaholics are associated with an increased risk of burnout. In addition, workaholics can’t ever “shut work off” — instead, they are constantly thinking about and worrying about work, even when they are not actually at work. So, when individuals are excessively involved in work and allow themselves little to no breaks (physical or mental), they are likely to experience burnout because they do not allow themselves adequate time to recover from their excessive work effort.

Poor social relationships

Besides burnout, other possible outcomes associated with workaholism are poorer social relationships outside of work because individuals only have limited resources of time and energy.

Excessive devotion of time and energy to work logically reduces the time and energy available for developing and maintaining social relationships outside of work. 

 Workaholics are known to have marital problems and greater family conflict. Workaholics may neglect their family and friends in favor of occupational commitments, leading to social isolation and strain on connections. 

Tips on avoiding workaholism

Healthier work-life balance requires actionable strategies to manage and overcome workaholism. Recognizing the signs of overcommitment and implementing intentional measures can be transformative for those caught in the cycle of work addiction. Here are some practical tips to guide individuals toward a more sustainable and fulfilling professional life:

Recognizing workaholic tendencies

Helping a workaholic is not as simple as implementing strategies to spend less time at work; it requires support to reframe thoughts and help to dissociate a sense of self-worth and value from work performance.

Some self-assessment tools, such as the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART) or the Workaholism Analysis Questionnaire (WAQ), can help you recognize workaholic behaviors. These tools focus on work-life imbalance and addiction to measure workaholism. The higher the score, the higher the level of workaholism.

Establishing healthy work boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries in any situation allows you to protect your time, energy, and resources while also maintaining relationships with others. Ultimately, setting boundaries is crucial to maintaining your overall well-being, happiness, and sanity in all areas of your life. When you do so at work and home, expect to see improvements in your physical and mental health.  

One example is to set a clear time limit between work and personal life. Let’s say 9 AM to 6 PM is your ‘work life’; anything outside of that hour is your ‘personal life.’ Another way is to say no to extra work. If you are already overwhelmed and your workload is unmanageable, it’s okay to say no to additional work and then explain why.

Seeking support and treatment for workaholism

The characteristics of a workaholic manifest through being obsessed with work (i.e., working compulsively) and the behavioral element of spending an exceptional amount of time devoted to work (i.e., working excessively). Attempting to address both cognitive and behavioral elements in therapy is recommended. 

One of them is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT typically entails helping the workaholic to set limits by, for example, using time-management principles. 

When nothing works, relationships do. You can connect with like-minded people who, like you, are trying to prioritize work-life balance. You can share ideas with them. They can provide you with the support you need to achieve a better work-life balance.

Close friends and family can provide you with ‘Positive Psychology’ — this means emphasizing strengths and positive human qualities rather than shortcomings and problems. These techniques entail, among other things, a focus on self-care (exercise, rest), quality time (relaxing alone), and the development of a guiding vision about what is most meaningful in life.

Cultivating personal growth outside of work

Working 9-5, five days per week, can get tedious. If you maintain the same routine every single day, you are bound to drive yourself crazy.

Taking on a hobby allows you to schedule new events throughout the week and switch up any daily monotony.  Hobbies can be an excellent way to achieve work-life balance. Having hobbies provides dimensionality in our lives.

Dimensionality is good; it makes you feel like a well-rounded human who has more to live for than just a paycheck. Also, engaging in hobbies can provide a much-needed break from the demands of work and help you recharge your batteries.

In conclusion

Workaholism takes a toll on how well we get things done and how we feel. It’s a clear sign that we need to rethink how we see our connection with work. As you reflect on the detrimental effects explored throughout this journey, from diminished productivity to compromised mental and physical health, a crucial awareness emerges to maintain balance in your personal and professional life.

Recognizing workaholic tendencies is the first step toward reclaiming control over your professional lives. By implementing the insights shared on recognizing, addressing, and overcoming workaholism, individuals can pave the way for a more balanced and fulfilling existence.

It’s time to reflect on your work life and strive towards a more balanced and sustainable professional life, which will ultimately enhance your productivity and overall well-being.

If you would like to see more resources on workaholism, check out the Personal Productivity Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Personal Productivity Science Labs today.

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