Workaholism: The addiction of this century

by Walter Wehus
Using the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, researchers from the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway have measured work addiction among workers in Norway. Credit: Colourbox

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 has been the first to assess workaholism in a nationally representative sample.

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.

Measuring work addiction

Schou Andreassen is no stranger to this type of research, having previously developed an instrument to measure 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 :

  • 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 per cent 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 responsibility 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 per cent of the general work population seems to suffer from workaholism underlines the need for proper treatment and other relevant interventions," says Cecilie Schou Andreassen.

More information: Andreassen, C. S., Griffiths, M. D., Hetland, J., Kravina, L., Jensen, F., & Pallesen, S. The prevalence of workaholism: A survey study in a nationally representative sample of Norwegian employees. PLOS ONE. www.plosone.org/article/info%3… journal.pone.0102446

Related Stories

New method to measure work addiction

date Apr 23, 2012

Researchers from Norway and the United Kingdom have developed a new instrument to measure work addiction: The Bergen Work Addiction Scale. The new instrument is based on core elements of addiction that are ...

Bosses use private social media more than staff

date Jun 30, 2014

Managers are more negative about the use of social media for private purposes in the workplace compared to subordinates. Still, top managers are the ones who use private social media most during working hours.

New research about Facebook addiction

date May 07, 2012

Are you a social media enthusiast or simply a Facebook addict?Researchers from Norway have developed a new instrument to measure Facebook addiction, the Bergen Facebook Addiction Scale.

Recommended for you

The new normal? Addressing gun violence in America

date 12 hours ago

Article Spotlight features summaries written in collaboration with authors of recently published articles by the Journals Program of the American Psychological Association. The articles are nominated by the editors as noteworthy ...

Demi Lovato gets vocal about mental illness

date 16 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Demi Lovato huddled in the back of her tour bus, eyes wet with tears as she watched a horde of fans streaming into the venue where she was about to play.

Acquiring 'perfect' pitch may be possible for some adults

date 16 hours ago

If you're a musician, this sounds too good to be true: University of Chicago psychologists have been able to train some adults to develop the prized musical ability of absolute pitch, and the training's effects ...

How men and women see each other when online dating

date 18 hours ago

In the world of online dating, nothing is as it seems. But that doesn't stop many of us from leaping to the wrong conclusions about people. A recent paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.