Staying up in bed to work on excel sheets, staring at a computer screen during your lunch, spending nights slumped over paperwork: these are the signs of a workaholic. According to Kamila Wojdylo, a psychologist from the Institute of Psychology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, workaholics “have a strong craving for work because they only feel worthy when working hard and perfectly well." Workaholics tend to obsess over projects and professions because they find a sense of purpose in a job well-done.

Understand that being a workaholic can lead to overwhelming stress and occupational burnout. Rather than being a workaholic, you can have a healthy relationship with your job defined as work engagement. Wojdylo defines work engagement as living with a “positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption." In hopes of better understanding burnout and occupational stress, Wojdylo observed the characteristics and behaviors of a workaholic. Wojdylo's most recent publication seen in PLOS ONE found that despite claiming work as a source of happiness and relief, workaholics showed the poorest mental health as well as an inability to relax.

Work Craving, Work Engaging, and Mental Health

Four hundred and sixty-nine teachers from the Federal State Rheinland-Pfalz of Germany were recruited for the study. Based on their high-levels of stress, burnout rates, and prevalence of mental health disorders, teachers were the ideal subject for the study. All participants were asked to complete the following assessments:

  • Utrecth Work Engagement Scale (UWES): A 17-item scale assessing work engagement by measuring vigor, dedication, and absorption.
  • Work Craving Scale (WCS): A 28-item scale observing obsessive-compulsive behaviors to work, such as urge to work, relaxation through work, and perfectionism.
  • Action Control Scale (ACS): A scale assessing how individuals respond to failure.
  • General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-28): A questionnaire assessing mental health condition.

In addition to completing these surveys, participants recorded how many hours they worked each day.

Workaholics Set Unrealistic Goals and Let Themselves Down

The findings from this study imply that those struggling with work-related stress need to learn how to set more realistic expectations for themselves as well as break avoidance behaviors. Results showed that those obsessed with work had the weakest mental health, while those who positively engaged in their work had the strongest mental health. In addition to this observation, Wojdylo found that work cravers were incapable of relaxing and lacked the ability to positively motivate themselves.

When confronted with failure, workaholics had difficulty emotionally dealing with the situation and often felt overwhelmed with stress. Wojdylow suggests that “unreachable standards keep them [workaholics] busy and distracted from negative feelings. However, distraction through overworking does not solve any problems or promote success because workaholics' goals are unrealistically high."

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Date of original publication:

Updated: October 29, 2016