workaholic and mental health
Workaholics display signs of other disorders Istock

Workaholics are more prone than others to suffer from a form of psychiatric or behavioural disorder, researchers say. Some of the problems they might face include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

The study, published in open-access journal Plos One, investigates who is workaholic and who is not, using criteria regularly applied to define other types of addictions.

The scientists have looked at whether those classified as workaholic also displayed symptoms specific to psychiatric and behavioural disorders in order to identify risk factors involved with these compulsive work patterns.

An addiction to work

The scientists from the University of Bergen in Norway have examined the associations between working behaviours and mental health in a group of 16,426 working adults.

In their study, they use the definition of workaholics as people who are "overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas".

According to the researchers, workaholism is similar to an addictive behaviour. The line between excessive enthusiasm and a genuine addiction is difficult to define, so scholars have typically used specific criteria to define the border between addictive and non-addictive behaviours, and workaholism is no exception.

People are considered workaholics when they often or always free up more time to work; spend more time working than initially intended; work to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety and depression; experience feelings of stress and withdrawal when they do not work; work so much it impacts their health and their hobbies; or are told by loved ones to stop working.

In the sample studied by the researchers, 7.8% of participants met these criteria.

Anxiety, depression and other disorders

To see how these workaholics fared in terms of mental health and behavioural disorders, all participants filled different standard questionnaires. These included the adult ADHD self-report scale, the obsession-compulsive inventory (revised), as well as the hospital anxiety and depression scale.

The research suggested that workaholics scored higher on all psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics. This was particularly true for ADHD (32.7% met the criteria vs 12.7% among non-workaholics) and anxiety (33.8 % vs 11.9%). Additionally, more than a quarter of workaholics presented signs of OCD and nearly 9% signs of depression.

More research is needed, but the researchers point out that even workaholics who appear well and successful could be in need of mental health support. "[While awaiting] more research, physicians should not take for granted that a seemingly successful workaholic does not have ADHD-related or other clinical features. Their considerations affect both the identification and treatment of these disorders," concludes lead author Cecilie Schou Andreassen.