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October 30, 2019

Do Your Employees Have a Work Addiction?

Summer holiday season has been and gone and it’s time to ask yourself a question. Were my holidaying employees really taking a break from work? If they obsessively checked their work emails and regularly took calls; is it just a healthy love of the job, or is it a work addiction?

The medical community recognise work addiction as a real mental health condition. People with a work addiction are likely to engage in compulsive working – which can be hard to spot in a culture that praises ‘hard work’ and long hours. But failure to spot a work addiction early could be costly to employers, as a rehabilitation program to manage the behaviour will most likely require time off work.

Are you on the lookout for signs of ‘workaholics’? Do you actively promote work-life balance to your employees? If you’re not sure what to look for and how to approach this subject, read on to find out more.

The Impact of Technology

With the introduction of modern technology, it’s easy to see how we’ve become a society working beyond the traditional nine to five. A recent survey by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) revealed that UK employees work the longest hours within the EU, with an average of 42 hours per week. A similar survey by Harvard Business Review shows the average Chief Executive Officer (CEO) works 62.5 hours per week; that’s 21.3 above the global baseline of 41.2. What’s more, 54% of UK employees admit to checking their work emails whilst on holiday with a further 6% admitting that they’ve even checked them at a funeral. It seems smartphones have a lot to answer for!

The use of laptop computers, tablets and smartphones could give employees the opportunity to spend less time at work. However, the regular distractions caused by these devices, together with an inability to disconnect from them, inevitably makes the working day longer, but with less to show for it.

The Rise of Presenteeism

Presenteeism is when employees are at their place of work for more hours than required, and come to work even whilst sick. A study by the CIPD shows a significant rise in presenteeism; from 26% in 2010 to a massive 86% in 2017. 

Encouraging a culture of presenteeism, contrary to what might be understood, does not lead to greater productivity. Employees may be present at work, but if they’re not actually working, their productivity is not significant. Further, presenteeism results in employees feeling as if they are being judged on the number of hours they sit at their desk, as opposed to the quality of their work; this can lead to unhappiness, burnout and health issues.  

How do You Know if it’s Work Addiction?

A strong indicator of an employee’s addiction to work is when their responses to the questions below is “always” or “often”: 

Do you…

  • Spend more time working than initially intended? 
  • Work to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression? 
  • Become stressed if prevented from working? 
  • Prioritise work over hobbies, leisure or exercise? 
  • Work so hard that it has a negative effect on your health? 

Ask your people managers to assess their teams by asking these questions. If team members are saying ‘yes’ it could be an indication they are struggling to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Remember to take care when trying to identify between a hard worker and a workaholic – the former will have a healthy drive to work hard and do a good job, but the latter will more likely show signs of feeling guilty, being stressed and have poor health.

How to Encourage Work-Life-Balance 

Limiting Overtime

Where possible ensure that everyone works their contractual hours and focus on results (output) rather than hours spent at a the workstation (input). Whilst there is always the occasional need for overtime, make sure it’s an exception, not the expectation. 

Switching Off

Communicate to your organisation that employees do not need an “always-on” attitude in order to succeed and progress. Time away from work is an opportunity to focus on other things that will contribute to their overall wellbeing. It’s a chance to exercise; spend time with family, friends and their community; focus on personal development (including hobbies and interests outside of their job); and to get a good night’s sleep.

Taking Holidays

When going on holiday, ask employees to log off the company network or leave work phones at home. If they need oversight of a project, encourage them to at least limit time spent looking at or responding to emails.

Work Distractions

It’s not difficult to become snowed under with tasks when there are so many distractions in the workplace. Why not set specific working times for people to engage face to face? That way you might reduce the time-consuming back and forth of emails. You may also want to try shortening meetings – does that departmental weekly catch up need to be two hours? Could you communicate the core information in one hour?

Flexible Working

Work place distractions could be drastically reduced with flexible and remote working options, according to a report by Udemy. If your office can be a busy or noisy place, allow employees who need to focus on complex tasks to work from home if they will benefit from a quieter environment to get more done.

If you’re interested in introducing flexible working practices to help your employees achieve better work-life balance, watch our webinar recording: Flexible Working Practices made Easy

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About the author

Francis Scoon

About the author

Francis Scoon

Francis has over 20 years’ experience of Employment Law and HR related issues gained in both large public and private organisations. As well as representing SMEs, Francis has worked in the Employment Department of a large regional law firm, advising preparing and representing cases on behalf of claimants. Before joining Moorepay, Francis was a Senior Advocate where, in addition to maintaining a caseload of employment tribunal cases covering all aspects of employment law, he managed a team of advocates and an administrator.

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