Global work addiction study seeks US participants

Global work addiction study seeks US participants

IU Northwest professor spearheads US survey participation, which aims to gather data, provide suggestions for work addiction

Working hard, for many, is seen as a positive. But working too hard — having a compulsion to always work, finding it hard to stop thinking about work or pushing off other important aspects of your life to work — can be signs of a serious behavioral addiction.

A global survey, the most extensive study on work addiction to date, according to the Global Research on Work Addiction team, is being conducted in over 60 countries with collaboration from more than 100 researchers worldwide, including Dr. Hannah Lee, licensed psychologist and associate professor of psychology from Indiana University Northwest.

As the lead U.S. researcher, Lee focused on adopting and modifying the survey to ensure its cultural appropriateness for American society, allowing American-based employees to participate in the global study.

The study seeks to understand participants’ thoughts, emotions and behaviors connected with their jobs and their impact on the health and functioning of employees.

“The modern workplace can be a highly stressful environment and, sometimes, it can seem like being work-addicted is necessary for survival,” Lee said. “However, work addiction can make people feel unsatisfied and regretful about the time they spend on the job, which can negatively impact their personal lives.”

The goal of the study is to provide data on work addiction world-wide, understand the factors which lead to work-related depression and burnout and shed light on the behavioral addiction to help people get the help they need. It is seeking to examine the macro-, meso- and micro-level factors in work addiction and health.

Currently, researchers around the globe — including Lee — are seeking participants for the survey. The only criteria is participants are above the age of 18 and have been working for their present employer (of at least 10 employees total) for at least a year.

After completing the survey, participants will obtain detailed feedback to understand how they function at work, risks associated with excessive work-related stress and potential causes due to work environment or an individual’s personality.

Significance of survey

While some behavioral addictions — gambling, sex, drug use, eating and more — have been more commonly identified and widely discussed, addiction to work is harder to identify, thus making it harder to find solutions for. Work addiction, or workaholism, however, has the same symptoms as substance addictions, such as withdrawal, tolerance, mood modification or conflicts.

The prevalence of work addiction and its individual, social and economic harms are real. Some may suffer from it and not even know it. There’s even Workaholics Anonymous, which seeks to help those from compulsively working.

Why should you take the survey?

In the three years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people reevaluated their lives. They spent time finding what was most important to them and much of that reflection revolved around work-life balance.

Many left their jobs, opting to find positions which allowed them to work from home or offered hybrid work schedules, giving them time to focus on the other important aspects of their lives.

“You call it work-life balance and the goal is to help people maximize their quality of life,” said Dr. Steve Sussman, professor of population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California, who’s also affiliated with the global study. “This survey may help you in the future or people like you in terms of helping work, personal life balance and help maximize your quality of life. That’s the goal of all these things, we’re trying to help people enjoy living.”

In many cultures, including the United States, hard work isn’t seen as a problem. In fact, it’s often accompanied with praise. But research has found approximately one in 10 people suffer from work addiction.

And while clinical and scientific research of work addiction can be traced back more than 100 years, it’s understanding still lags behind the research of other behavioral addictions.

“In our culture, working hard is seen as a positive quality,” Lee said. “A lot of people, myself included, view it as a work ethic that one should cultivate to be a competent employee or responsible citizen.

“However, since this value is so deeply rooted in American society, folks might not be aware that working hard can turn into work addiction, which can lead to some significant problems in their lives. Moreover, this widespread belief in hard work can make it difficult to identify whether someone is actually struggling with work addiction. One way to become more self-aware is by answering the right questions. I believe by participating in the survey, responding to its questions and getting feedback, people can gain a better understanding of their own situation.”

The individual consequences of work addiction can include health problems ranging from less happiness, lower quality of life and even suicide to social problems from family issues or conflicts with coworkers. Lee said employers should also take interest in the study because work addiction can lead to poor quality of work, mistakes, burnout and resignation.

“In the long term, if organizations want to keep a productive workforce and retain their employees, it’s a smart move to help them spot any potential addictions or challenges they may face,” Lee said. “Encouraging employees to participate in the work addiction survey is a great way to take a proactive step in creating a healthier and more engaged work atmosphere.”

Goal of work addiction study

While the global survey is still in the data gathering phase, Lee said the research team is hoping to publish its preliminary findings by the end of 2023.

The aims of the research are to raise awareness and provide accurate data to the impact of work addiction world-wide. Through participant’s surveys, the researchers hope to understand better which factors contribute to work addiction, work-related depression and burnout to help develop best practices for prevention and treatment.

The hope is to influence organizations’ policies and procedures regarding work climate to minimize the risk of the development of work addiction and mitigate its effect on health and well-being. With a reduction of human suffering worldwide, the researchers believe a better understanding of work addiction will help organizations, institutions and countries improve productivity while also improving the quality of people’s lives.

“If it is a problem, then people’s quality of life is being compromised in some way, right?” Sussman said. “And people want to have a nice quality of life. So, one of the reasons you’d be doing the survey is you want to learn more about work habits and why people work really hard … what are the drawbacks? When does it become a problem? When is it not a problem? You want to also learn about solutions to work as a problem.”

Interested in taking the survey? Click here.

For more information on the study, visit workaddiction.org, which is meant to serve as an international platform for collaboration of scientists, practitioners, non-profit organizations, institutions, students and media.