Running Your Business

Dangers of Overworking: Your HR Guide to Dealing With Workaholics

  • Workaholism, widely accepted in many countries, hurts workers and companies
  • Nearly one-third of workaholics suffer from depression, anxiety, ADHD or OCD
  • HR can learn how to identify the signs and provide resources for employees

Posted by April 30, 2018

What are warning signs of a workaholic? Why is having a workaholic something that needs to be dealt with? How can HR/management deal with this type of unhealthy work situation gently and without making the employee feel awkward or unappreciated?

The dangers of overworking are often ignored by companies who place all their emphasis on money instead of work–life balance. In many developed nations, it’s the norm for people to work two, even three jobs to pay the bills. According to Malissa A. Clark, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and director of the Work and Family Experience Research Lab at the University of Georgia, workaholics are compelled to work and this behavior is linked with many negative outcomes. How can management and HR work together to identify and curb workaholism?

The Warning Signs of a Workaholic

It’s not terribly difficult to spot an employee who suffers from workaholism. Dr. Clark warns, however, that this is not to be confused with employees who are highly engaged in their jobs. A workaholic will generally display some of the following behaviors:

  • Persistent compulsion to work due to internal pressures (not economic need

  • Constant thoughts about working, even during personal time (inability to separate work from the rest of life)

  • Working well beyond the requirements of the job (taking work home, too much overtime)

  • Ignoring the dangers of overworking (marital stress, physical fatigue)

Why Deal With a Workaholic?

From an employer perspective, having a workaholic on the team may seem like a dream come true. The dangers of overworking may not seem obvious until the employee’s work begins to suffer. According to a 2016 study conducted by the University of Bergen in Norway, there is a strong connection between workaholism and other mental disorders, such as depression, attention deficit and obsessive compulsive disorder. Of the 16,426 adults studied, those with workaholic tendencies were around three times more likely to show signs of these disorders. Moreover, workaholics often negatively influence others around them, who feel the pressure to work longer hours and take on more tasks to keep up.

How HR Can Deal With Workaholics?

Fortunately, there are some ways to cut down on the dangers of overworking by dealing directly with workaholics. This must be done with sensitivity, because being a workaholic is deeply ingrained in the character of the individual. It’s best accomplished with a performance review, in which specific areas of the employee’s performance can be discussed in relationship with workaholic behaviors. Providing resources and alternative work arrangements to help the employee manage time better and enjoy some rest in between projects can be beneficial. If the workaholic behavior is interfering with the work of others on the team, a reassignment of tasks or jobs may be in order.

It’s important to note that workaholism should not be taken lightly, nor should it be laughed off as some kind of cultural norm. The dangers of overworking employees far outweigh any perceived benefits. Organizations can do much to instill healthier values into employees by providing them with benefits that encourage them to seek medical support for the compulsion to work too much, and to deal with any health problems that may exist.

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