The Workaholism Syndrome: An Emerging Issue in the Psychological Literature

By Piotrowski, Chris; Vodanovich, Stephen J. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2008 | Go to article overview

The Workaholism Syndrome: An Emerging Issue in the Psychological Literature


Piotrowski, Chris, Vodanovich, Stephen J., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The present paper provides a concise overview of the "workaholism syndrome." This includes a discussion of workaholism from an addiction perspective, it's overall components and consequences, and a conceptual framework. Suggestions are offered for effective strategies to confront and mediate the onerous impact of workaholism.

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The construct of "workaholism" has received limited, systematic attention within I-O psychology. Although studies on workaholism rose after the development of the Work Addiction RiskTest (Robinson, 1999) and the Workaholic Triad (Spence & Robbins, 1992), much research in this area is theoretical in nature and exists in popular magazines, books, and in clinical, counseling-related journals. This state of affairs is a bit surprising since workaholism can impact diverse areas of human functioning at the individual, family, organizational, and societal levels (e.g., Vodanovich & Piotrowski, 2006). Here, we provide a brief synopsis of workaholism from an addiction perspective, its general features and consequences, a conceptual framework for the "workaholic syndrome" and suggestions for organizational strategies to confront workaholism.

Workaholism as an Addiction

Many writers have conceptualized workaholism as having addictive features (e.g., Robinson, 1989). The theoretical underpinnings of work addiction have, at its core, similar, dynamic features with other addictions such as alcoholism (e.g., Porter, 1996). This approach to workaholism was echoed by Robinson who stated that "Work addiction is an addiction in the same way that alcoholism is an addiction. Progressive in nature, it is an unconscious attempt to resolve unmet psychological needs that have roots in the family of origin and can lead to unmanageable life, family disintegration, serious health problems, and even death" (Robinson, 2000 p. 34). Other maladies associated with workaholism in this framework include obsessive-compulsiveness, perfectionism, and Type A behavior (e.g., Mudrack, 2004).

The Workaholism Syndrome

The portrayal of workaholism as a developmental and progressive process with dysfunctional features was recently illustrated by Piotrowski and Vodanovich (2006). One of the basic tenets of this model is that workaholic behaviors are a set of progressive, maladaptive behaviors that worsen over time. In the early developmental stages, workaholic behaviors, which emanate from a combination of individual factors (e.g., personality traits), home/family characteristics (e.g. roles, responsibilities), and internal and external stressors, do not typically interfere with everyday functioning. Nevertheless, as time progresses, the combination of various individual and work-related factors combine and lead to more frequent and intense workaholic behaviors. At this point, work becomes and increasing basis of reinforcement for the workaholic individual and both work and non-work environments begin to noticeably decline. Eventually, workaholic behaviors spiral out of control and become dysfunctional, and lapse into the full-blown Workaholism Syndrome. At this stage, the impact of workaholism can become severe and substantially impact the physical and psychological well-being of individual employees, their families, and co-workers. These most common correlates of workaholic behaviors reported in the literature are heightened levels of job stress (e .g., Taris, Schaufeli, & Verhoven, 2005) and work-family conflict (Burke, 1999), although others have been identified and are noted below.

* Increased health symptoms (physical and psychological)

* Job stress/burnout

* Work-family conflict

* Teamwork problems (competition, unrealistic standards)

* Job performance decrements (e. …

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