Research has indicated that long work hours and occupational devotion may underlie either work engagement, where the employee finds the work fulfilling, meaningful, or stimulating, or workaholism, which is characterized by a compulsive drive to work, and is thought of as an addiction. While the behavior of work engagement and workaholism may look similar on the surface, recent research led by WAFER lab director, Dr. Malissa Clark, sheds more light on the distinctive outcomes of the two work patterns. In a study conducted with 340 working adults, workaholism was found to be associated with a negative emotional state both at work and home, and was related to greater conflict between work and home domains. Work engagement, however, was associated with more positive emotions, and was associated with enrichment between work and home domains. In other words, while workaholics experienced responsibilities and stressors from work interfering with their home life and vice versa, those with work engagement found that their work role enhanced their energy and performance in their home life, and vice versa.
Dr. Clark and her collaborators sampled 340 adults who worked at least 20 hours a week and were either married or had children (or both). Participants completed surveys of work engagement and workaholism, and at a later time were asked to indicate positive and negative emotions in both the work and home domains, as well as measures of conflict from work to home, and from home to work. The researchers found that workaholism predicted not only conflict between work and home roles, but these individuals also experienced greater anger and guilt about work. Furthermore, anxiety and disappointment about work mediated, or explained, the relationship between workaholism and work to home conflict.
Work engagement, on the other hand, predicted enrichment between work and home. Furthermore, those with higher work engagement experienced greater emotions of joviality and attentiveness, and those who found self-assurance at work more often reported that their work role enriched their home life.
Overall, these findings indicate a fundamental difference between work engagement and workaholism, though they both may appear to involve similar behaviors. These findings suggest that work plays a substantially different role in the lives of those with workaholism than for those who are engaged in their work. Those who find meaning and satisfaction in their jobs, and especially those who gain a sense of self assurance from their work, tend to have even more energy and vitality at home.
Ultimately, engaged workers appear to manage life and job roles better and have many more positive emotions than workaholics. Workaholics are stressed and angered by their work, and though they are driven to devote substantial time to this work, it is draining, rather than energizing. Additionally, workaholics find that work tends to interfere with their lives outside of work, and that responsibilities from their home lives interfere with their work performance. Disappointment and anxiety surrounding work appear to drive much of the interference between work and home roles for workaholics.
These findings will likely spark more research into workaholism and work engagement, especially in how conflict and enrichment between work and home roles may be interrelated. This study highlights the need for hard-working employees to examine their own behavior, and question the actual motivation and outcomes of their long hours. Employers should recognize the potential pitfalls of workaholism, particularly as the negative emotions and increased home to work conflict associated with workaholism could indicate the long hours worked by some employees may not be so productive as previously thought. Future research will aid in recognizing workaholism, for both employees and employers, and hopefully find interventions to mitigate the negative outcomes and encourage the healthier work engagement.
Clark, M. A., Michel, J. S., Stevens, G. W., Howell, J. W., & Scruggs, R. S. (2014). Workaholism, work engagement, and work-home outcomes: Exploring the mediating role of positive and negative emotions. Stress and Health, 30, 287-300.
Visit Malissa Clark's Research Gate page for a full-text copy of this publication.