7 Dangerous Workaholism Symptoms HR Experts Must Monitor Right Now
Dedication, commitment, and going the extra mile all indicate high employee engagement. That's the dream of any organization. But when the clock strikes midnight, and the office lights are still on, it's time to ask: dedication or danger?
Studies examining workaholism and its repercussions also note that it may impact between 5% and 10% of people in the U.S.
Workaholism is not a badge of honor, not when it costs your people their relationships, health, and sanity. Some severe cases of workaholism lead to increased rates of insomnia, depression, and addiction.
This article will scrutinize seven dangerous workaholism symptoms. We're not just outlining the problems. We'll show you the signs, implications, and, yes, the action plans.
👀 Recognizing 7 workaholism symptoms
Workaholism is more than just working hard or being committed to your job; it's an obsessive and compulsive need to work beyond job descriptions and employer expectations. This may mean longer shifts, working nights and weekends, or developing a work-life imbalance. They're all issues that can lead to burnout and churn.
Early identification of workaholism symptoms is crucial for HR professionals who want to care for their teams.
While signs for each individual vary, here are some common areas of concern to watch out for.
Excessive work hours
Employees who consistently work extended hours beyond what is necessary for their role may show signs of workaholism.
Compare their hours to other employees in the same workgroups. Consider tools that track hours and tasks that may indicate unusual work during nights, weekends, or scheduled time off.
Neglected personal life
Workaholics often neglect their personal lives, including family, friends, and hobbies. For these folks, work takes precedence over everything else.
In one-to-one meetings, quarterly reviews, and other check-ins with your team, gauge if team members seem over-encumbered with work — and do what you can to ease their burdens.
Workaholics are "always on." Look for obsessions with staying connected 24/7 or compulsively checking emails, messages, or calls during non-business hours.
Someone who is the first to email in the morning and the last to send messages late at night may be giving you warning signs.
A focus on perfectionism
Striving for perfection in every task and being overly critical of oneself (or others) can lead to excessive work hours and stress.
Perfectionism can push people to neglect other aspects of their lives and start an obsessive spiral that leads to other items on this list.
Workaholics tend to neglect their physical and mental well-being. Some people may skip meals or stop exercising when experiencing work-related stress.
Others may oppositely express this stress by compulsively controlling diets or increasing exercise to unhealthy levels. The workaholism angle comes when the person ties diet and exercise almost exclusively to work performance.
Inability to disconnect
Akin to constant connectivity, folks may also struggle to disconnect. This means they don't disengage from their "work mode" even during vacations or significant family events.
The act of not checking in on email or responding to messages causes them anxiety and health concerns.
Reduced job satisfaction
Workaholics have lower job and career satisfaction and are likelier to quit their current roles. That may seem counterintuitive, but it makes sense if you realize that they associate their daily stressors with their job.
They may also develop a negative opinion about those who do not work as much, lowering their satisfaction with teams, projects, and company culture.
🕵️♀️ 5 Methods for spotting workaholism in your workplace
Spotting workaholism is critical for HR professionals, especially as companies try new ways to work remotely or in hybrid settings. It can be easy for managers and co-workers to get caught up in these changes and fail to observe all the signs of workaholism.
That puts a lot of pressure on HR experts, but you have many tools available to help you spot these negative trends.
Here are different aspects of an individual's work and performance you can analyze to look for symptoms of workaholism in your workplace.
Keep an eye on employee working hours and overtime. Examine patterns of extended workdays or unusual schedules. Consider software platforms that create a baseline for employees so you can spot unhealthy habits or significant changes. This might include those who consistently clock in early, leave late, or report working excessive hours.
Monitoring working hours offers the best tangible evidence of the telltale workaholic signs or the start of unhealthy habits.
Pay attention to employees who consistently arrive early, leave late, or frequently check their work emails during off-hours. These behaviors may indicate a compulsive need to stay connected to work and an inability to detach from professional responsibilities, even during personal time.
Many people make various friends at work, while almost all of us have a group of close peers. These individuals can help HR look for signs of harm or danger.
Encourage everyone in your organization to share feedback about excessive workloads or "always on" behaviors.
It's best to give people anonymous options here.
While colleagues will often be the first to notice changes, they may be reluctant to "tattle" on a co-worker.
Instead of having the process feel potentially punitive, focus on creating ways to get this feedback while ensuring it is a tool for compassion and care.
While productivity metrics aren't always a great way to see how good someone is at their job, they can give you a baseline for someone's activities.
Managers should use these tools to look for significant changes or worrying patterns impacting employees' well-being.
Be on guard against employees pushing themselves to meet productivity or activity targets. Use tools to set alerts for high numbers of hours.
You can also turn to these tools to see if someone has too many tasks or projects.
Workaholism can be a response to an inappropriate level of demand, especially if there is a fear of punishment around turning in work that isn't perfect. A punitive company culture around performance can create risks for people developing workaholism symptoms.
Employees themselves may see some of these symptoms or patterns.
Ensure they have a way to ask for help or raise their hand.
When you send out employee surveys, ask about work-life balance, stress levels, and bandwidth.
Again, adding options for anonymous reporting or ensuring that reviews aren't shared with direct managers can make people comfortable enough to be honest.
🚑 5 Ways to start addressing workaholism symptoms and causes
There's no single tool HR professionals can use to address workaholism and protect their people.
Ideally, you will need various options and tactics to ensure you can support teams across your company. Different levels of experience, work, demand, and seniority will impact what you can do to help.
One unifying theme in supporting your organization, beyond addressing workaholism, is establishing easy communication methods.
People must feel comfortable contacting you or accessing the health benefits (like EAP programs or mental health app subscriptions) you provide.
Look for ways to encourage self-care in your organization. When someone feels comfortable discussing a concern, offer helpful guidance and options for additional help.
If you've identified workaholism symptoms in a team or individual, here are a few support methods you may want to consider:
- Adopt work-life balance programs: Look for programs or benefits that help your teams relax and prioritize life outside work. Ensure these tools are easy to use. Double-check that your company supports any suggestions from such tools, such as taking a vacation.
- Offer educational workshops: Teach people how to watch for stress and overwork. Include training on risks for an individual or their team members. Show people how to privately report concerns and how these will be handled for their co-workers' benefit.
- Promote self-care opportunities: There are opportunities to encourage breaks from work that don't feel like you're asking someone to stop working. Consider adding employee benefits that can improve overall health or promote outside activities, from gym memberships and mindfulness apps to counseling services that do not report any details to HR.
- Train managers and leaders: Offer training for managers to recognize workaholism symptoms and give them clear action steps that safeguard people and the company. Prepare leaders to be a benefit to their teams.
- Model a culture of "work hard and recharge:" Set standards for acceptable behavior and ensure your leaders demonstrate work/life balance, modeling the need to take time off.
"Create a culture where the addiction to work is not accepted and certainly not rewarded. Mandatory vacation time [and] assistance in boundary-setting are things that managers, executives and HR teams can do to assist an employee and create a culture of health." Carlos Hidalgo, author of The UnAmerican Dream: Finding Personal and Professional Happiness Establishing Work-Life Boundaries.
All of these options need clear policies regarding the safety of employees, working hours, overtime, and the use of technology outside of work hours.
Your company policies must tell employees what is prohibited. These must be enforced so that managers cannot make demands that violate policies. Managers who push people to develop workaholism symptoms must be held accountable.
➡️ Protect your team by tackling workaholism symptoms early
Workaholism is a danger to people's well-being. As an HR expert, you're in a position to safeguard them from this risk and reduce the chance that your managers or company culture is a cause.
Remain vigilant about the risks and symptoms, and look for proactive steps you can take to monitor the health of your workforce.
New policies, supportive programs, and mental health-focused benefits are all practical tools in ensuring people like going to work without dipping into unhealthy workaholic trends.
Address it early and look out for it often to protect the people under your care.
Geoff Whiting is the Content Strategy Manager at Hubstaff, a leading workforce software solution designed to empower remote and in-house teams. With a background in journalism and psychology, he develops strategies focused on the modern workforce and the tools it needs to thrive. Geoff has been a remote worker for over 15 years, and advocates that treating employees with trust and respect yields substantial benefits for organizations and their customers. Connect with him on LinkedIn.