Hardworking or work addict? How to spot the signs of workaholism [with free downloadable questionnaire]

How can you tell if someone is a workaholic or just hardworking? What are the negative consequences of work addiction, and how can managers help employees who may be suffering with it? In this article, we take a deep dive into workaholism, exploring all these issues with a free downloadable questionnaire to help you support your team members.

5 mins read
Getty Images 1316264191   Jack

about 1 month ago

​​What is workaholism?

A term first coined by Psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971, workaholism refers to a compulsion and uncontrollable need to work incessantly.

It manifests as an inability to stop working or maintain reasonable hours, even when it’s detrimental to the person’s life. Prioritising work over family, friends, and hobbies, workaholics thrive on adrenaline - seeking the rush of last-minute deadlines, all-nighters, and juggling multiple projects.

It is often overlooked as a serious addiction when compared to alcoholism or drug addiction. But, left untreated, it can have severe consequences and even be fatal. Much like alcoholism or drug abuse, workaholism harms both the workaholic and those around them. Over time, it negatively impacts their mental and physical health, straining relationships, family life, rest, exercise, and nutrition. However, unlike drug and alcohol addictions, people cannot choose to completely avoid work forever, so recovery can be a challenging balancing act which requires patience and understanding from employers and those around them.

However, some employers are under the false impression that workaholics make great employees. After all, they are willing to put in long hours, work weekends and put work ahead of everything else. What employer would not want that in an employee? And to make matters worse, our culture of rewarding hard work and commending those who clock in extra hours can contribute to the problem and reinforce the addiction.

But workaholism is not the same as someone who is simply a hard worker and dedicated and is definitely not a good thing for your business.

How does workaholism differ from simply being ‘hardworking’?

Part of what makes workaholism so difficult to spot is that it can often be mistaken for a hard worker. However, it involves a lot more than just working long hours or being highly ambitious.

What makes someone a work addict is evident in the psychological and physical impact it has on them, which is significant and damaging to their lives and health. Regardless of the number of hours worked, workaholics are unable to psychologically detach from work which can lead to chronic stress.

What are the negative consequences of workaholism?

Work addiction can have a whole host of negative consequences on the individual, as well as your team and wider business.

Workaholics experience high levels of stress, which can lead to sleep problems, depression, severe anxiety, poorer functioning outside of work, and more work-family conflicts. All of this has been linked to poor psychological wellbeing, reduced perceived health and happiness, and lower self-reported work performance.

Here are just some of the wider implications workaholism could have on the team and business:

Imbalance in team dynamics

Workaholics can upset team dynamics. Others may feel resentful of the workaholic for being seen as more dedicated than they are. It could also lead to them trying to ‘catch up’ and match their unrealistic workloads.

Higher staff turnover

A workaholic manager may drive away valuable employees by making unreasonable demands. This will also result in additional costs to the employer by needing to rehire and retrain new employees.

Lack of creativity and innovation

Someone who struggles to switch off, take breaks, and make time for personal hobbies and relaxation may be stifling their creative side. This can lead to a lack of creative thinking and innovation in their work.

Long-term sickness

Along with the physical symptoms of chronic stress that can cause sickness, the person with the addiction is very likely to experience burnout at some point, potentially resulting in long-term absence.

Reduced productivity

Believe it or not, workaholism doesn’t equate to higher productivity. Many work addicts may struggle to strike the balance between quantity and quality of work and may spend more time trying to stay busy rather than effectively organising their time. They may also spend long hours at their desk in a mental fog because they are too exhausted to function at full capacity.

How can you spot signs in your employees?

Spotting the signs of workaholism in others, and even yourself, can be challenging, but it’s not impossible if you actively look out for the red flags.

Firstly, you may notice your employee consistently works beyond their scheduled hours. But most importantly, it’s not just the number of hours worked, it’s if they do this even when it’s unnecessary. For example, it may be reasonable for someone to work overtime if there is a looming deadline, or an unusually busy period. But if they work late or come in early even when there is no real pressure to, this is a warning sign that they may be a workaholic.

Other signs to look out for:

  • They demand perfection and unreasonably high standards from themselves or others

  • Regularly work during holidays or not use their holiday allowance at all

  • They may hoard work by taking on many projects, often more than they can handle

  • Failure to delegate or share work

  • Often work through lunch

  • Put tremendous pressure on themselves to work quickly and meet unrealistic deadlines

While many of these aren’t signs on their own, when you notice a regular pattern of negative habits, it can signify a work addiction.

Of course, there are many more symptoms that can impact someone’s personal life which may not be visible to you as their manager, but if you have reason to believe they are suffering from work addiction, it’s important to sit down with them and discuss your concerns sensitively and confidentially. If you are unsure on how to broach the topic, always check with your HR team first.

As a manager, you are not expected to be an expert in this matter, nor should you attempt to diagnose someone with an addiction, but it’s important to highlight your concerns about the behaviours you have witnessed, and signpost where they can go for more help should they wish to.

To help you, we've recreated the Workaholics Anonymous official self-assessment questions as a pdf you can email to your employees. It lists 20 questions that will help gauge if someone may have a work addiction. You should encourage employees to complete this in their own time, and if they feel they may have a problem, you can signpost them to their general practitioner or local mental health team.

Download the questions here.

Remember, workaholism is a serious illness that can have a major impact on the individual as well as the team, and managers should be mindful of the signs and take care not to encourage workaholism by rewarding unhealthy work practices.

If you are seeking a talented professional to join your team, or seeking a new opportunity yourself, get in touch with one of our specialist consultants today.

You may also be interested in

Tackling hiring fraud guidance – free download
3 mins read

Tackling hiring fraud guidance – free download

Hiring fraud is an insidious practice that undermines trust and poses significant financial and reputational risks for businesses. As employers strive to find the right talent, they must remain vigilant against fraudulent activities that can tarnish their operations and brand integrity.

Hiring fraud manifests in various forms, from falsified credentials and fabricated work histories to identity theft and impersonation. These tactics often deceive even the most astute recruiters, leading to the unwitting employment of unqualified or dishonest individuals. The consequences can be dire, ranging from decreased productivity and morale to legal liabilities and damage to company reputation.

Detecting fraudulent applications has become increasingly challenging. However, employers can use several strategies to safeguard their recruitment processes.

Most recently, Reed has contributed to the first guidance of its kind to help organisations protect their recruitment practices. ‘Tackling hiring fraud: the response to a growing problem’ serves as a frontline tool in the battle against fraudulent hiring activity.

Steps to a secure hiring process

The guide, fronted by the Better Hiring Institute, identifies nine types of fraudulent activity: reference fraud, qualification fraud, fake application documents, CV-based fraud, employment scams, manipulation of artificial intelligence, dual employment, immigration fraud and fraud as a result of recruitment agency usage. Each is addressed in detail with case studies and expert guidance on prevention.

As a rule, thorough background checks are indispensable. Employers should verify the authenticity of educational qualifications, professional certifications, and employment histories provided by candidates. Utilising reputable background screening services, such as Reed Screening, can help uncover discrepancies and ensure that prospective hires possess the credentials they claim.

Identity verification measures are essential. Adopting biometric authentication or identity verification technologies will help, reducing the likelihood of impersonation and identity theft.

Stringent interview processes can also serve as a deterrent against fraudulent candidates. Conducting multiple rounds of interviews, including in-person assessments, and soliciting detailed responses can identify genuine candidates from impostors.

Technology can automate and streamline recruitment processes. Candidate tracking systems equipped with fraud detection algorithms can flag irregularities in applications, adding a further layer of protection.

It can also help to raise awareness of hiring fraud with your employees – encouraging them to report suspicious activities and provide avenues for whistleblowing. Providing guidance on how to spot red flags can have a ripple effect, protecting both the business and employees from falling victim to fraud in their career.

Protect your business with our hiring fraud guidance – free download

Technology has enabled criminals to take advantage of traditional recruitment processes, and organisations must adapt if they are to avoid CV fraud, employment scams, manipulation of AI tools and many more tactics.

Reed Screening, together with Better Hiring Institute and other partners, have defined hiring fraud as any fraud committed during the hiring process, which may be committed by an individual against an organisation, or by an entity against a jobseeker.

This comprehensive guide, ‘Tackling hiring fraud: the response to a growing problem’, identifies how employers can protect their organisations, using expert advice on how to prevent the most common criminal activity.

"Employers should be very worried about hiring fraud. At Reed Screening, we have made huge progress over the last few years in making hiring faster globally, including being referenced by UK government for our work on digital right to work. However, with the development of technology and improvements in the speed of hiring, we have seen an acceleration and amplification of fraud."

Keith Rosser
Director of Group Risk & Reed Screening – Reed

The new Better Hiring Institute free guide on tackling hiring fraud, co-written by Reed Screening and Cifas, contains a really useful checklist for HRDs (human resources directors) and CPOs (chief people officers) to use to ensure the company they represent has all the right defences in place.

Download our free hiring fraud guidance to help safeguard your organisation using the button at the top of this page.

Hiring fraud: how to safeguard your organisation
6 mins read
  1. Article

Hiring fraud: how to safeguard your organisation

​To combat the rising tide of hiring fraud, Reed Screening recently joined forces with the Better Hiring Institute and fraud prevention experts Cifas and ST Smith, to launch guidance for employers. This free, comprehensive eBook is now available to download and provides the latest insight into the gravity and scale of threat facing organisations today.

Complete with case studies highlighting common criminal activity, such as resume fraud and employment scams, the guidance offers solutions to counter these tech-based crimes, helping to protect your recruitment teams from falling victim to imposters and impersonators.

We spoke to Keith Rosser, Director of Group Risk & Reed Screening – Reed, about the new guide, Tackling hiring fraud: the response to a growing problem.