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The workaholism syndrome: an emerging issue in the psychological literature.

The present paper provides a concise overview of the "workaholism syndrome." This includes a discussion of workaholism from an addiction perspective, it's overall components and consequences, and a conceptual framework. Suggestions are offered for effective strategies to confront and mediate the onerous impact of workaholism.


The construct of "workaholism" has received limited, systematic attention within I-O psychology. Although studies on workaholism rose after the development of the Work Addiction RiskTest (Robinson, 1999) and the Workaholic Triad (Spence & Robbins, 1992), much research in this area is theoretical in nature and exists in popular magazines, books, and in clinical, counseling-related journals. This state of affairs is a bit surprising since workaholism can impact diverse areas of human functioning at the individual, family, organizational, and societal levels (e.g., Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2006). Here, we provide a brief synopsis of workaholism from an addiction perspective, its general features and consequences, a conceptual framework for the "workaholic syndrome" and suggestions for organizational strategies to confront workaholism.

Workaholism as an Addiction

Many writers have conceptualized workaholism as having addictive features (e.g., Robinson, 1989). The theoretical underpinnings of work addiction have, at its core, similar, dynamic features with other addictions such as alcoholism (e.g., Porter, 1996). This approach to workaholism was echoed by Robinson who stated that "Work addiction is an addiction in the same way that alcoholism is an addiction. Progressive in nature, it is an unconscious attempt to resolve unmet psychological needs that have roots in the family of origin and can lead to unmanageable life, family disintegration, serious health problems, and even death" (Robinson, 2000 p. 34). Other maladies associated with workaholism in this framework include obsessive-compulsiveness, perfectionism, and Type A behavior (e.g., Mudrack, 2004).

The Workaholism Syndrome

The portrayal of workaholism as a developmental and progressive process with dysfunctional features was recently illustrated by Piotrowski and Vodanovich (2006). One of the basic tenets of this model is that workaholic behaviors are a set of progressive, maladaptive behaviors that worsen over time. In the early developmental stages, workaholic behaviors, which emanate from a combination of individual factors (e.g., personality traits), home/family characteristics (e.g. roles, responsibilities), and internal and external stressors, do not typically interfere with everyday functioning. Nevertheless, as time progresses, the combination of various individual and work-related factors combine and lead to more frequent and intense workaholic behaviors. At this point, work becomes and increasing basis of reinforcement for the workaholic individual and both work and non-work environments begin to noticeably decline. Eventually, workaholic behaviors spiral out of control and become dysfunctional, and lapse into the full-blown Workaholism Syndrome. At this stage, the impact of workaholism can become severe and substantially impact the physical and psychological well-being of individual employees, their families, and co-workers. These most common correlates of workaholic behaviors reported in the literature are heightened levels of job stress (e .g., Taris, Schaufeli, & Verhoven, 2005) and work-family conflict (Burke, 1999), although others have been identified and are noted below.

* Increased health symptoms (physical and psychological)

* Job stress/burnout

* Work-family conflict

* Teamwork problems (competition, unrealistic standards)

* Job performance decrements (e.g., busy work)

* Withdrawal from family interactions

* Communication difficulties

* Low life satisfaction

* Lack of enjoyment of leisure time

Organizational Interventions

Many researchers have discussed how workaholism can be addressed by organizations and consultants (e.g., Porter, 1996). However, such efforts can be offset by the fact that workaholic behaviors are often rewarded by organizations. Another confounding issue is the contention that whole organizations can be considered as manifesting workaholic characteristics (e.g., Spurell, 1987; Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2006). Finally, as in the case for all successful interventions, it is imperative to convince upper-level management that workaholism can pose serious threats to the health of their organizations.

So, what can managers and professionals do to reduce the extent and detrimental impact of workaholism? Some suggestions are listed below which include assessment efforts, structural changes in job duties and incentive systems, as well as training and treatment options.

* Identify employees who show a penchant for workaholism

* Assess the extent of workaholism within organizations (Is workaholism a problem within the company?)

* Reestablish work priorities, alter job schedules, assure that workaholics leave work at designated times (managers can play a vital role here)

* Develop training programs (e.g., assist employees to acquire outside interests, learn stress and/or time management strategies)

* Establish organizational values and culture that emphasize the importance of better work-life balance

* Offer incentives for work-family balance

* Discourage perfectionism in work assignments

* Provide opportunities for individual, group and/or family counseling


Burke, R. J. (1999). Workaholism and extra-work satisfaction. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 7, 352-364.

Mudrack, P. E. (2004). Job involvement, obsessive-compulsive personality traits, and workaholic behavioral tendencies. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 17, 490-508.

Piotrowski, C., & Vodanovich, S. J. (2006). The interface between workaholism and work-family conflict: A review and conceptual framework. Organization Development Journal, 24(4), 84-92.

Porter, G. (1996). Organizational impact of workaholism: Suggestions for researching the negative outcomes of excessive work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1, 70-84.

Robinson, B. E. (1989). Work addiction. Dearfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.

Robinson, B. E. (1999). The Work Addiction Risk Test: Development of a tentative measure of workaholism. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88, 199-210.

Robinson, B. E. (2000). A typology of workaholics with implications for counselors. Journal of Addictions and Offender Counseling, 21, 34-48.

Spruell, G. (1987). Work fever. Training and Development Journal, 41, 41-45.

Taris, T. W., Schaufeli, W. B., & Verhoeven, L. C. (2005). Workaholism in the Netherlands: Measurement and implications for job strain and work-non-work conflict. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54, 37-60.

Vodanovich, S. J., & Piotrowski, C. (2006). Workaholism: A critical but neglected factor in O.D. Organization Development Journal, 24(2), 55-61.

Chris Piotrowski and Stephen J. Vodanovich, University of West Florida.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Chris Piotrowski at
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Article Details
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Author:Piotrowski, Chris; Vodanovich, Stephen J.
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Article Type:Disease/Disorder overview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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