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  • 1 Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
  • 2 International Gaming Research Unit, Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, Burton Street, Nottingham, NG1 4BU, UK

Abstract

Purpose

Despite increasing empirical research into workaholism, no single definition or conceptualisation has emerged, and current understandings of workaholism are arguably problematic. The primary purpose of this paper is to clarify some of these issues, by defining and contextualising over-engagement in work that leads to severe negative consequences (i.e., workaholism) as a genuine behavioural addiction.

Approach

By conceptualising work behaviours as manifestations of behavioural engagement and placing them on a continuum from withdrawal/under-engagement (e.g., persistent absenteeism) to over-engagement (e.g., work conflicting with all other activity), this paper argues that workaholism is an extreme negative aspect of behavioural engagement. It then examines the extent to which workaholism can be viewed as a genuine addiction by using criteria applied to other more traditional behavioural addictions (e.g., gambling addiction, exercise addiction), before briefly outlining an approach towards a more global understanding of workaholism.

Findings

The framework presented here helps to contextualise over-engagement to work as a genuine addiction. It presents more comprehensive understanding of workaholism that takes into account the individual factors of the employee, situational factors of the working environment, and structural factors of the work activity itself. It provides theoretically derived links between workaholism and other work behaviours that can be empirically demonstrated.

Practical implications

Viewing workaholism as an addiction that comprises extreme and prolonged behavioural over-engagement can be invaluable for promoting healthy work engagement. A clearer understanding of the underpinnings of workaholism can allow for a better assessment and management by practitioners.

Originality/value

This paper is one the first to contextualise workaholism in relation to other work behaviours, conceptualise it as a genuine behavioural addiction, and to apply clinical criteria for addiction to understand workaholism as prolonged and extreme behavioural engagement.

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