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Study of Workaholism Part I: Psychological Profile of the Workaholic
The Study of Workaholism
The study of workaholism has been primarily confined to popular magazines that poll their readers (e.g., Herbst. 1996; Kiechel, 1989; Schwartz, 1988), newspaper articles (e.g., Billeter, 1981; Curry, 1997; Shoss. 1992), or popular self-help books (e.g., Fassel. 1990; Killinger. 1992; Machlowitz, 1980; Gates, 1971; Robinson, 1989). Despite its popular appeal, few empirical studies on workaholism exist (e.g., Doerfler & Kammer, 1986) and only recently has this literature been taken seriously. Nearly 30 years after Oates (1971) coined the term workaholic, no consensus exists among clinicians on how to define or categorize it. Although it has become a household word, workaholism has not been accepted into the official psychiatric and psychological nomenclature (Pietropinto, 1986).
Oates (1971) was the first to delineate five major types of workaholics. He classified the dyed-in-the-wool workaholics as perfectionists who take their work seriously, and produce work that meets nothing short of the highest standards.
Overcommitted. this type of workaholic abhors incompetence in others. Converted workaholics set limits on their working hours — sunup to sundown if they are farmers and 9 to 5 if they are corporate workers. They guard their free time closely and avoid additional work assignments and overtime. Situational workaholics do not have a workaholic personality but work to achieve Job security instead of out of an inner psychic need or for prestige. Pseudoworkaholics superficially have the characteristics of the dyed-in-the-wool workaholic. Pretending to be serious workaholics to advance in the organizational power structure, their orientation is one of power as opposed to productivity. Escapists posing as workaholics — people who simply stay on the job or in the workplace rather than go home — find working an escape from an unhappy home life.
Rohrlich (1981), in his early psychoanalytic work, defined and described 13 workaholic types ranging from the sensible to the absurd (see Appendix).
Fassel (1990) distinguished among four types of workaholics. The compulsive worker is driven to work all the time, the type on which our stereotype of the workaholic was based. The binge worker, although sharing the characteristics of compulsiveness. tends to work in binges for days on end rather than consistently. The closet worker hides work so he or she will not be discovered and often keeps a stash of work that can be secretly pulled out when no one is around, much like an alcoholic with a hidden bottle. The work anorexic is one for whom the avoidance of work is as much a compulsion as overworking is for the workaholic.
On the basis of their survey of the literature. Scott et al. (1997) suggested that there are three workaholic types: ( 1) The compulsive-dependent workaholic, who exhibits symptoms of the obsessive-compulsive personality — someone who works longer than they originally intended, recognizes that they work excessively but cannot control themselves, continues excessive working despite social or health problems, and experiences unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when not working. ( 2) Perfectionist workaholics, who prize work and productivity to the exclusion of leisure and social activities, exhibit controlling, rigid, and inflexible behavior, and are preoccupied with details, rules, and lists. ( 3) Achievement-oriented workaholics are viewed positively because they "strive for achievement, success, and the accomplishment of moderately difficult tasks; they are stimulated by competition and are able to delay gratification and focus on distant goals." (p. 299).
Robinson (in press) developed a typology of workaholics based on their level of work initiation in proportion to their level work completion. Robinson classified the stereotyped workaholics, referred to by Oates (1971) as "dyed-in-the-wool," as relentless workaholics — those who are high work initiators and high in work completion and who work compulsively and constantly, day and night and holidays and weekends, with no let up and no periods of downtime. They are hurried and relentless in meeting deadlines, often weeks ahead of schedule. The bulimic workaholic, who is low in work initiation and high in work completion, has extreme work patterns that vacillate from bingeing to purging. This is the procrastinating workaholic whom Fassel (1990) called the "work anorexic." Attention deficit workaholics are adrenaline-seeking workaholics who are easily bored and constantly seeking stimulation. They are high work initiators but are low in work completion. They have difficulty focusing on the task before them, get bored, and jump ahead to the next item on the agenda, leaving many projects unfinished. Savoring workaholics are slow, deliberate, and methodical. Consummate perfectionists are afraid that the finished project is not going to be good enough. They savor their work Just as alcoholics would savor a shot of bourbon. They are low in work Initiation and low in work completion, because they prolong and create additional work when they realize that they are nearly finished with a project. They are nitpickers who overanalyze, get bogged down in detail, and reexamine tasks to the point that it impedes their ability to initiate and complete work in a timely fashion.
Psychological Profile of the Workaholic
The early research on workaholism Indicated that workaholics had significantly higher scores on depression, anxiety, and anger than did nonworkaholics (Haymon, 1993). These findings confirm earlier anecdotal reports that work addiction has severe negative consequences, which include depression, anxiety, and anger (Fassel, 1990; Oates, 1971; Robinson, 1989) and that underneath obsessive work habits are the workaholic's feelings of inferiority, fear of failure, and defense against unresolved anxiety (Pietropinto, 1986; Spruell, 1987).
A national study of 291 workers in the United States reported that women had significantly higher scores on the Driven, Enjoyment, Job Stress, Job Involvement, and Time Commitment scales, whereas there was no difference by gender on the Work Involvement, Perfectionism, and Nondelegation scales (Spence & Robbins, 1992). Reports of health complaints among the respondents increased with greater scores on Job Stress. Perfectionism, Nondelegation, and Driven scales. A negative correlation was reported between Enjoyment of Work scores and health complaints. A major difference between work enthusiasts and workaholics was that workaholics perceived themselves as having more job stress, perfectionism, and unwillingness to delegate Job responsibilities to others. Moreover, workaholics of both sexes reported more health complaints than did work enthusiasts. A replication of this study with 1,012 Japanese workers reported a significant impact of workaholism on health complaints and Job stress among Japanese male employees (Kanal et al., 1996).
Workaholism and health complaints were also significantly associated In a positive direction In a study of 121 full-time university employees In the southeastern United States (Fogus, 1998). Other Investigators have established that chronic trait anxiety Increases vulnerability to physical illness (Taylor, 1990) and that work addiction is directly related to stress proneness and burnout (Nagy. 1985; Pace & Suojanem, 1988).
In Japan, Uehata (1993) has asserted that it is widely known that chronic, excessive work habits and work-related stress can result in various mental, physical, and interpersonal problems, including death from overworking. According to Ishiyama and Kltayama (1994). helping professionals and social critics stress the need for improvements and reevaluation of how Individuals, employers, society, and the government deal with workaholism and Job stress.
Researchers Haraguchi, Tsuda, and Ozekl (1991) also asserted that workaholism Is closely associated with high work stress reactions such as depression, anxiety, anger, and Irritability, and behaviors such as absenteeism, withdrawal, low productivity, mistakes, and accident proneness on the Job. They reported that workers with these high stress reactions tended to work more hours per week (over 70 hours) and more overtime (50 hours per month) than did workers with low stress reactions.
Considering the totality of the empirical studies of the workaholics' psychological well-being to date, it Is difficult to make a case that workaholism is a positive attribute. In fact, because death from overworking has become so common in the Japanese culture ( 10,000 workers a year drop dead at their desks from 60- to 70-hour workweeks) the Japanese have coined a name for it: karoshl Karoshi among corporate workers in their 40s and 50s has become so common that the Japanese workplace has been dubbed "a killing field" (Ishiyama & Kltayama, 1994).
- Robinson, Bryan; Workaholism: bridging the gap between workplace, sociocultural, and family research; Journal of Employment Counseling; Mar 2000; Vol. 37; Issue 1.
Reflection Exercise Explanation
Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances
your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection
Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues.
Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience.
Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education,
occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health,
home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be
approximately 225 words in length. However, since the content of these Personal
Reflection Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they
may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a work in
progress. You will not
be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.
Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained information
about the psychological profile of a workaholic. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
What is a "pseudoworkaholic"? To select and enter your answer go to .