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Workaholism and Employee Well-Being

The term workaholism, patterned after the word alcoholism, first appeared in a book by Oates (1971) in which he described workaholism as a compulsive or uncontrollable need to work incessantly, resulting in negative consequences. Research has yielded mixed results in relation to the impact workaholism can have on people’s lives. Some authors view workaholism in positive terms (Machlowitz, 1980), while others view it in negative terms (Robinson, 1998). This study focused on the relationship between workaholism and health and well-being. An online, self report questionnaire, which included the Workaholism Battery (Spence & Robbins, 1992), was completed by 136 employees throughout New Zealand. Additional measures included work→family conflict, family→work conflict, family satisfaction, anxiety/depression, social dysfunction, positive psychological well-being, negative psychological well-being and physical health symptoms. Participants were classified into one of six groups, consisting of the enthusiastic workaholics, unenthusiastic workaholics, unengaged workers, disenchanted workers, work enthusiasts and relaxed workers. The unenthusiastic workaholics and the enthusiastic workaholics made up the “workaholic” group, and the unengaged workers, disenchanted workers, work enthusiasts and relaxed workers made up the “non-workaholic” group. The main finding of this study was that there were few differences between workaholics and non-workaholics in relation to family→work conflict, family satisfaction, positive psychological well-being, negative psychological well-being, anxiety/depression, social dysfunction and physical health symptoms. The only difference between the workaholics and non-workaholics was that enthusiastic workaholics reported significantly higher levels of work→family conflict compared to relaxed workers. Another important finding of this study was that different types of workaholics reported significantly different levels of psychological well-being. Unenthusiastic workaholics reported significantly lower levels of positive psychological well-being, and significantly higher levels of negative psychological well-being compared to the enthusiastic workaholics. These results suggest that, with the exception of the comparatively low levels of psychological well-being the unenthusiastic workaholics reported in relation to the enthusiastic workaholics, workaholism may not be as harmful as previously thought. They also provide support for the continued differentiation of multiple types of workaholics, as the unenthusiastic workaholics and the enthusiastic workaholics differed significantly on their reported levels of psychological well-being. Having an excessive drive to work was significantly associated with poor health and well-being, whereas enjoyment of work was associated significantly with high positive levels of health and well-being. Work involvement was much more inconsistently related to health and well-being. On this basis, it may be inferred that excessive drive to work may be the harmful element in workaholism as it produces negative health and lifestyle outcomes, while enjoyment may be a productive factor. Finally, a number of significant relationships were found between the health and well-being variables, suggesting that an individual’s physical, mental and emotional health might be related to one another. The present data suggests that differentiation between different types of workaholics is important. The present data also challenges the negative stereotype of workaholism, and emphasises the importance of developing strategies to better manage workaholism within the workplace.
Type of thesis
Horton, T. E. (2011). Workaholism and Employee Well-Being (Thesis, Master of Applied Psychology (MAppPsy)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/5758
University of Waikato
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