It IS ok to be a workaholic if you love your job

They say workaholics are driving themselves into an early grave. 

But a new study shows that is not always the case. 

People who love their job do not suffer negative health outcomes from working overtime and responding to emails around the clock. 

The finding controversially calls into question the current wave of research warning over-workers suffer from ADHD, have a high risk of depression, and could suffer heart problems from sleeplessness.  

‘Engagement is key,’ says Professor Lieke ten Brummelhuis, the lead researcher at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. 

Canadian researchers have found people who love their job can work excessively without fearing for their health (file image)

‘There’s a big difference between workers whose propensity to overwork and inability to detach after hours stem from absorption in the challenges their job presents (in other words, engagement) and those for whom it reflects, say, anxiety about the job or obsessive ambition.’

The term ‘workaholism’ was first used in the 1950s by psychologists looking to define what they saw as a process addiction, akin to gambling.  

The researchers collaborated with the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina Charlotte to analyze questionnaire responses from 1,277 workers at a large international financial consulting firm.

They then conducted medical screening results from 763 of that group.

The surveys provided data on the employees’ work hours, as well as responses indicating their level of workaholism, their engagement in their work, and their sense of health and wellbeing. 

The medical screenings looked for risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

The results showed that working long hours on its own was not an indicator that someone would suffer stress-related physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach upset, or the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

However, workaholism was significantly associated with stress-related physical complaints. 

But evidence that these would lead to heart disease or diabetes was found only for employees with below-average work engagement. 

Workaholics with above-average engagement showed no sign of being at risk for these serious health disorders. 

Indeed, their risk factors were lower than those of non-workaholics, suggesting a surprising health benefit of working compulsively at something one loves.

Professor ten Brummelhuis said: ‘Individuals beset by the psychosomatic complaints and other woes that workaholism can bring should ask themselves: “What is the reason I am working so hard?” 

‘If it is out of love for the job, go for it. If not, health alarm bells need to sound, and changes need to be made.’