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Working too Much: Hard Worker or Workaholic?


Being a hard worker is a valued quality, and today’s technology certainly makes it easier to be more connected to work at any time or place.


For some people, work can become an all-encompassing focus and overtake other aspects of their life. Workaholism is not a condition formally defined as a mental disorder or addiction — it is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Workaholism, however, does share a number of characteristics with other forms of addiction.

Workaholism has been defined as “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and to investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas.” 1 People can become so overly focused on work that other aspects of their lives become unimportant and suffer – lost relationships, compromised family life and health consequences. Malissa Clark, Ph.D, a researcher with the University of Georgia, notes that: "Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction." 2 Also, despite their focus on work, workaholics are less productive than other employees. 2

What’s the difference between someone who is a hard worker, engaged in their work, and a workaholic? One study puts it this way: a hard worker has pleasure in his/her job, benefits from leisure time and maintains a quality of life; a workaholic is a prisoner of compulsive behavior, has negative consequences for mental and physical health, for social and familial relationships and for work performance itself. 3

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A recent study looked at the relationship between workaholism and psychiatric disorders. 1 Researchers wanted to identify risk factors for workaholism. The study looked at data on more than 16,000 workers and found about 8 percent met the definition of workaholic. This is in line with previous research with estimates from 5 to 25 percent of workers being workaholics.

People with higher education, those with managerial jobs and those self-employed are more likely to have symptoms of workaholism. Older adults are less likely to be considered workaholics than younger adults.

They found correlations between people with symptoms of several psychiatric disorder symptoms and people with workaholism. For example, looking specifically at the relationship between ADHD and workaholism, they found 33 percent of workaholics met the screening criteria for ADHD compared to about 13 percent of non-workaholics. The researchers speculate several reasons people with ADHD would be more likely to be workaholics related to ADHD characteristics of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Inattention may mean it takes longer for people with ADHD than others to complete work and they need to work extra to make up. Impulsivity may lead them to taking on tasks beyond what they can handle and a hyperactive nature may lead to the need to stay busy and keep working to help address restless thoughts and behaviors.

The study also found an association between workaholism and symptoms of depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Cognitive behavior therapy is typically the approach used to help someone with workaholism rebalance a life that is overly focused on work.


  1. Andreasen CS, et al. The Relationships between Workaholism and Symptoms of Psychiatric Disorders: A Large-Scale Cross-Sectional Study. PLOS ONE. 2016
  2. Flurry, A. All work and no play: UGA study examines psychology of workaholism. UGA Today. 2014.
  3. Sheen, A. Workaholism, another form of addiction. Revue medicale de liege. 2013.


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