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Study of Workaholism Part III:
Implications for Counseling & Research
Implications for Career Counseling and Research
The cost of health-related problems associated with work addiction in corporate America is 150 billion dollars per year. And that figure does not account for costs of inefficient workaholic behaviors, none of which have been evaluated by researchers, that can add millions to organizational debt. This article has many implications for career counseling and research.
Taking a Proactive Counseling Approach
Counselors are encouraged to be aware of the implications for clients who may be suffering from workaholism in the workplace and to take a proactive stance. It is recommended that career counselors consider the devastating effects of workaholism in the workplace and in the family, screen for it just as alcoholism is screened, and be prepared to intervene. It is important to remember that the workaholic, the workaholic's family, and the workplace are often completely unaware of workaholism or its effects because it has been prescribed by Western society as the ideal.
Therefore, educating the workaholic's company on the dangers of perpetuating workaholism and its associated stress, burnout, and family disintegration is essential. Holding seminars or workshops on healthy working versus workaholism, how to avoid Job stress, and the importance of the healthy balance between career development and family involvement are preventive measures counselors can take.
Identifying Workaholic Behaviors in the Organization
Porter (1996) argued that managers need guidelines to identify workaholic employees and their ineffective behaviors that have previously gone unnoticed or have been rewarded in order to reduce prohibitive costs related to absenteeism, burnout, and health problems and waste of human potential. She recommended that four widely held but untested beliefs about workaholics in the workplace be clarified by future research (Porter, 1996. p. 80):
- Workaholics will choose a new course of action that requires as much or more work rather than a potential solution that meets organizational goals but is actually less work.
- Workaholics will resist, or even sabotage, efforts to impose more balance between work and nonwork involvements.
- Workaholic managers will choose to maintain control rather than delegate work or rely on others to set standards of performance.
- Workaholics will respond to both success and failure by working more.
Bridging the Gap Between Workplace and Family Research
The lack of scientific research and the sampling and methodological flaws in the workaholism research have been largely overlooked because of a need to create a database of information about workaholism. Sampling and methodological specificity will become increasingly important as more researchers begin to address the study of workaholism. It is imperative that researchers pay more attention to the subject of work addiction so that counselors can accrue a better working knowledge of the condition. A number of actions can be taken that will improve the quality of research on workaholics, our understanding of them, and ultimately our ability to apply this information in professional practice.
An increase in the sheer quantity of studies on workaholism is needed — studies that include the direct assessment of workaholics instead of polls of physicians (e.g., Pietropinto, 1986) or magazine readers (e.g., Herbst, 1996) who offer their opinions about the workaholic. More research is needed to further distinguish between the constructs of Type A behavior and work addiction and to compare and contrast these two fields of study.
More empirical research is needed on the psychological problems and adjustment of workaholics, their children, and their spouses and how these adjustments are linked to workplace performance. Although we have a body of research on small children of Type A parents, no studies exist on young children of workaholics. Moreover, clinical accounts exist on spouses of workaholics (Pietropinto, 1986; Robinson, 1998a), but no study has been performed assessing the attitudes, feelings, and psychological adjustment of spouses of workaholics (Robinson. 1998b). Counselors need a research base that examines the relationship between the workaholic's familial problems and workplace performance and productivity. This research base would bridge the gap that currently exists.
Developing an Official Nomenclature
As I mentioned earlier, the term workaholism has not been accepted Into the official psychiatric and psychological nomenclature. There are good reasons for this. In research and clinical practice, no consensus exists on the meaning of work addiction, its definition, how it is measured, or how it is described. Oates (1971) identified five major types of workaholics; Rohrlich (1981) described thirteen types; Fassel (1990) distinguished among four types; Spence and Robbins (1992) defined six types; Scott et al. (1997) identified three types; and Robinson (in press) suggests there are four types. Clearly, there is a need for some consensus if we are to advance our understanding of this concept. Because work addict, workaholic, workaholism, and work addiction are used interchangeably in the literature, more standardization of these terms is needed.
Improving Data Collection Techniques
Because workaholics are hard to reach, research on them is more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. This has led to reliance on unrepresentative samples in the handful of studies that exist. It is important that future studies are well-planned and include randomized, representative samples. The body of Information on workaholics is based predominantly on self-report data, namely self-administered questionnaires or face-to-face interviews with respondents who are willing to participate. Both of these approaches, although useful, have built-in biases.
A multimethod approach to data collection in which observational techniques are used in conjunction with the traditional selfreport and interview techniques will yield more sophisticated data and lead to a better understanding of workaholics. No study has ever used this approach in its Investigation of workaholics. It is essential that future research use a systems-oriented approach and assess perceptions and behaviors of spouses and children of workaholics. Other researchers have emphasized the importance of collecting data from family, friends, and coworkers to provide an indicator that is more reliable than the self-reports of workaholics (Porter, 1996). In addition, maintaining an ecological focus is crucial as workaholics are observed interacting in the family and organizational system, not in the researcher's laboratory. Researchers need multivariate designs with large samples that will provide data on the interaction of significant variables that affect workaholics and their families. Longitudinal studies also are needed to follow workaholics over time to assess the progression of the disorder in terms of psychological, attitudinal, and behavioral changes, family relationships, and work satisfaction and performance. According to one organizational authority, "Understanding of workaholic types would be further enhanced if longitudinal studies could document the degree of change or stability in workaholism over a work career." (Naughton, 1987, p. 186).
Improving Sociocultural Data on Workaholism
No studies have been conducted on possible racial or cultural differences as they relate to work addiction. It is known, for instance, that work is highly valued in Eastern cultures and that the Japanese use the term karoshi to refer to conditions under which men and women drop dead from work addiction. However, counselors have almost no understanding of whether or how cultural differences might influence the development of workaholism. Similarly, little is known about whether or not the incidences of workaholism are higher or lower in African American and Hispanic populations or in specific geographic regions of the country. Because of the difficulty in reaching workaholics, and in many cases the shame associated with the condition, it is impossible to estimate the number of workaholics or children of workaholics in the nation. It is important for readers to realize that citations of percentages of workaholics are sheer guesses and not educated estimates, because there is no database for developing statistics.
Using Gender Sensitivity
Research on work addiction has largely Ignored women. When the term workaholic is used, the reference is almost exclusively to men. As women have entered more positions of authority in the corporate hierarchy, the prevalence of work addiction among women has increased. It is important that clinicians consider this possibility and that researchers study the potential differences between male and female workaholics, male and female spouses of workaholics, and the effects on children of workaholics vis-à-vis parental gender differences.
- Robinson, Bryan; Workaholism: bridging the gap between workplace, sociocultural, and family research; Journal of Employment Counseling; Mar 2000; Vol. 37; Issue 1.
Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information
about implications for counseling and research in regard to workaholism. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
According to Robinson, why has the term workaholism not been accepted into the official psychiatric and psychological nomenclature? To select and enter your answer go to .