Work and Health: The Effects of Workaholism

Research into work and health show that under the wrong conditions the effects of workaholism can be very harmful to individual workers and their families.

| September/October 1981

  • 071 work and health - PRESSMASTER - Fotolia
    In a job like this, work and health—good health—won't be compatible.
  • Medical Self Care - Tom Ferguson3
    Dr. Tom Ferguson was an early advocate for medical self care.

  • 071 work and health - PRESSMASTER - Fotolia
  • Medical Self Care - Tom Ferguson3

After her freshman year at college, Marilyn Machlowitz returned home to take on not one, not two, but three summer jobs.

"You know what you are?" her father commented. "A workaholic."

That was the first time Marilyn heard the term ...but it wasn't to be the last. She went on to do her doctoral dissertation on the subject and, subsequently, to write a book called Workaholics: Living With Them, Working With Then. (Addison-Wesley, 1980).

One of the first surprises turned up by Ms. Machlowitz's research was the discovery that, as a group, the workaholics she interviewed were "remarkably satisfied with their lives." Indeed, according to one study cited in the book, 70% of those who rated their job satisfaction as "good" were equally happy with the rest of their lives. Only 14% of those unhappy with their work felt more pleased when off the job. "Satisfactions with work and with life," Machlowitz concludes, "are more apt to be intertwined than mutually exclusive."

According to Machlowitz, four basic elements govern the interaction of work and health, and determine whether individual workaholics are contented or unhappy: [1] the manner in which their families accept their work habits, [2] the amount of autonomy and variety that exists in their work, [3] the degree to which their personal skills and work styles match those required by their jobs, and [4) their general state of health.

The workaholics who were satisfied with these four aspects of their lives generally felt good about themselves as well. But those who'd had difficulties with one or more elements were more likely to experience the negative effects of workaholism. They risked what might be termed the three occupational hazards of the intensely self-driven worker: burnout, family problems, and heart disease.

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