Workaholism or Engagement?

This is part of our quick reads series; helping you stay informed without hogging your precious time.  This post summarises a peer reviewed academic paper on workaholism and work engagement in relation to wellbeing and performance.

What’s the difference?

“workaholism is characterized by high effort with negative affect, whereas work engagement is characterized by high effort with positive affect”

FYI ‘affect’ is a silly academic work for emotion or happiness (well it isn’t that straight forward hence the need for the ‘silly’ word).

Previous studies have linked workaholism to future ill-wellbeing and – get this – poorer work performance, but engagement to the opposite.  Before we get carried away – these studies were cross sectional or had short follow up – so discussions about cause and effect are premature.  Shimazu and mates used the current study to go deeper.

What did they do?

They followed 1,325 workers over two years, looking at their workaholism, engagement, performance, satisfaction, tiredness, and levels of anxiety/depression.

Note the initial response rate was over 99%.  Something I never heard of.  The study was in Japan, maybe there is something special about Japan and response rates – maybe I should move to Japan.  So it is little surprise that 90% ish were still answering two years later, this makes for some pretty powerful data.

They then ran some really funky statistics, specifically structural equation modelling to test their hypotheses that workaholism would predict future bad stuff, while engagement would predict future good stuff.

What did they find?

Although workaholism and work engagement both result in heavy investment in work, their longer terms outcomes could not be more different.

Workaholism led to less future wellbeing, where engagement led to better future wellbeing and improved performance.

What do I think?

I think that this is fascinating!

Employers are very focused on how to make employees more productive.  This tells us not all types of productivity are created equal and rather worryingly there are types of productivity now (i.e. workaholism based) that actually may be linked to poorer future performance.

I am interested to see if this research translates to outside of a Japan context.  I am also interested to know if more objective measures of performance were used, if the findings would be the same.

Finally, as ‘some of my closest friends’ are workaholics, I am interesting in this quote from the paper:

“our scientific understanding of workaholism is as yet quite limited regardless of the widespread use of this term among lay people”

What do you think? Drop me a line or a message below (you might win a prize).

Yours as Ever,

The Wellbeing at Work Dr

Links, References and all that JAzz

Shimazu, A., Schaufeli, W. B., Kamiyama, K., & Kawakami, N. (2015). Workaholism vs. work engagement: The two different predictors of future well-being and performance. International journal of behavioral medicine, 22(1), 18-23.

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