Breaking Bad: When work becomes dysfunctional

November 20, 2017 Sascha Grosskopf


Studies have shown that 38% of Londoners view themselves as “workaholics”, with the average British worker putting in over 13 extra working days a year.


Being addicted to work has never been treated as a major problem, yet the word “addict” carries many negative connotations. Being addicted to alcohol, for example is treated as a medical condition and an alcoholic will be sent to rehab for help. Yet, a workaholic might receive a promotion or pay rise for showing their commitment to the company.


The term “workaholic” has become a trendy label of the 21st century with many employees wearing the label with pride, boasting about their busy schedules, long hours and the multiple projects they are working on. Whilst overworking is often perceived as a way of impressing your employer, it can put dangerous strains on both the employees and the business.


The dangers of burning-out


It is often when a workaholic burns out that you can identify they have a problem. A person will reach a chronic stress state that causes physical and emotional exhaustion, impaired concentration and a lack of accomplishment. Whilst our employers are generous with annual leave and sick days, research by the Office for National Statistics and National Accident Helpline revealed that Brits are taking less sick days than ever before and 89% admit to going into the office despite not feeling 100%.


Similarly, one in four UK employees blame work as the primary cause for their poor mental health, with more women than men suffering work-related stress and anxiety in jobs like teaching, social work and nursing. People who are struggling from mental illness at work often hide their problem from their employers because they worry about how their colleagues will react.  


What are the signs?


So, why is workaholism not seen as a health problem? And what can employers do about it? It is not always easy to identify a workaholic in the office, and few people will admit to asking their boss for less work or will seek help when they are struggling with the workload. Like all other addictions it slowly sinks into everyday life, however the typical signs to look out for include:


  • Obvious accumulation of work or overtime
  • A break or time-out period is considered a sign of weakness
  • Not shutting off after working hours and at weekends
  • Taking medication to relax
  • Ignoring others who address the problem


What can you do about it?


Being addicted to work can cause serious health problems, with workaholics becoming more prone to eating disorders, depression and even heart attacks. The consequences of a workaholic’s behaviour can also affect productivity in business, costing more than £650 billion to the world economy. It is essential that employers provide help and support for their employees and implement practices that encourage a healthy work-life balance while stressing the importance of switching off from work.


Some ways to support and encourage your employees to have a healthy work-life balance include:


  • Promoting social support in the form of seminars, showing your employees how to handle work stress effectively. Corporate events that promote social interaction between teams can also indirectly lower the pressure.
  • Ensuring you have the right tools that allow your employees to work from home if they need to. Working from home can provide a relaxed environment for the employee, away from the potential pressures of the office. However, this method may not suit every employee. It is therefore beneficial to have a flexible working from home scheme, which allows employees the freedom to choose whether they want to work from home or the office.   
  • KPIs can be used to measure many processes in the business including employee management. For example, if an employee is recorded as doing above average or too many projects, a maximum limit should be set. Small tip: Make sure that your measurement tools are not visible to all employees, as this could have a negative effect on them. Ambitious workers may look up their colleague’s details and try to emulate them, without having the capacity to do so.
  • Check whether break-times are always taken by your employees. A limit for overtime should also be set, and you should discuss it with employees who are regularly incurring overtime.
  • It may sound simple, but having an organised employee management system is essential. When all tasks are coordinated correctly, each employee will be given the correct amount of work, without over or under working them. Of course, there may be times when the workload is increased, but nevertheless it is important to set strict guidelines when it comes to tasks in order to maintain a healthy workforce.  

Ultimately, it's up to the workaholic themselves to realise they are over doing it and take steps to have a break, rest, and change their habits. However, with these changes, companies can be doing their best to support those at risk and encourage a positive company culture towards work-life balance.


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