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THE INC. LIFE

Are You a Hard Worker or a Workaholic? Science Says This Is the Critical Difference

It’s not about the number of hours you work.

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BY Amy Morin - 05 Jul 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

July 5th is National Workaholics Day. It's meant to bring awareness to what's now been dubbed "the addiction of the century." But many people aren't sure what constitutes workaholism in a culture that views 'busy' as a status symbol.

"I eat, sleep, and live for my business." Comments like that are common in today's world where entrepreneurs have become likened to modern day rock stars.

But it's not just entrepreneurs who cross the line from "working to live" to "living to work." Technology allows many employees to take their work home with them.

And for many people, the blurring of work and life is welcome. They're passionate about what they do and they're happy to devote more time to building their careers and earning a better living.

But for others, the constant need to work stems from an addiction. This self-destructive behavior harms an individual's personal and professional life.

What Separates a Hard Worker From a Workaholic?

The critical difference between hard workers and workaholics isn't the number of hours they work. It's about the problems that working causes in their lives.

A 2015 study in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services found that workaholics experience social, psychological, and physical health problems as a result of their work addiction. Researchers discovered workaholics were at a high risk for burnout, depression, poor health, decreased life satisfaction, and family and relationship problems.

So while one person may be able to work 50 or more hours per week without a single serious side effect, someone else may experience disastrous consequences. And for workaholics, that drive to keep working leads to a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

The more workaholics work, the more consequences they experience. The consequences create more stress, which in turn decreases productivity. And less productivity means longer hours at work.

Unlike passionate people who truly enjoy their work, workaholics often feel frazzled, worried, and stressed out. And while they don't get joy from working, they grow especially miserable when they can't work.

They experience guilt when they aren't working. And they frequently work on the sly, in an effort to prevent their partner or friends from giving them a hard time about how many hours they're putting in.

Treatment for Workaholism

So ask yourself, do the hours I'm putting in at the office harm my relationships? Is my health suffering? Is my mental health declining? Those are just a few signs you might be a workaholic.

Workaholism is similar to other addictions. And although I've treated many people for workaholism in my therapy office, it isn't yet a psychiatric diagnosis. But that doesn't mean workaholism isn't a real problem.

There are a variety of treatments available for workaholics, ranging from 12-step meetings to residential treatment. Outpatient therapy can also be very effective. Therapy often helps workaholics find strategies to disengage from work, re-engage with loved ones, and build mental strength.

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