Workaholics often feel unwell even while working, study

The mood of workaholics is on average worse than that of other people.

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Workaholism is an emerging issue in modern organizations that has well-documented effects on people’s health and well-being. However, more research needs to be done on the subjective experience of workaholics at work and their emotional response to job pressures; the few available studies are cross-sectional or based on retrospective reports gathered outside of working hours.

Scientists from the University of Bologna (Rimini Campus) conducted a study that characterized workaholics’ affective experience during work and their emotional reactivity to workday accumulation and momentary workload.

They discovered that even when workaholics do what they are most passionate about—working- their mood is generally worse than that of others. There are numerous similarities between workaholism and other addictions, such as drinking or gambling.

According to Cristian Balducci, a professor at the Department for Life Quality Studies at the University of Bologna (Rimini Campus), workaholics’ generally depressed mood may be a sign of significant daily stress, which may be the reason for their increased vulnerability to burnout and cardiovascular disease.

Moreover, because workaholics frequently occupy leadership roles, their negative moods may easily affect that of their coworkers and colleagues. Organizations should take this risk seriously and act appropriately to deter workaholic habits.

Numerous studies show that when they are unable to work as much as they would want, workaholics frequently feel unwell, which is commonly accompanied by unpleasant feelings like anger, anxiety, and guilt. However, there are differing opinions regarding the emotions that surface in these individuals during their workdays. While some study suggests that workaholics feel satisfied and happy when they’re working, other research shows that these good sentiments soon give way to a dysphoric state that is prevalent and marked by depression and irritability.

A total of 139 full-time back-office workers were involved in the study. They participated in a 3-day protocol by reporting on their hedonic tone and momentary workload up to six times per workday.

Scientists used multilevel modeling to determine the relationship between trait workaholism and job-related hedonic tone and the cross-level interactions between workaholism and workday accumulation and momentary workload.

First, the degree of work reliance among the participants was evaluated using a psychological exam. The scientists next used the “experience sampling method” to examine how the employees felt about their workload and how they were feeling overall. The participants could send brief surveys roughly every 90 minutes, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., over three working days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), using an app installed on their phones.

Prof. Balducci said, “The collected data show that most workaholic workers have, on average, a worse mood than the others. So, it does not appear to be true that people who are addicted to work derive more pleasure from their work activity; quite the opposite, the results seem to confirm that, as in other forms of behavioral and substance addiction, the initial euphoria gives way to a negative emotional state that permeates the person even while at work.”

The findings also show that, in contrast to other employees, workaholics generally retain a more negative mood throughout the day, with no discernible variations linked to the passage of time or shifts in workload. A solid emotional flattening is implied by a decreased sensitivity of mood to external stimuli, a condition that is well-known in other forms of addiction.

Luca Menghini, a researcher at the University of Trento and first author of the study, said, “This element could stem from the workaholic’s inability to moderate work investment, resulting in a significant decrease in disconnection and recovery experiences, and the parallel consolidation of a negative affective tone.”

The study also highlights that work addiction and bad mood were, in fact, more pronounced in women than in men. It indicates a greater vulnerability of women to workaholism.

Prof. Balducci concludes“Organisations must send clear signals to workers on this issue and avoid encouraging a climate where working outside working hours and at weekends is considered the norm. On the contrary, it is necessary to foster an environment that discourages excessive and dysfunctional investment in work, promoting disconnection policies, specific training activities, and counseling interventions.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Menghini, L., Spagnoli, P., & Balducci, C. (2023). Uncovering the main and interacting impact of workaholism on momentary hedonic tone at work: An experience sampling approach. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/ocp0000365