Workaholism May Not Be So Bad says Kristen Frasch

A recent study finds that workaholics who love their work — instead of workaholics who feels a compulsion to work — may be healthier than previous researchers have believed. Engaged workaholics do not apparently suffer the burnout or stress found in the more “classic” type of workaholic, they say.

By Kristen B. Frasch

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By now, in this techno-driven world, probably every employer has heard or read about the need to encourage employees — especially those top-talented, hard-working ones — to sever their 24/7 connections to the office once in a while and regain some precious work/life balance.

In short, there’s a pervading belief that being a workaholic is bad for an employee’s physical and mental health, and not necessarily a boon for the company, either.

Now, a study out of Utrecht University in Utrecht, The Netherlands, offers a different view: Workaholism might not be such a bad thing as long as the worker loves what he or she is doing.

The study — Workaholic and Work Engaged Employees: Dead Ringers or Worlds Apart? by professors Ilona van Beek, Toon W. Taris and Wilmar B. Schaufeli — looked at 1,246 Dutch workers and measured such things as engagement, workaholism, motivation and burnout.

What the researchers found were three different types of hard workers:

* The classic workaholic, who has an inner compulsion to work hard, who self-identifies with its outcome — positive or negative — and whose self-esteem depends on it;

* The engaged non-workaholic, who is a loyal and reasonably hard worker; and

* The engaged workaholic, who is driven to keep working at intensely high energy levels out of a love of the job.

“Put differently,” they write, “[classic] workaholics are ‘pushed’ to their work, whereas engaged [workaholics] are ‘pulled’ to their work.”  For the rest of her article …

But what do you think?  I heard a speech today by Tom Schaal, President of my Toastmasters club, about how extrinsic motivation has the effect of reducing creativity and innovation. (He credits Dan Pink for the information)  And that pay-for-performance can slow down the process of creating solutions. Results Only Work Environments (ROWE) can increase engagement and decrease the time needed to solve a problem.

How does this affect the knowledge workers of  the bioindustry?  Is there a danger of burnout for the most creative?  How can even these “engaged workaholics, drawn to their work” be protected from overdoing it?


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