A workaholic is a person who works compulsively. While the term generally implies that the person enjoys their work, it can also imply that they simply feel compelled to do it. There is no generally accepted medical definition of such a condition, although some forms of stress, impulse control disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be work-related.
Workaholism is not the same as working hard.
The word itself is a portmanteau word composed of work and alcoholic. Initially coined by Dr. Richard I. Evans in 1964, while employed as a consultant at Esso, now ExxonMobil, Dr. Evans was interviewed by Downs Matthews, former editor of Exxon USA, a globally distributed periodical, to discuss the problem of how to handle employees who had a tendency of overworking to the point of becoming less productive. Dr. Evans explained that it was a phenomenon similar to other addictions of excess, such as alcoholism, and made an off-the-cuff comment that perhaps those types of employees should be referred to as 'workaholics'. The term was further disseminated by noted columnist James J. Kilpatrick, and appeared again in an interview with Wayne Oates in 1968. The term gained widespread use in the 1990s, as the result of a wave of the self-help movement that centered on addiction, forming an analogy between harmful social behaviors such as over-work and drug addiction, including addiction to alcohol.
Although the term workaholic usually has a negative connotation, it is sometimes used by people wishing to express their devotion to one's career in positive terms. The "work" in question is usually associated with a paying job, but it may also refer to independent pursuits such as sports, music and art. A workaholic in the negative sense is popularly characterized by a neglect of family and other social relations. Similarly, people considered to be workaholics tend to lose track of time - voluntarily or involuntarily. For example, subjects might proclaim that they will spend a certain amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) on their work, while those "30 minutes" ultimately become hours..
Researchers have found that in many cases, incessant work-related activity continues even after impacting the subject's relationships and physical health. Causes of it are thought to be anxiety, low self-esteem and intimacy problems. "Workaholism" is diagnosed more rarely that other addictions because there is less of a social stigma surrounding it.
Clinical researcher Professor Bryan Robinson identifies two axes for workaholics: work initiation and work completion. He associates the behavior of procrastination with both "Savoring Workaholics" (those with low work initiation/low work completion) and "Attention-Deficit Workaholics" (those with high work initiation and low work completion), in contrast to "Bulimic" and "Relentless" workaholics - both of whom have high work completion. He has stated "Workaholism is an addiction, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and it's not the same as working hard. Workaholic's obsession with work is all-occupying, which prevents workaholics from maintaining healthy relationships, outside interests, or even take measures to protect their health."
Workaholism in Japan is considered a serious social problem leading to early death, often on the job, a phenomenon dubbed karōshi. Overwork was popularly blamed for the fatal stroke of Prime Minister of Japan Keizō Obuchi, in the year 2000. In the U.S. and Canada, workaholism, despite being dangerous, has been referred to as a "respectable addiction".
Workaholics feel the urge of being busy all the time, to the point that they often perform tasks that are not required or necessary for project completion. As a result, they tend to be inefficient workers, since they focus on being busy, instead of focusing on being productive. In addition, workaholics tend to be less effective than other workers because they have difficulty working as part of a team, trouble delegating or entrusting co-workers, or organizational problems due to taking on too much work at once. Furthermore, workaholics often suffer sleep deprivation which results in impaired brain and cognitive function.
As with other psychological addictions, workaholics often cannot see that they have a problem. Confronting the workaholic will generally be met with denial. This has been seen in interventions arranged by co-workers, family members and friends, communicating the effects of the workaholic’s behavior on them. Indeed, mental treatment to cure a workaholic can successfully reduce the hours spent on the job, while increasing the person's productivity. Studies show that fully recovered former workaholics can accomplish in 50 hours what they previously could not do in 80.[not in citation given]
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- “On Being a ‘Workaholic’ (A Serious Jest),” Pastoral Psychology 19 (October 1968), pages 16-20.
- Wayne E. Oates, Confessions of a Workaholic, World Publishing Company (1971), reprinted by G.W. Hall for Abingdon (1978).
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