On Research

The "On Research" blog has been discontinued, but Safety+Health now publishes Q&As with Journal of Safety Research contributors under that name.

Work hard, play hard

September 13, 2013

Being a hard worker is considered a positive attribute. But working too hard could cause harm to your health regardless of the boost to your career. That’s something many of us know from personal experience – who hasn’t felt emotionally and physically exhausted after routinely putting in extra hours or taking on extra work?

Some recent studies offer insight into one factor behind overworking and the potential negative impact of long hours.

A study led by Dr. Joachim Stoeber, head of School and Reader in Psychology at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, examined the link between perfectionism and “workaholism.” Stoeber distinguished between two types of perfectionists – self-oriented perfectionists are driven by their own high goals while socially prescribed perfectionists think they have to be perfect to please others. The difference could be thought of as internal versus external pressure.

To gauge perfectionism and work habits, Stoeber asked 63 British employees of a professional services firm and 70 university students with part-time jobs to fill out a questionnaire. The results indicated that self-oriented perfectionists were more likely to be workaholics.

Stoeber explained that workaholics feel they have to work even if they don’t find joy in what they’re doing. “Workaholism is not just working a lot; workaholism is working excessively and compulsively,” Stoeber said.

Although health and safety were not the focus of his study, Stoeber noted that other studies have suggested workaholism may be linked to burnout. Additionally, research conducted by one of his Ph.D. students concluded socially prescribed perfectionism may increase the risk of stress and burnout.

Another study, this one from the Kyoto University School of Public Health in Japan, looks more explicitly at how long work hours and heavy workload affect mental health. In a survey of Japanese clerical workers, those who reported both long work hours and a heavy workload were almost 15 times more likely to have depression one to three years later.

Taken together, these studies show work-life balance is more than a catchphrase. Giving yourself enough time away from work to enjoy your life may help protect your mental health.

The opinions expressed in "Research Spotlight" do not necessarily reflect those of the National Safety Council or affiliated local Chapters.

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