So you say your schedule is insanely full? Science says you're probably lying.

The dirty little secret of our always-on culture is that much of it is, apparently, an illusion. Despite "busy" becoming the new go-to answer among some segments of the work force for the standard "How are you?" conversation opener, the truth is that when time-use experts actually force people to record in detail how they spend their days, they discover that many who say they're run off their feet actually have far more leisure time than they initially claim.

What's going on? A large portion of blame may go to our tech and the sense that, even when you're kicking back at home, you're really just one smartphone ping away from mentally returning to work mode. You may be stretched out on the couch, but your brain is still turning the professional hamster wheel. Thus the feeling of never getting a breather.

Workaholism as badge of honor

But that's only part of the explanation. Another huge chunk of the reason for the disconnect between how many hours we really work and how many hours we say we do is workaholic bravado. Being busy in our culture has become a badge of honor and a sign of your importance and work ethic. "Slammed" has become shorthand for "kind of a big deal."

According to new science recently published in the Journal of Management, this idea of using your workaholism as a humble brag, however, is a pretty terrible idea. For the research, lead author Melissa Clark of the University of Georgia and her team reviewed the existing data on the causes and effects of workaholism to determine exactly how harmful overdedication to the office can be.

The truth according to science

Workaholism, the scientists found, has no correlation with professional performance (nope, your insane hours aren't helping you perform better), but it does cause the same unhealthy cycle of compulsion, guilt, letdown, and renewed compulsion that you find in more traditional addictions.

"My prior research has shown that workaholics experience negative emotions, both at work and at home. Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they're at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety," Clark explained in the research release. "Workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction," she concludes.

Not only is your work addiction way more similar to a drug habit than you're probably comfortable admitting, it's probably also distressing the rest of your life just like any other addiction would (though admittedly generally in a more moderate way). "Our results show that while unrelated to job performance, workaholism does influence other aspects like job stress, greater work-life conflict, decreased physical health, and job burnout," Clark says.

Of course, while workaholism is bad, passion for your job can be great. Clark and her team acknowledge there's a difference and stress that it comes down largely to motivation--workaholics put in the hours because of perfectionism and compulsion, passionate workers do it for joy. If you're not 100 percent sure which category you fall into, there are both formal and informal assessments to help you decide.

If the results say workaholic, don't laugh them off as a testament to your dedication and importance. Workaholism is nothing to brag about.

Published on: Nov 11, 2014
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