Assistant Editor, Safety & Health Practitioner

June 26, 2019

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Work addiction

How to recognise work addiction

As technology makes it increasingly easy to push beyond the 9-5, Lucinda Pullinger, Global Head of HR at Instant Offices explores how workers can recognise the difference between committed working habits and work addiction.

The growth of technology combined with the idea that we need to work harder to achieve more, is a popular concept in the modern workplace. While there’s no denying the benefits and triumphs that come from committed bursts of hard work, unwavering dedication can tip the balance, turning a hard worker into a workaholic.

A new study by TUC, found that UK workers work the longest hours in the EU. Full time employees work an average of 42 hours a week, and research by Harvard Business Review found, the average CEO works 62.5 hours a week, which is around 21.3 hours above the global baseline of 41.2 hours. In the UK, 54% of employees check work emails on holiday and 6% admit to even checking them at a funeral.

With smartphones, computers and apps at our fingertips, employees are able to maintain a constant connection to their work. In theory, these tools should make an employee’s workdays shorter and more efficient, but constant distractions and the inability to disconnect can lead to longer work hours and less to show for it.

According to the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, if an individual can relate to at least four of the below criteria, this may indicate a work addiction:

  1. You think of how you can free up more time to work.
  2. You spend much more time working than initially intended.
  3. You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.
  4. You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.
  5. You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.
  6. You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
  7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Impact on Employees

Studies from CIPD show a sharp rise in presenteeism over the last few years from just 26% in 2010 to 86% in 2017, while another report shows a cost of £81 billion each year in the UK.

Work-obsessed CEOs run the risk of creating a company culture in which presenteeism reigns. As opposed to being absent from work, presenteeism leads to employees having lower productivity while at work. They’re also likely to feel judged according to how many hours they sit at their desks rather than the quality of their output. This can lead to burnout, unhappiness and increased health issues, which end up impacting both company and employee negatively in the long run.

Impact on Business Growth

CEOs who work too hard may have trouble delegating effectively or even end up micromanaging teams, which can lead to a bottleneck in the company. It also sends the message to employees that they’re not trusted or talented enough to meet expectations, which can cause tension and unhappiness.

In a Harvard Business Review study of 27 CEOs over three months, time management proved the greatest challenge for most, while email usage was the top interrupter of the day. Leaders in the same study spent 72% of their time in work meetings, with the average meeting length being one hour. One of the biggest time wasters for employees is distraction at work. Around 60% of employees say meetings are a big distraction that impact productivity according to Udemy, ultimately leading to longer hours spent working.

Regain the Balance

While the dedication to put in extra hours is a valuable trait, it’s important to manage a healthy balance in the long-term. One of the major differences between a hard worker and a workaholic is the problems that are caused as a result. Poor health, guilt when not working and increased stress levels are often consequences of work addiction. Here are a few ways to combat it:

  • Trust your team. For a team to grow successfully, it’s important to attract and retain talented employees, delegate effectively, and trust them to perform tasks without you. This will free up time for you to focus on strategy and growth.
  • Reduce distraction. Shorten meetings, set dedicated working times where people can focus and create a culture of face to face interaction rather than using email. Around 40% of employees believe work distraction could also be drastically reduced with flexible and remote working options, according to a report by Udemy.
  • Encourage work-life balance. Instill a 40-hour work week for everyone, CEOs included, with an emphasis on results rather than hours spent at a desk.
  • Try a digital detox. Limit time spent online by consciously logging off of your work email and putting your phone away during weekends and on holiday. Set the tone in your organisation by normalising the fact that employees don’t have to adopt an always-on attitude. There are several apps that can assist by locking your devices for a period of time. Allow mornings to set the precedent for the rest of the day, whether taking time out to exercise, read, meditate or plan for the day, prioritise setting the tone for the hours to come every morning. When planning out your day, stick to a realistic to do list of no more than five items at a time.

SHP legislation update eBook

SHP’s latest legislation eBook covers recognition of mental health issues in the workplace, the reclassification of mild welding fume as a human carcinogen, new manslaughter definitive guidelines, PPE, Brexit, drone safety regulations and much more…

  • Recognition of Mental Health Issues in the Workplace
  • Reclassification of Mild Welding Fume as a Human Carcinogen
  • Sentencing Council Published New Manslaughter Definitive Guidelines
  • Larger firms face biggest fine increases: Sentencing Council impact assessment shows
  • Bouncy Castles and Other Play Inflatables: Safety Advice
  • Revision of Standards for Powered Doors, Gates and Barriers
  • PPE
  • Modern Slavery Act Review
  • Drone Safety Regulations
  • Health and Safety (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018
  • Ionising Radiation
  • Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Diving) Regulations 2018 (Ireland)
  • Environment and Energy
  • and much more…

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