In Europe far more than in the United States, workaholism is seen as a phenomenon that has negative consequences both for individuals and society as a whole. But a recent paper by Rouen Business School professor, Yehuda Baruch, argues that workaholism – while unquestionably an addiction – can lead to positive outcomes for individuals, business and society. It should not, he says, be automatically dismissed as a vice.
In an article published in Career Development International, Baruch observes that workaholism tends to be portrayed as something negative – an addiction that brings with it high levels of stress at work as well as at home.
But this portrayal is inaccurate, he argues, because research also shows that workaholism is associated with vigor and dedication - positive constructs that are the exact opposites of exhaustion and cynicism.
Baruch likens work addiction to a chocolate addiction. There are some health benefits to be gained by eating chocolate; it energizes people and generates a good feeling. Similarly, workaholics are energized by their work and their accomplishments reinforce a sense of well-being.
Using this as a metaphor, unless workaholic employees cause significant damage to their health, it may be best to leave it to them to decide how much work they are willing to carry out.
"Chocoholism does not hurt the environment, and only under certain extreme cases might it be harmful to the individual's health," Baruch said.
"Similarly, workaholism can be encouraged by intrinsic motivation and need, coupled with organizational identification and job satisfaction."
Furthermore, he argues that workaholism can bring intrinsic rewards, particularly when the work is done for a "good cause." It can also strengthen social interactions and result in higher pay and promotions, which in turn raises self-esteem.
Baruch takes into consideration cultural differences between countries. This includes different regulations and norms for working hours, which influence perceptions of workaholism. Cultures characterized by a high culture of power distance, or the extent to which less powerful members of organizations accept that power is distributed unequally, view workaholism as more positive. He also looks at the benefits of stress, as it's the price many are ready – and even happy – to pay for a successful career.
"I believe that exploring the influence of workaholism should be studied from a balanced viewpoint, not one that takes it as being inherently negative," said Baruch.