The Good News about Workaholics

The word “workaholic” is derived from “alcoholic” and
implies a compulsive behavior that is generally agreed to
be bad for someone.

The difference between a workaholic and an alcoholic is
that the workaholic has a more socially acceptable form of
an “addiction” and is often rewarded for it in the world
of business.

When we think of the workaholic, we may conjure up images
of a type of Ebenezer Scrooge hunched in an office with
mounds of paper stacked all around and working through
weekends, holidays, and vacations-at-the-office. Also it
is generally assumed that this type of work ethic will
lead to an early death. But will it?

A Wharton Management Professor, Nancy Rothbard, put this
long-held belief to the test in a paper titled, “Beyond
Nine to Five: Is Working to Excess Bad for Health?”

Rothbard and her research group surveyed 763 employees at
a large international financial consulting firm to see if
the individuals who worked long hours and who were
generally considered to be workaholics had a higher risk
of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a
cluster of conditions including high blood pressure, high
blood sugar, abnormal cholesterol, and excess waistline
fat that is known to increase one’s risk of heart disease,
stroke, and diabetes.

Rothbard found that while working long hours and
workaholism often go hand in hand, not all people who work
long hours are workaholics, and not all workaholics work
long hours.

She also found that simply working long hours alone didn’t
lead to poor health. In fact, employees who worked long
hours but were able to mentally “recharge” overnight were
not putting their health at risk. On the other hand,
those who worked long hours, had a compulsive work
mentality, and could not switch-off the work,
significantly increased their risk of developing metabolic

However, the most significant finding was within the group
of true workaholics, who worked long hours, and also
couldn’t switch-off from work. These workaholics, who
were reported as being highly engaged and fulfilled in
their jobs, stayed healthy. It didn’t matter that they
put in long hours, drove themselves very hard at work, and
thought about their jobs all the time. In fact, they
showed no more risk of developing metabolic syndrome than
the average non-workaholic employee.

According to Rothbard, “We just assumed that all
workaholics were going to have a higher risk of metabolic
syndrome. It turns out that only some of them do: the
ones who don’t have that passion and positive energy
around their job.”

As such, there is a difference between the Unhappy
Workaholics and the Happy Workaholics.

If someone loves what he/she does and works long hours to
fulfill their responsibilities, it is not necessarily a
bad thing.


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