Is Workaholism A Mental Illness?

Is Workaholism A Mental Illness?
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I'm sure you are familiar with the signs of being a workaholic, whether in yourself or someone close to you. If you're unsure, a test was created by a team of Norwegian researchers a few years go.

The team developed a tool to measure addiction to work called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale. This tool borrowed heavily from tools used to measure drug addiction, and analyzed symptoms such as change in mood, levels of tolerance, salience and so on. They used this to draw up seven criteria against which they could directly measure workplace addiction:

  • You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  • You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  • You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and/or depression.
  • You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  • You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  • You de-prioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and/or exercise because of your work.
  • You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
"If you reply 'often' or 'always' to at least four of these seven criteria, there is some indication that you may be a workaholic,"
the researchers say.
"This is the first scale to use core symptoms of addiction found in other more traditional addictions."

Is it a mental illness?

When this scale was tested on the Norwegian population, it emerged that around 8% of people were classified as workaholics. A recent study by the same set of researchers suggests that these folks may be suffering from many of the symptoms of other mental illnesses, such as ADHD and OCD.

"Workaholics scored higher on all the psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics," the authors say.

The study examined over 16,000 adults whereby each participant was quizzed for things such as ADHD, OCD and their workaholic score using the scale above.

When the numbers were crunched, the results revealed a clear link between workaholism and a number of psychiatric disorders. Among those who showed signs of workaholism, rates of anxiety, depression, OCD and ADHD were significantly higher than their non-workaholic peers.

Indeed, some 32.7% of workaholics met ADHD criteria (20% higher than normal), 25.6% showed OCD behaviors (17% higher than normal) and 34% showed signs of anxiety, which was a whopping 22% higher than normal.

It's difficult to tell which causes which, but the authors suggest that workaholism may well be a sign of much deeper psychological or emotional issues. What's more, the digital tools that pervade our workplaces, and which make work possible from anywhere, can help to drive such bad habits.

The challenge now is how to go about eradicating workaholism from our workplaces. I suspect that may be somewhat easier said than done.

Originally posted at The Horizon Tracker.