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Work addiction: Hustle culture gone too far

By Jack Campbell | |6 minute read

Work addiction can be an often-overlooked issue as many are entranced by ‘hustle culture’.

Work addiction, or as Healthline put it, “workaholism”, is an issue that can affect an individual’s wellbeing and those surrounding them. Like any other addiction, work addiction is an inability to stop, which can lead to poor mental and physical health.

Some of the symptoms of work addiction, as listed by Healthline are:

  • Putting in long hours at the office, even when not needed
  • Losing sleep to engage in work projects or finish tasks
  • Being obsessed with work-related success
  • Having intense fear of failure at work
  • Being paranoid about work-related performance
  • Disintegrating personal relationships because of work
  • Having a defensive attitude toward others about their work
  • Using work as a way to avoid relationships
  • Working to cope with feelings of guilt or depression
  • Working to avoid dealing with crises like death, divorce, or financial trouble

Work addiction may seem like the behaviour of a model employee. However, this is a misconception, and those who hardly stop working can actually be a detriment to their company.

Some of the effects of work addiction, as outlined by the University of Nevada are:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Impaired judgement
  • Emotional and nervous breakdowns
  • Burnout
  • Poor health

This issue shouldn’t be understated, as Global Leadership Wellbeing Solutions (GLWS) notes it can be as addictive as drugs or alcohol.

Similar to more traditional addictions, work addiction can impact people’s private lives. It can negatively affect relationships, heighten conflict, and reduce satisfaction.

Compounding this issue is the rise of flexible working, which can blur the lines between work and downtime. This is exactly why some are saying that working from home increases the risk of work addiction.

While flexibility certainly isn’t a bad thing, it’s important to realise how easily the barriers of home life and work time can break down and merge.

So, how can we identify issues? According to GLWS, there are six core symptoms of work addiction that people should be aware of:

  1. Salience (preoccupation)
  2. Tolerance (much needs more)
  3. Mood modification (as a consequence of using/doing)
  4. Conflict (gets in the way of other important things/people)
  5. Withdrawal (discomfort at stopping)
  6. Relapse (difficulty abstaining)

As discussed in Understanding the etiology of workaholism: The results of the systematic review and meta-analysis: “Workaholism is gradually becoming better understood and increasingly accepted by concerned employers as a significant psychological dysfunction, a major health and wellbeing risk, and as a behavioural addiction which manifests in some employees as an irresistible or even obsessive preoccupation, an uncontrollable need and/or an inner compulsion to work excessively hard and intensely to a level that is not warranted by either the organisation or personal finances, and which ultimately leads to unintended negative consequences for individuals, their families and employers.”

Looking out for the signs can help to prevent issues arising. Five key behaviours to identify, as listed by GLWS are:

  1. Is pervasive in a person’s thoughts
  2. Overrides the rest of their life
  3. Stops them attending to other priorities
  4. Contributes to relationship difficulties
  5. Is a habit they feel lost without



Employees experience burnout when their physical or emotional reserves are depleted. Usually, persistent tension or dissatisfaction causes this to happen. The workplace atmosphere might occasionally be the reason. Workplace stress, a lack of resources and support, and aggressive deadlines can all cause burnout.


Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.