Work addiction can be harmful to mental health

As a culture, we’ve come to value growth and productivity, making paid work not only a necessity, but a central concern in peoples’ lives. Yet this attitude towards work is harming us more than it’s helping, with research showing that workaholism (also known as work addiction) is a growing problem in the industrialised world. And according to the findings of a recent study, work addiction is linked with poorer mental health.

Work addiction is a clinical condition characterised by an obsessive and compulsive interest in work. People usually work more than they’re required to, either by the workplace or because of financial need. Other characteristics include being concerned about their performance at work, rigid thinking and perfectionism, which is often projected onto others.

People with work addiction are driven to work excessively, despite the detrimental impacts this has on their personal health and wellbeing, and relationships. People at risk of developing work addiction often have low self esteem, experience doubt about their performance at work, or have obsessive compulsive personality traits.

Numerous studies have shown the negative impact of work addiction on mental health. But a recent study on workers in France investigated why work addiction happens to better understand the impact it has on mental and physical health.

The researchers looked at a total of 187 workers from a range of different occupations and demographics, who were asked to answer four different questionnaires. They found that high work demands and people who worked in high pressure roles—for example managers with greater responsibilities—were the most significant factors contributing to the risk of work addiction.

Where this was accompanied by working longer hours than required and having an obsessive approach to work, there was an even greater risk of developing work addiction. Women were also shown to be more predisposed to developing work addiction than men. Although it’s not entirely clear why women were more likely to develop work addiction, other research has had similar findings.

Workers with depression were twice as likely to develop work addiction compared to those without a mental health issue. Poor quality of sleep, high levels of stress and low levels of overall wellbeing were also identified as high risk factors.

Although this study’s sample size was small, previous research has also shown that work addiction is associated with depression, stress, sleep disorders and lower mental health. Burnout and exhaustion were also reported.