Workaholism: The Addiction of this Century

A recent study from the University of Bergen shows that 8.3% of the Norwegian workforce is addicted to work to the point where it becomes a health issue.

In spite of the many positive aspects of work, some people are unable to detach from it – working excessively and compulsively. These are called workaholics.

Postdoctoral fellow Cecilie Schou Andreassen and colleagues from the Department of Psychosocial Science at the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway have been the first to assess workaholism in a nationally representative sample. The results have been published in the journal PLOS One.

According to Schou Andreassen, the “workaholism” concept has been studied by scholars for nearly 45 years. Still, reliable statistics on the prevalence of workaholism is hard to find. The research field primarily relies upon poor measures used in small non-representative samples from the United States.

The image shows the back of a man's head. In front of him is a laptop, journal and pen. He has a cell phone in his hand.
Using the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, researchers from the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway have measured work addiction among workers in Norway. The image is for illustrative purposes only and is not connected to the research. Credit Unsplash.

Measuring work addiction

Schou Andreassen is no stranger to this type of research, having previously developed an instrument to measure work addiction called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS). The BWAS is the first workaholism instrument that is based on core symptoms found in more traditional drug addictions; i.e., salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict, relapse, problems.

Schou Andreassen and her research team have developed seven criteria to measure work 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 deprioritize 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,” says Schou Andreassen. “This is the first scale to use core symptoms of addiction found in other more traditional addictions.”

Young adults most affected

The study found that 8.3% of all Norwegians are addicted to work. There are, however, no differences between the genders. Both men and women tend to compulsively overwork.

“We did find that younger adults were affected to a greater extent than older workers,” says Schou Andreassen. “However, workaholism seems unrelated to gender, education level, marital status or part-time versus full-time employment.”

Those with caretaker responsibilities for children living at home were more likely to be affected than those without children.

Workaholics scored higher on three personality traits:

  • Agreeableness (“Mother Teresa” – typically altruistic, compliant, modest)
  • Neuroticism (“Woody Allen” – typically nervous, hostile, impulsive)
  • Intellect/imagination (“Columbus” – typically open for new impulses, inventive, action oriented)

Huge practical implications

Schou Andreassen points out that workaholism may have contradictory psychological, physiological, and social outcomes. As a significant group seemingly is affected, focus on this phenomenon is timely, especially among health professionals and researchers. But employers, politicians, legislators/lawyers, and journalists should also acknowledge the topic as well.

“As workaholism is not a formal diagnosis, the development of treatment models and real treatment offers has been lacking. The fact that more than eight percent of the general work population seems to suffer from workaholism underlines the need for proper treatment and other relevant interventions,” says Cecilie Schou Andreassen.

Notes about this psychology research

Source: Walter Wehus – University of Bergen
Contact: University of Bergen press release
Image Source: The image is credited to Unsplash and is in the public domain
Original Research: Full open access research for “The Prevalence of Workaholism: A Survey Study in a Nationally Representative Sample of Norwegian Employees” by Cecilie Schou Andreassen, Mark D. Griffiths, Jørn Hetland, Luca Kravina, Fredrik Jensen, and Ståle Pallesen in PLOS ONE. Published online August 13 2014 2014 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102446

Open Access Neuroscience Abstract

The Prevalence of Workaholism: A Survey Study in a Nationally Representative Sample of Norwegian Employees

Workaholism has become an increasingly popular area for empirical study. However, most studies examining the prevalence of workaholism have used non-representative samples and measures with poorly defined cut-off scores. To overcome these methodological limitations, a nationally representative survey among employees in Norway (N = 1,124) was conducted. Questions relating to gender, age, marital status, caretaker responsibility for children, percentage of full-time equivalent, and educational level were asked. Workaholism was assessed by the use of a psychometrically validated instrument (i.e., Bergen Work Addiction Scale). Personality was assessed using the Mini-International Personality Item Pool. Results showed that the prevalence of workaholism was 8.3% (95% CI = 6.7–9.9%). An adjusted logistic regression analysis showed that workaholism was negatively related to age and positively related to the personality dimensions agreeableness, neuroticism, and intellect/imagination. Implications for these findings are discussed.

“The Prevalence of Workaholism: A Survey Study in a Nationally Representative Sample of Norwegian Employees” by Cecilie Schou Andreassen, Mark D. Griffiths, Jørn Hetland, Luca Kravina, Fredrik Jensen, and Ståle Pallesen in PLOS ONE,August 13 2014 2014 doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102446

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