Taking time off from work is a critical part of employee wellness and performance. Research shows employees that take vacation are healthier, have better relationships with their families, are less likely to burn out and are more productive.
But some team members don’t feel they can take time off, and it’s not because they’re pressured by pending deadlines or toxic environments. They can’t pull themselves away, even if they want to: About 10% of Americans have an addiction to work, according to a research study published in Evaluation & the Health Professions.
Employees who are workaholics may need extra support from your HR team or their manager to help avoid and recover from their habits. Here’s how you can identify the signs and help out a workaholic on your team.
Seven Signs Your Employee May Be a Workaholic
From the outside, a workaholic might look like a team member who has a strong work ethic and cares a lot about their performance. But in reality, they have a behavioral addiction that can be incredibly damaging to their physical health, mental wellbeing, self-esteem, and even their interpersonal relationships. It’s important to recognize the difference between hard work and work addiction so you can help your employees live out a healthier lifestyle.
Workaholics usually have a few common traits that might be easy to pick up on. Here are some signs that your team members may have a work addiction:
- Working long hours without breaks or vacation days: You might notice they’re in the office after everyone else has gone home, or they never take time off to spend with family and friends. In a remote environment, maybe they're responding to messages or submitting assignments at all hours of the day.
- Struggling to unplug from work, even when they're off the clock: They may get stuck in a cycle of overwork because they don’t know how to step away from their duties. They find themselves constantly checking email, Slack, or other workplace communication apps for updates. A workaholic also might talk to their family members and friends about work even when they're trying to relax.
- Feeling guilty or stressed about taking time for themselves: Workaholics don't just work long hours. They also think about work constantly — while they're sleeping, running errands, or out for a run. This can spark feelings of guilt when they engage in any kind of self-care and lead to chronic stress.
- Perfectionism and difficulty delegating tasks: They’re not just hard workers — workaholics often obsess over every detail and won’t accept help from others. They try to do everything themselves, which can make it hard for them to take a break and relax. This can lead to burnout, as workaholics will take on more and more responsibilities until they reach their limit.
- Fear of failure: As perfectionists, workaholics are highly driven to succeed at work and put a lot of pressure on themselves to avoid any criticism or mistakes. "Since their work is so enmeshed with their personal identity, any criticism of it is taken personally," says Christine Hunt, a wellness coach and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) practitioner.
- Prioritizing work over their wellbeing or personal needs: Because they're spending so much energy and focus on work, their health and relationships are often placed on the back burner. Research shows that workaholism is associated with more physical and mental health problems and negative effects on people's interpersonal lives.
- Conflicting with others over work-related issues: Their inability to stop thinking about work can spark tension among other team members who also feel like they need to do more. In fact, this may be something else to watch out for: whether or not a workaholic on your team is pressuring colleagues to meet tight deadlines or bump up their number of hours.
Some of these signs may be hard to recognize from a distance, but if you suspect that one of your employees may have a work addiction, you can also use the Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS) and the accompanying assessment. Developed by researchers in Norway, the BWAS measures seven indicators of workaholism. The assessment asks participants how often they've done each of the following over the last year:
- Thought about how to free up more time to work.
- Spent more time working than initially intended.
- Worked in order to reduce feelings of anxiety, guilt, helplessness, or depression.
- Been told by others to cut down on work without listening.
- Become stressed if they can't work.
- Deprioritized their hobbies, exercise, or personal time in favor of work.
- Worked so much that it has negatively influenced their health.
How to Help a Workaholic: Six Methods
Once you've identified the signs of workaholism, it's important to provide the right kind of support for your team members — and take steps to prevent it in other colleagues. Here are a few tips and strategies you can use:
- Encourage them to take regular breaks or vacation days: You can offer to help employees plan their time off to ease guilt about taking a day away from work to spend time with loved ones or enjoying a hobby. This could mean helping them draft out a plan for how they'll tackle their tasks before and after their break, so they can rest easy knowing everything will be handled.
- Help them set limits: Offer to review the employee's weekly or monthly goals with them so they know which timelines and expectations are realistic. This can help them avoid taking on too much work while still staying producing as a high-performer.
- Create healthy boundaries around work: Make sure your team members know that it’s not necessary to be available 24/7 and encourage them to set boundaries with their work schedule. For instance, you can create a policy around turning off notifications after work hours and remind them that it’s okay to take time away from their screens. You can also help them intentionally block out their schedule for activities in their personal life so they have time to disconnect.
- Schedule regular check-ins: It can be a good idea to have frequent conversations with the employee so you can both stay on top of deadlines, workloads, and stress levels. This can help you understand how they're feeling and if they're struggling to unplug without feeling guilty or anxious.
- Exemplify healthy work habits: As a leader or manager, it’s important to lead by example and maintain healthy, sustainable work habits. This can show employees that you value their wellbeing just as much as their productivity. Try sending emails only during work hours or scheduling messages to send while employees or online, so that they don't feel pressured to work at all times, for example. You can also keep your calendar blocked off outside of working hours to show that it's acceptable — and expected — to be available for the work day only.
- Offer resources and support: If you have an employee assistance program (EAP) at your organization, make sure the team member knows about it and can access any extra help they may need. Because workaholism is an addiction, employees may also need professional help or treatment like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) in order to recover.
Your Benefits Package Could Be the Key to Preventing and Addressing Workaholism
Try to remember that any employee with a work addiction is a capable and productive team member — they just need extra support from your HR team to ensure that their health and wellbeing don’t suffer in the long run.
With the right benefits package, you can connect your employees to external resources they need to reset. This can range from therapists that specialize in work-related stress to activities that help them reconnect with life outside of work, like jogging or meditation.
Gympass offers access to dozens of wellness activities through thousands of fitness providers and wellness apps. Talk to one of our wellbeing specialists to learn about how we can help your team members navigate the path towards happier, healthier lives!
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The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.