What Is ‘Work Addiction’ and How Do I Know if I Have It?

By Relationships Australia

Are you addicted to work? New research shows many Australians are at high risk of work addiction – with women, non-binary and gender diverse people most likely to be impacted.

Worldwide studies are underway to better understand work addiction, with more than 60 countries joining the research. One expert claims work addiction is even more prevalent than gambling addiction.

Like any other addiction, work addiction or being a “workaholic” can be incredibly harmful, with enormous impacts on our long-term careers, relationships and health; which is why it’s important to know the signs, and what you can do to help.

What is work addiction?

Work addiction is an inability to stop working. You might feel like you can’t switch off and recover. You might feel guilty or anxious when you can’t do or access work. You might feel a compulsive need for success and perfectionism, with impossibly high standards. But it might not always feel like a bad thing, because when you manage to achieve goals, you may feel a huge sense of elation – a “high”, which will compel you to do it over and over again: even if it’s harming you.

It’s estimated up to 30% of Australian workers are at high risk of work addiction – with women, non-binary and gender diverse people most at risk.

What are the signs of work addiction?

There can be many signs of work addiction. According to the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, which was developed by the University of Bergen, you might be addicted to work if you regularly:

  • think about how you can free up more time to work
  • spend more time working than you intend
  • work so much that it negatively impacts your health
  • become stressed if you can’t work
  • lower the importance of things like hobbies and self-care
  • work to reduce feelings of guilt, helplessness, anxiety and depression
  • can’t reduce the amount you work, even if you’ve been told to.

Other signs can include anxiety, irritability, feelings of guilt, fear, and a lack of control, according to a study of 1200 Australians by Dr Rachael Potter from the University of South Australia.

Why is work addiction becoming more of a problem?

There are many factors that are leading people to become addicted to work, including how easy it is to access work, especially if you work from home. While remote work is vital for accessibility, it can also blur the lines between home and work, making it hard to switch off. This might look like checking your emails late at night from your phone, working beyond your assigned hours, or working on days off and it can become more tempting the higher your workload is.

Another issue is the additional life pressures that fall onto women and gender diverse people, especially in heteronormative relationships, with tasks like household duties, childcare and life admin. With these demands and pressures to balance work and life, and “have it all”, it can be easy to feel anxious, guilty, and like you need to work more to prove yourself.

This can become even more complicated if you add layers of intersectionality, and financial struggles. The gender pay gap, which currently sits at 13.3% in Australia, may also mean that women need to work more to earn the same money and the gap only widens when you add disability and skin colour into the equation.

Younger people can also be more at-risk of work addiction, particularly if they don’t have job security and are working for minimum wage.

What is the impact of work addiction on our health and well-being?

Work addiction can have a huge impact on your well-being, leading to extreme stress, exhaustion and burnout. It can also trigger mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, and weaken your immune system, increasing your risk of disease and developing chronic health conditions and disabilities, which you may never fully recover from. And the longer you continue this cycle of exhaustion, the worse it can get. It might even mean you have trouble with things like sleeping, cooking, cleaning, and being able to look after yourself.

Work addiction can also have a negative impact on your career and relationships, especially if you develop health complications from long-term stress. It might cause you to alienate your family and friends, and even avoid them if you feel attacked when they tell you you’re working too much. This can also lead to feelings of loneliness and guilt, further increasing your risk of ill mental health.

Tips and advice for coping with work addiction

The most important thing you can do to cope with work addiction is to acknowledge you have a problem. Be honest with yourself and recognise the warning signs – and the impact it has on your life and those around you.

You can also:

  • talk to your loved ones
  • stick to your assigned work hours
  • stop checking your emails after work hours
  • prioritise time for hobbies, relationships and self-care
  • schedule time off
  • speak to your manager to reduce your workload or ask for flexible conditions
  • join a support group
  • speak to a counsellor, psychologist or access your Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

It’s important that workplaces spearhead this conversation, so employees feel safe enough to disclose their concerns. This also helps reduce stigma and shame associated with addiction and increases likelihood people will seek help.

Need support? Relationships Australia NSW offers a range of counselling services that can support workplaces and staff with work-related issues. To find out more about our Employee Assistance Program (EAP)contact us today

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