Organizations Health

Workaholism: work addiction

adicción al trabajo

Workaholism or work addiction occurs when a person is excessively involved in his or her working life, and may become a danger to his health, well-being and personal happiness, personal relationships or social functioning. A workaholic has an irresistible need or impulse to work constantly.

One of the biggest drawbacks in preventing this addiction is that unlike other addictions, addiction to work has been mistakenly regarded as a clean addiction. Society has positively valued intense dedication to work, which was associated with a good sense of responsibility, success and power. This good social reputation came to be seen by some authors as a positive behavior that gave rise to economic, social, self-fulfillment and personal satisfaction. Do not confuse the realization of more hours by the needs of the company to the addiction to work. The addict ends by leaving aside his personal activities with negative consequences in the family, social and playful.

Some authors indicate that an addict dedicates at least 50 hours a week to work but the fact of doing more or less hours is not the trigger of this problem, but their attitude towards the work activity that often trigger overvalued ideas about money, Power and personal success. The addict, little by little, as with other addictions (such as drugs) is feeling less satisfied with work (he would need more), less satisfaction with life in general (work is what fills him up) and will end up Physical and psychological health problems.

Types of workaholism.

The triad of addiction

Authors Spence and Robbins (1992) define addiction to work from the concept of addiction triad. They understand that addiction is composed of three dimensions:

  1. Involvement with work: dedication to work.
  2. Feeling of being motivated: compulsion to work.
  3. Enjoy work: pleasure that the person feels to work.

Based on these three elements they developed a questionnaire for the evaluation of the work addiction denominated WorkBAT (workalcoholism batery) and found that there were three typologies of workaholics or workers:

  • Addicts: high score on involvement in work and motivation for work, but low score on enjoyment.
  • Enthusiasts: These types of people score high on involvement and enjoyment but low on compulsion to work.
  • Enthusiastic addicts: they are the people who score high on all three elements.

From these works it is concluded that in order to be able to talk about addiction to work two main components have to be given:

Excessive work: to work many more hours than the work situation requires, to take work from home, to work weekends, during holidays and even when sick. The latter is called labor presentism.
Compulsive work: it is the subjective part of addiction. It corresponds to the obsessive thoughts about the work even if it is not in person or in working hours.

>> Recommended Article: 7 Basic Motivations of Employees

Risk factors for workaholism.

Personality and addiction to work.

The predominant personality traits of the addicted to work can be summarized in the following:

  • Obsessive compulsive personality. Compulsive-dependent addicts experience high levels of anxiety, stress, and physical and psychological problems. Their actual performance at work is often low, as is their overall satisfaction with life.
  • Achievement orientation. They are usually people who are satisfied with their lives and work in good health. Work performance is positive but correlates negatively with work stress and absenteeism.
  • Perfectionism. The perfectionist addict is given when the person can not perform his work with the levels of control over the same that he desires. He tends to experience stress, health problems, hostile interpersonal relationships, and high absenteeism. Their performance and satisfaction are low as they invest too much time in unnecessary details.
  • Sense of responsibility. Related to reliability, punctuality, planning, etc.


Men, with management positions, self-employed persons and those who work in challenging occupations (engineer, doctor, etc.) suffer from a higher proportion of work addiction. High economic rewards and social recognition act as reinforcers.

Personal values.

Work has a life role and is the center of personal identity. They are those people who live by and to self-actualize as a professional in a specific area, which pursues from their studies and ideals. People who prioritize these aspects to having a family, for example.

Pattern of Conduct Type A.

The Type A behavior pattern (PCTA, Friedman and Rosenman, 1974) is a risk factor for work addiction. These people struggle excessively and consistently to achieve as many achievements as possible despite the opinions of others. Some of the characteristics of people addicted to working with PCTA are:

  • Impatience.
  • Hostility.
  • Little appreciation or distortion of the achievements, results or ideas of others.
  • Expression in self-referential terms (I, I and I).
  • Arrogant assertions.
  • Superimplication and overcommitment with the organization that are part.

People addicted to work with pattern A are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, work-related accidents, inappropriate behavior, unclear goals, impulsive and energetic. They tend to be people who really have low self-esteem and are less assertive, hence their predominance of emotional expressions of anger and anger.

Job satisfaction and ex-work.

Addicts are often dissatisfied with their salary, family, social life, peers or superiors than non-addicts. However he shows great satisfaction with his work in general.

Family and work addiction.

As with other types of addiction, if there is a history of work addiction in the family environment, this behavior will be learned by vicarious learning (observation) as an ideal. They understand that work is what justifies life. At the same time, people living in conflictive homes may find work and escape and shelter, spending long hours working unnecessarily.

Organization and work addiction.

The characteristics of the organization where the work is carried out can lead to such problems. The organizational culture that promotes and even rewards its employees for long hours of work produces a snowball effect that infects the entire structure. The labor demands that require a great physical, mental and emotional effort have challenging goals for the employees who will be overburdened with work, pressured for the delivery of their tasks on date, etc. In this sense, personal autonomy is a risk factor for the development of an addiction to work. Freelancers, freelancers and freelancers are therefore more at risk of this labor problem than wage earners.

Consequences of addiction to work.

In the short term the performance, job satisfaction and professional development of workaholics is positive but it is often accompanied by the loss of satisfaction for other pleasurable activities. However, it is not uncommon to find job addicts who hold positions of responsibility above their studies, for example, because of their work without distractions.

The most negative consequences are long term. Working many hours has repercussions on performance due to the short time to recover after physical and mental effort. Usually these people sleep less and sleep deprivation affects performance (doctors who fall asleep in operations) and produces greater accidents at work. The body has a limit. These facts contribute to increase work-related stress and the appearance of burnout in a greater proportion of other non-addicted workers.

In addition, if we accept all the projects that come to us, it will reduce our creative capacity and our way of thinking.

Addicted people are also less likely to delegate roles so peers may feel under-appreciated in the organization, leading to internal conflict and confrontation. The addict will end up being independent to the rest which will go to the detriment of the own organization.

The family impact and interpersonal relationships of addiction to work is evident. Children want their parents to work fewer hours. Maybe that’s your best Christmas present.

Death from overwork.

In Japan they have their own word to define death by overwork: Karoshi. I recommend you read this article to know more about this phenomenon >> Karoshi: die working (literally).




Del Líbano. (2011). A Journey into the Heart of Workaholism: empirical findings from several multi-sample studies. Tesis doctoral, Universitat Jaume I, Castellón. 

Moriano León J.A. (2012). Adicción al trabajo. En Alcover, C.M.; Moriano J.A.; Osca A.; Topa G. Psicología del Trabajo (pp.253-283). Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia. Juan Antonio Moriano León

Spence, J. T. y Robbins, A. S. (1992). «Workaholism: Definition, Measurement, and Preliminary Results». Journal of PersonalityAssessment, 58(1), 160-178.

Iván Pico

Director y creador de Psicólogo Colegiado G-5480 entre otras cosas. Diplomado en Ciencias Empresariales y Máster en Orientación Profesional. Máster en Psicología del Trabajo y Organizaciones. Posgrado en Psicología del Deporte entre otras cosas. Visita la sección "Sobre mí" para saber más. ¿Quieres una consulta personalizada? ¡Escríbeme!

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