There a few factors that are well researched and show consistent associations with work addiction. These include:
- managarial positions,
- high job demands,
- high job stress and general stress,
- personality traits such as perfectionism, neuroticism, low global self-esteem, and Type A Personality pattern associated with competitiveness and hurry,
- parents who were addicted to work.
Most of these (especially personality and parents’ work addiction) can be reliably assumed to be risk factors because they precede work addiction. Also, it is well established that, generally, stress increases the risk of all addictions, makes them more severe, and causes relapses (going back to addiction after trying to quit it) when people are trying to cope with addictive behaviors.
However, in some cases, like in relation to managarial positions, job demands or stress, the exact causal relationship may be unsure or bidirectional. It means that being a manager and experiencing high job demands and stress may trigger work addiction, but also behaviors related to work addiction (working hard and long hours) may increase chances of obtaining managarial position and increase job demands and stress.
Several other important factors show inconistent or complex relationship with work addiction. These include:
- socioeconomic background,
- some other personality traits such as narcissism or conscientiousness.
These require more studies to establish their role in work addiction.
DEMOGRAPHIC AND WORK-RELATED FACTORS
Age, gender, education, and socioeconomic background
Firstly, it needs to be emphasised that large nationally representative epidemiological studies show that work addiction symptoms are present in certain percentage of people of all ages (from adolescents to retired populations of 65+), genders, types of education, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Work can be defined as any activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result. It means that such activities as learning/studying or house chores can be understood as work-related. As a consequence, study addiction defined as early form of work addiction is among the most prevalent addictive behaviors among adolescents (high-school students) and young adults (undergraduate and graduate students). Also, symptoms of work addiction are relateively prevalent among unemployed, homeworkers, retired and pensioners. More research is needed to understand better these different forms of addictive work-related behaviors.
Some large scale epidemiological studies suggest that work addiction tends to be less frequent among oldest age groups, and somewhat more frequent among women. Other studies do not find such differences. So far different work addiction risks related to age, gender, education and socioeconomic background need more research to establish exactly which factors increase the risk or under which circumstances they may increase such risk. It is likely that in different countries these factors may have different significance because of different work regulations, job availabilities, social policies etc. These may, for example, decrease gender and age inequalities in the workplace, and, in turn, affect work addiction risk.
Work addiction is more prevalent among managers, including low, middle and upper level management. So far, it is unclear whether being a workaholic increases chances of working in management positions or rather higher responsibilities and other factors associated with managarial functions increase the risk of work addiction. It is likely that both situations happen to some extent.
High job demands
High job demands such as work role overload or work role conflict are consistently associated with work addiction. High stress is associated with higher job demands. Stress is known to trigger, maintain, and cause relapses in addictive behaviors. Click here for more information.
A prospective study showed that job demands predict higher work addiction one year later, which suggests that high job demands may cause higher work addiction. More and more studies are investigating mechanisms by which demands and resources at work may affect work addiction, and how work addiction may affect perception of job demands, and influence organizational behaviors, as well as functioning outside work. Different factors influencing these relationships are analyzed. For example, perfectionism predicts an increase in work addiction over time in workers facing high workload.
Overall, the available studies show that high job demands are associated with work addiction, however, more studies are necessary to conclude to what extent and in which circumstances high job demands increase the risk of work addiction.
High work enjoyment
High work enjoyment may increase your risk of work addiction. Addictions often begin with initial pleasure derived from a substance or particular behavior. The initial pleasure increases probability of developing certain work-related habits which later may turn into inner compulsion.
Absorption is a characteristic of work engagement related to full concentration and happy engrossment in work, whereby time passes quickly. Those who are absorbed in work feel good and have difficulties detaching themselves from work. It may increase their risk of using work to regulate their mood. It means that they may work in order to reduce anxiety, worry, irritation, tension and other negative emotional states or to run away from thinking about their personal problems. Those who do it habitually, may increasingly depend on work to regulate their mood, and in consequence become addicted to work.
Stress is known to trigger, maintain, and cause relapses in all addictive behaviors. Work addiction is related to high job stress, and stress outside working envrionment, including related to family problems. Stress can precede work addiction and trigger it, and it may also be a consequence of work addiction, which further aggravates the problem, maintains it, and contributes to relapses.
There are two main personality traits that are consistently associated with work addiction in numerous studies in different countries:
– perfectionism, particularly rigid/dysfunctional/neurotic,
– neuroticism or emotional instability, tendency to experience negative emotional states.
Also, Type A Personality (TAP) is consistently and relatively strongly related to work addiction. It is characterized by two components: competitiveness and hurry. In fact, TAP was associated with workaholism in high profile medical literature as early as in 1970s when it was investigated as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and later when the concept of burnout was being developed. Also, some of the first definitions of work addiction refered to TAP characteristics. Today work addiction and TAP are considered to be closely associated but different phenomena.
Children of parents who are addicted to work or have high work engagement are at higher risk of being addicted to work. This may happen because of few reasons:
- social learning: meaning that children observe their parents who are completely focused on work and develop similar behaviors,
- reinforcements: children are rewarded by their parents for hard work and punished for not being productive and high achieving,
- psychological problems: studies show that children of parents who are addicted to work in comparison to children of parents who are not addicted to work show more emotional and behavioral problems, including mental health disorders; some studies even show that children of parents who are addicted to work have higher depression and parentification than children of parents addicted to alcohol; addictions often develop as a result of efforts to manage difficult emotional states so experiencing psychological problems may increase risk of developing work addiction,
- genetic factors and their potential effects on personality and mental health: so far there are no studies to investigate the genetic risk factors of work addiction so this is only a feasible theoretical hypothesis.
At present, studies established that children of parents addicted to work are more often addicted to work themselves and that they experience more psychological problems. However, the way in which parental work addiction increases the risk of childrens’ work addiction requires more systematic high-quality research. These studies should investigate such factors as family values, parentification, unmet basic psychological needs of children or shaping of particular personal beliefs about themselves and the world which may play significant role in increasing the risk of work addiction.