Health, Cognitive Function Suffers When Workaholism Takes Hold

Every employer appreciates having dedicated employees who demonstrate a strong work ethic and enthusiasm to go the extra mile. Potential problems arise when that willingness to work hard crosses the line into workaholism.

According to workaholism specialist Barbara Killinger, PhD, a workaholic is a work-obsessed individual who gradually becomes emotionally crippled and addicted to power and control in a compulsive drive to gain approval and public recognition of success. “Eventually,” she says, “nothing or no one else really matters.”

Workaholics generally display evidence of high job strain, with physical and mental symptoms affecting digestion, memory and sleep performance. A study published in the November 2013 issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded that because workaholics devote so much time to their work, lack of adequate recovery time leads to “breakdown at an emotive or cognitive level.”

The study’s authors state that understanding how workaholism negatively affects work outcomes can help generate ways of alleviating a common problem that may be secretly costly for employers.

Experts suggest several possible steps for employers to prevent workaholism with their leadership team as well as with employees in their workforce:

  • Encourage a better balance between work and private life
  • Identify workers at risk of becoming workaholics
  • Provide treatment for those diagnosed as workaholics
  • Initiate a workplace wellness program that encourages non-work activities
  • Unplug from cell phones and computers whenever possible

Stress dramatically increases the risk of heart attack and other health issues, and overworking can slow the brain’s ability to perform at optimal levels.

“Making a resolution to save at least 25 percent of your energy to bring home every night and putting a fence around your weekends to protect yourself from temptations are both good ideas,” Killinger says. “Workaholics, in contrast, lack this wisdom.”

For information on the effects of fatigue and stress in the workplace, please call Chad Clippard, business liaison, at 573-331-3019.