In modern day work environments organizations often require their employees to be proactive, show initiative, collaborate effectively with co-workers, be committed to professional development, and pursue high quality performance standards (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008). With the recent economic recession, downsizings and restructurings, and increased job insecurity for a lot of people, employees often want to invest increasing amount of time and effort into their work (Selmer & Waldstrom, 2007).

In addition, technological developments (laptops, smartphones, etc.) are enabling employees to work anytime, anywhere; which certainly blurs the lines between work and home life (Jones, Burke, & Westman, 2006). Long hours and stress at work has been linked to sleep deprivation, decline in neurocognitive and physiological functioning, impaired performance, increased risk of illness and injuries and decreased well-being (Caruso, 2006). Moreover, working overtime also increases exposure to workplace demands and hazards as well as decreases leisure time, time with family and for recovery (Dahlgren, & Kecklund, & Akerstedt, 2006). 

Workaholism has been defined as a syndrome characterized by an obsession with one’s work that leads to working excessively hard and dedicating an extraordinary amount of time to work (Schaufeli, Taris, & Bakker, 2008). It is positively associated with working longer hours than one is contractually required to, taking work home and working during weekends and holidays (Schaufeli, Taris, & Bakker, 2006). It could be argued that certain organizational contexts promote workaholism. Companies that value and promote working long hours and the willingness to sacrifice other life domains to achieve success in one’s career, might foster workaholism. Workaholism includes a behavioral dimension (working excessively) and a cognitive dimension (working compulsively). Workaholics feel compelled to work a lot due to their inner compulsion (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008). Such people do this in order to prevent the tension, restlessness, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness that arise when they do not work. From this point of view, personality traits and characteristics also play a major role in workaholism.

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Workaholism and Personality Traits

There is some empirical evidence that workaholics are more likely to be rigid, perfectionistic and achievement-oriented than non-workaholics (Goodman, 2006). 

Achievement-oriented traits represent a major contributor to workaholism. Achievement motivation is defined as the need to accomplish difficult objectives, establish ambitious goals that require overcoming obstacles, think and act quickly and independently, compete with and surpass other people by working really hard, and achieve immediate recognition and reward for one’s efforts (Ng et al., 2007). So achievement-oriented workaholics are characterized by a competitive personality, intense desire for success and a strong career identity. They work excessively and have a strong drive. As a result, however, they are likely to become physically and psychologically exhausted and their behavior may affect their work and personal relationships negatively (Patel, Bowler, Bowler, & Methe, 2012).

Perfectionism is probably the most well-known predictor of workaholism. Perfectionist workaholics report an extraordinary need for orderliness, control, and a great obsession with deficits. They are also unwilling to delegate tasks to others, because they have a hard time trusting that others will be able to meet their incredibly high work standards (Burke, Davis, & Flett, 2008). Their workaholic behaviors are often motivated by the perceived gap between their performance expectations and their self-evaluation of current performance (Clark, Lelchook, & Taylor, 2010). Perfectionism can be divided into two groups – self-directed and socially prescribed. Self-directed perfectionist set high personal standards, while socially prescribed perfectionists are concerned over mistakes. It is the latter group that is associated with workaholism primarily (Taris, van Beek, & Schaufeli, 2010).

Conscientiousness, a personality trait entailing a sense of duty and responsibility, industriousness, and perseverance, is also associated with workaholism (Bozionelos, 2004). Such a person has high levels of self-control, and spends time and energy planning, organizing and carrying out tasks (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Employees characterized by high levels of conscientiousness report higher levels of drive, which is related to the inner compulsion to work excessively hard (Burke, Matthiesen, & Pallesen, 2006).

Self-efficacy is the extent to which employees believe in their own capabilities to organize and implement actions to achieve results (Bandura, 1977). Higher levels of self-efficacy are related to a greater degree of workaholism (Spence & Robbins, 1992). If employees believe that they are better skilled to handle work-related activities than extrawork activities, they may devote much more time to work activities in order to avoid other activities they are less skilled at (Ng et al., 2007). 

In summary, achievement motivation, perfectionism, conscientiousness, and self-efficacy significantly predispose employees to become workaholics.

Organizational Factors

Organizational factors also play a crucial role in the development of workaholism. Workaholism tends to be particularly prevalent in work environments characterized by a masculine culture that encourages employees to be competitive, power-hungry, task-oriented, and afraid of failure (Ng et al., 2007). This type of culture promotes workaholic behaviors by setting no limits on excessive work habits and valuing a “winner takes all” mentality. So employees who work long hours and compete with peers for rewards receive recognition and career advancement opportunities (Burke, 2001). In addition, when employees perceive work climate to be highly demanding in terms of productivity and time, it encourages them to devote extraordinary amount of time and energy to the organization, thus potentially developing workaholism. The perception of an overwork climate is often endorsed by the presence of executives and managers who encourage overtime and expect employees to comply with it (Van Wijhe, Schaufeli, & Peeters, 2010). Managers also contribute to employees’ climate perceptions by providing directions in terms of where the employees should focus their skills and efforts in order to attain organizational goals (Schneider, Gunnarson, & Niles-Jolly, 1994). Workaholism may be fostered in an organizational climate where employees believe that in order to achieve success and career advancement they need to work beyond normal work hours, take work home, and work during weekends and holidays.

To sum up, this particular kind of work environment may foster workaholism in employees especially those who possess the four main personality traits discussed above. 

Workaholism References

Mazzetti, G., Schaufeli, W.B., & Guglielmi, D. (2014). Are workaholics born or made? Relations of workaholism with person characteristics and overwork climate. International Journal of Stress Management, 3, 227-254.

Bakker, A. B., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2008). Positive organizational behavior: Engaged employees in flourishing organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 147–154.

Selmer, J., & Waldstrøm, C. (2007). Work values of surviving and non-surviving managers during economic recession. The Career Development International, 12, 433–445. 

Jones, F., Burke, R. J., & Westman, M. (2006). Work-life balance: Key issues. In F. Jones, R. J. Burke, & M. Westman (Eds.), Work-life balance: A psychological perspective (pp. 1–9). East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press.

Caruso, C. C. (2006). Possible broad impacts of long work hours. Industrial Health, 44, 531–536. 

Dahlgren, A., Kecklund, G., & Akerstedt, T. (2006). Overtime work and its effects on sleep, sleepiness, cortisol and blood pressure in an experimental field study. Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, 32, 318–327. 

Schaufeli, W. B., Taris, T. W., & Bakker, A. B. (2008). It takes two to tango: Workaholism is working excessively and working compulsively. In R. J. Burke & C. L. Cooper, The long work hours culture: Causes, consequences and choices (pp. 203–226). Bingley, UK: Emerald.

Schaufeli, W. B., Taris, T. W., & Bakker, A. B. (2006). Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde? On the differences between work engagement and workaholism. In R. Burke (Ed.), Research companion to working time and work addiction (pp. 193–217). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

Goodman, B. (2006). A field guide to the workaholic. Psychology Today, 39, 40–41.

Ng, T. W. H., Sorensen, K., & Feldman, D. (2007). Dimensions, antecedents, and consequences of workaholism: A conceptual integration and extension. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 28, 111–136. 

Patel, A. S., Bowler, M. C., Bowler, J. L., & Methe, S. A. (2012). A meta-analysis of workaholism. International Journal of Business and Management, 7, 2–17. 

Burke, R. J., Davis, R. A., & Flett, G. L. (2008). Workaholism types, perfectionism and work outcomes. The Journal of Industrial Relations and Human Resources, 10, 30–40. 

Clark, M. A., Lelchook, A. M., & Taylor, M. L. (2010). Beyond the Big Five: How narcissism, perfectionism, and dispositional affect relate to workaholism. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 786–791. 

Taris, T. W., van Beek, I., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2010). Why do perfectionists have a higher burnout risk than others? The mediational effect of workaholism. Romanian Journal of Applied Psychology, 12, 1–7.

Bozionelos, N. (2004). The Big Five of personality and work involvement. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 19, 69–81. 

Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 44, 1–26. 

Burke, R. J., Matthiesen, S., & Pallesen, S. (2006). Personality correlates of workaholism. Personality and Individual Differences, 40, 1223–1233. 

Spence, J. T., & Robbins, A. S. (1992). Workaholism: Definition, measurement, and preliminary results. Journal of Personality Assessment, 58, 160 –178. 

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191–215. 

Burke, R. J. (2001). Workaholism in organizations: The role of organizational values. Personnel Review, 30, 637–645. 

Van Wijhe, C. I., Schaufeli, W. B., & Peeters, M. C. W. (2010). Understanding and treating workaholism: Setting the stage for successful interventions. In R. J. Burke and C. L. Cooper (Eds.), Risky business: Psychological, physical and financial costs of high risk behaviour in organizations (pp. 107–134). Farnham, UK: Gower Publishing.

Schneider, B., Gunnarson, S. K., & Niles-Jolly, K. (1994). Creating the climate and culture of success. Organizational Dynamics, 23, 17–29.