DiscoverLeadership TodayEpisode 40 - Are Workaholics Bad for Business?
Episode 40 - Are Workaholics Bad for Business?

Episode 40 - Are Workaholics Bad for Business?

Update: 2019-06-15
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Summary

We have come to celebrate workaholics in our organisations - those people who always seem to be busy and putting in long hours. But is it possible for a person to be too engaged with their work? And does that lead to burnout and negative performance?


Transcript

Welcome to episode 40 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we explore whether workaholics are bad for business.

We have come to celebrate workaholics in our organisations - those people who always seem to be busy and putting in long hours. But is it possible for a person to be too engaged with their work? And does that lead to burnout and negative performance?

Most models of employee engagement don't examine what actually drives people to work hard and contribute more to an organisation. This muddies the water between what researchers call workaholism and work engagement. As a result, employee engagement scores and measures of performance don't always align. Organisations with high employee engagement can sometimes be perplexed by relatively poor performance and the high incidence of burnout and other negative health outcomes amongst their people.

One study by van Beek and her colleagues separated workaholism and work engagement into two distinct concepts. The researchers then looked at various combinations of the two including the impact on burnout. They defined workaholism as the tendency to work excessively hard and being obsessed with work - working compulsively. In contrast, they saw work engagement as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind characterised by energy, dedication and becoming absorbed in your work.

Their research showed that workaholism and work engagement both lead people to work harder and for longer hours. But it was the incidence of burnout amongst these groups that was most interesting. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, being a workaholic increased the incidence of burnout over non-workaholics. The researchers linked this to work-home interference, poor social relationships, and high levels of job strain. In contrast, being engaged with work decreased the incidence of burnout versus the non-engaged. Interestingly, combining the two, that is being a work-engaged workaholic, decreased the level of burnout below that of your regular workaholic. It also reduced the incidence of burnout to below that of non-engaged non-workaholics. Being positively engaged with work appears to dampen the negative impact of being a workaholic when it comes to burnout. 

This research suggests that improving work engagement will lessen the chance of burnout, even for the workaholics in our organisations. As leaders we can help workaholics in our teams to become aware of what motivates them, allowing them to identify greater meaning and purpose in their work. Understanding the difference between workaholism and employee engagement can do wonders to increasing the sustainability of performance in your organisation. Leaders can set up the conditions that encourage our people to become absorbed in their work versus becoming obsessed and compulsive about the work they complete.


Reference

Ilona van Beek, Toon W. Taris and Wilmar B. Schaufeli (2011) Workaholic and Work Engaged Employees: Dead Ringers or Worlds Apart? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, Vol 16, No 4, 468-482.

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Episode 40 - Are Workaholics Bad for Business?

Episode 40 - Are Workaholics Bad for Business?

Andrew Beveridge