Human Resources News & Insights

When being a workaholic is a very good thing

Conventional wisdom says that workaholics are tight-lipped, grim, driven personalities who can’t pull themselves away from work until they collapse from burnout. New research says it ain’t necessarily so.

Enter the concept of “engaged workaholics” — people who throw themselves into their work simply because they love it.

The concept sprung from the research of Wilmar Schaufeli, professor of work and organizational psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Schaufeli and his team studied a group of 1,246 Dutch workers and came up with four distinct categories of employees:

  • the slackers
  • engaged workers
  • the classic workaholics, and
  • engaged workaholics.

And guess what? The engaged workaholics — people who worked really hard because they loved their jobs — had far less burnout and stress issues than the workaholics who drove themselves for external reasons like prestige, pay and plain old guilt.

Schaufeli, quoted in a recent Los Angeles Times story, said that classic workaholics are “pushed” to their work; engaged workaholics are “pulled” to theirs.

“When a workaholic is not working, he feels guilty and restless,” Schafeli says in the Times story. “To avoid those negative feelings, he starts to work. This is totally different than when you work intensely because you like the job.”

So here’s HR’s new task: Find the  candidates who are capable of being engaged workaholics — and put your current employees in situations where they can achieve that kind of job satisfaction.


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