Workaholism, which is officially defined as “being overly concerned about work, driven by an uncontrollable work motivation, and investing so much time and effort to work that it impairs other important life areas,” sounds like the latest in a long line of made-up diseases that have little grounding in scientific reality. A recent study of more than 16,000 adults in Norway, however, points to a relationship with other maladies that should perhaps be taken more seriously than many of us would like to admit. Conditions like ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and depression were all found far more often among workaholics than the general population. And while researchers are not sure whether workaholism causes those other issues or if it results from them, the connection seems relatively conclusive.
As Olivia Goldhill writes for Quartz, the findings came after participants in the study were asked “to rate on a scale of one (never) to five (always) how often they experienced certain situations, including becoming stressed if they’re prohibited from working, or working so much that it affects their health.” While the results must be qualified by the possibility that Norway’s social factors influenced the outcome, researchers are confident that their sample size was large enough to make at least general assumptions about the connection across cultural lines.
Among those connections is the belief that those with ADHD often suffer from workaholism, in part, because they have trouble maintaining the same pace in the same conditions as others, either working longer hours to accomplish the same things or simply finding it easier to focus after the normal workday. For those with OCD, the need to have everything just right and every detail accounted for can foster workaholism. Finally, as a strong work ethic is almost universally praised, those suffering from anxiety or depression were shown to use work as either an escape or a means of simply feeling better about themselves.
Perhaps the most interesting connection the researchers found, however, was that many people use work as a way of compensating for the failings in other aspects of their lives. For many people, how hard they work is one of the few things they can control. As a result, focusing more on work when their relationships, home life, etc. are going poorly allows them to regain some measure of perceived control when the other aspects of their lives are spiraling downward. It’s a way of separating themselves from what are often more significant, but also more difficult, demands on their time while simultaneously feeling as though they are accomplishing something important.
The temptation is understandable, but that doesn’t make the action excusable. Yes, there are undoubtedly worse ways of compensating for such struggles, but is choosing the best of the bad solutions really the choice we want to make when our families, witnesses, and general wellbeing are on the line? There’s a better way, but it starts with a willingness to put just as much, if not more, time and energy into fixing our problems than we often put into avoiding them.
As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means . . . walking back to the right road . . . the man who turns back the soonest is the most progressive man.”
Thankfully, our heavenly Father doesn’t call us to make such a turn by ourselves. We serve a God who understands such temptations and longs to help us get through them in his strength and grace (Hebrews 4:15–16). If anyone ever understood the temptation to work constantly and the pressure to meet the perceived needs of others to an extent that goes beyond the Lord’s will, it was Jesus (Mark 1:29–35). If anyone ever understood the temptation to pour himself into solving problems and doing genuinely good things rather than working on difficult relationships, it was Christ (after all, can you imagine spending three straight years with the disciples? Matthew 16:5–23).
Yet, despite those temptations, Jesus never allowed the day-to-day work of his calling to become so consuming that it distorted his priorities or kept him from living out God’s will. He wants to help each of us maintain that same balance in our own lives as well.
There are many reasons that we might be tempted to make our work more important than it should be. Whatever your reasons, know that God not only understands but wants to help you keep your priorities aligned with his will. Will you let him?