Workaholism - Causes, prevalence, and perspectives

Student thesis: Master Thesis and HD Thesis

  • Line Fyrst Thygesen
4. term, Psychology, Master (Master Programme)
This thesis first of all investigates whether it is possible to become addicted to work. If this is the case, then this thesis seeks to explain why we become workaholics.
This thesis is to be understood as a model, aiming to propose a part of the explanation of the etiology of workaholism. In the attempt to explain this phenomenon, a line of theoretical perspectives is applied that sheds light on different aspects of workaholism. The methodological approach of this thesis has been abduction. Workaholism was a phenomenon I encountered without being able to explain it, and as a result, this thesis is to be understood as a suggestion of an explanation as to why one can become ad-dicted to work. The phenomenon has been attempted to be explained by identifying and taking one theoretical step at a time for then to be able to assess how a given theoretical perspective corresponded with the phenomenon that was being investigated and if the perspective could explain aspects of workaholism.

Workaholism is a relatively new area of research that has been characterized by theoret-ical discrepancies since the beginning. In this thesis, workaholism is understood as an overshadowing obsessive need to work. The behavior has consequences for the other part of life in the form of family life and recreational activities, but also for the health of the individual.

Social motivation was identified as the first theoretical step in examining workaholism. With a basis in Relational Models Theory, communal sharing is understood as a form of social motivation where the effort performed by the individual is not immediately regulated or has a natural limit. Findings suggest that this form of motivation leads to the individual performing more than what is necessary. The individual invests own resources and performs what is possible without expecting anything in exchange or without expecting personal gain. Subsequently, it was investigated what it is in human nature that causes social motivation. To answer that question, altruism was introduced. Altruism promotes cooperation and gives a positive reputation. A positive reputation gives reproductive advantages. Emotions such as empathy, gratitude, elevation and guilt increase the probability of the individual engaging in altruistic actions.
Besides social motivation, self-control must be a necessary component in the explana-tion of workaholism. Self-control was investigated with respect to the concept of ego-depletion and is understood as a capacity dependent on a scarce resource. This resource was suggested to be blood glucose. By applying self-control, the resource is depleted and the following application of self-control will be less successful. Self-control ena-bles goal orientated behavior and it enables one to continue with a given behavior even when it is difficult or painful.

This thesis finds that earlier significant standpoints for the management of identity such as family life, gender roles and recreational activities has changed and are less signifi-cant social standpoints than earlier. Instead, work has over time become a significant part of the social identity. As a result, it is presumed that work activates social motives that ensures that the individual invests in this particular community. When you are so-cially motivated, you perform more than you are paid to do. At the same time the indi-vidual, due to self-control, is able to exploit own resources when something is particu-larly motivating and important. The individual is capable of enduring the self-abuse that takes place in workaholism, because the work is so important.

Finally, a study estimates the prevalence of workaholism to be 6,6 % in Denmark. I find it likely that the occurrence of workaholism can be expected to rise in the future. That makes the question of treatment and prevention of workaholism especially pre-sent.
Publication date31 May 2019
Number of pages93
ID: 304814742