They call them workaholics, and that is a term sometimes used as an honorific – in the US, hard work is often praised. But for some people, work is a way to escape other areas of their lives. The cycle of stress and relief can even be viewed as a type of “real” addiction, with all the problems associated with other addictive behaviors.
While work addiction doesn’t enjoy the status of a diagnosis in psychology, part of the reason was no real way to measure it. Researchers in Scandanavia have now created a tool that can be used to compare patients and rank them on a scale similar to the way we measure other addictions. If accepted, this survey can be used by psychologists to diagnose and record the progress of patients.
It’s a truism in medicine that “you can’t treat what you can’t measure,” so having a standard is an important advance. Called the Bergen Work Addiction Scale, the survey asks test takers to rank how closely statements fit their own work habits and feelings about work. Items such as sacrificing other activities in order to work more, and negative health effects from work are listed.
Importantly, researches have shown that scoring on the test does reliably predict who has work addiction and who does not. It isn’t enough, for example, to work more than a standard number of hours – what is most important is how a person feels and responds to their work. Furthermore, work doesn’t have to be paid employment. Housewives and the unemployed can also fall under the workaholic label.
The seven items tested are (from the link above):
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 deprioritize hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.
7. You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.
All items are scored on the following scale: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always.
Scoring of Often or Always on at least four of the seven items suggests someone is addicted to work.