By Rick Dandes
Work is a huge part of our national identity, said a Bucknell professor of business management, on Thursday.
But workaholics carry that concept to another level.
A workaholic is addicted to work, but there are many components to the definition, said Vivienne Wildes, a professor in Bucknell’s Freeman College of Management.
“A component is how you are raised,” she said. “Your work ethic.”
Contributing to it is the advent of emails and now texting. “Since 1992, we’ve become a 24/7 society.”
A new survey finds that about half of employed Americans, 48 percent, consider themselves modern-day workaholics.
Commissioned by The Vision Council, the survey of 2,000 employees showed the average American works four hours a week for free, and burns another four hours just thinking about their job.
More than half, 53 percent, admitted they were stressed out from work while completing the survey.
So what is a workaholic according to the survey?
Researchers found that worrying about work on an off day, feeling too busy to take a vacation and checking emails immediately after waking up (something 58 percent of the respondents say they do) were the top three symptoms of suffering from workaholism.
But nearly three in ten people (28 percent) say their job obsession is more than just a strong desire to succeed — it stems from financial necessity.
The survey also showed just how much the modern workaholic is looking at a computer, phone, or other digital device. The average participant was found to log 7.5 hours of screen time daily, although 35 percent say they spend more than nine hours each day focused on a screen.
Some companies are more aware of the potential for burnout, explained Lonnie Golden, professor of economics, Penn State University. Golden has written several papers on the subject of workaholism, and its affects on both workers and the companies they work for.
“Companies that are focused on ‘gotta get this done by Friday’ might not be thinking about the long term effect on employees,” he said.
“One of the things we’ve seen at companies, at least with their professional and managerial employees is that they are generous with time off, but less generous about allowing them to use it,” he said. “That is a situation where time off is available, but not realistic to actually take off the time. Those companies may not realize that they have created a culture of this.” Are those workaholics, he asks. “You have to be careful with definitions.”
“A workaholic means a person can’t stop,” Golden said. “They are addicted to it. One of the issues we see is that when people are at that stage of their career when you are putting in the long hours to achieve a promotion or a certain level of savings and yet continue with a kind of obsessive work habit. It’s an addiction if you want to keep working those long hours and long weeks more and more.”
If someone is not scaling back and the necessity for doing that extra work is gone, then it’s an addiction, Golden said. “Look, it’s not just about the long hours; long hours can have a purpose.
The survey found workaholics in increasingly large numbers among millennials. “It looks like millennials are getting a jump start on this before their time,” Golden said.
“It might have a payoff or a probability of a payoff so we can’t argue that it is totally irrational. It could be people trying to get their income level up to purchase a house or other assets or afford college for kids. Not everything is workaholism. But the fact that it has creeped into the younger ages is surprising, and maybe concerning.”
Workaholism has negative spillover, Golden said, even if overtime work is compensated for and advances a career. “We find it takes away from family, time with kids, household production, it saps energy, it disrupts sleep patterns. It wears people down.”