Working hard? Or hardly working? — Work Addiction

Have you ever found yourself addicted to your work? Ever been so caught up in getting extra work done, you forget the dinner plans you made with your family? Ever pull away from your desk to take a break, to suddenly feel a rush of anxiety and feel the uncontrollable urge to continue? Well maybe not, but this is the case for addicted workaholics. It can be hard to distinguish the point at which a healthy professional life crosses over into an impairing addiction. The division of work and private life are sometimes blurred with the late nights spent at the office, weekend business trips and home offices and thus a recent social psychologist Dr. Cecilie Andreassen, from the University of Bergen has developed a new psychological test to measure this construct of work addiction.

Andreassen based The Bergen Work Addiction Scale (BWAS) on the seven principles shared in other addiction models; salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, relapse, and problems. This sound theoretical basis of the BWAS increases the construct validity seeing as it is founded on an existing body of knowledge. This theory specifies that work addiction is comparable to other behavioral addictions, resembling gambling addiction, Internet addiction, sex addiction, exercise addiction, and video game addiction. Some workaholics use work as an outlet during harsh personal times as a coping mechanism, one example would be that a divorcee might work late at the office in order to avoid going home to confront an empty house. Unfortunately, some employers may view work addiction as a virtue and even socially acceptable in their staff, but this is wrong. Work addicts are often confused as synonymous to top- performers; rather it is as impairing and debilitating as any other addiction, with unhealthy compulsions, preoccupations and physiological side effects (stress, anxiety, insomnia, heart attacks ect) which need detection and treatment.

This new assessment tool is a self reported 7 item, 5-point likert scale ranging from always to never. This test is designed to target each one of the seven facets of addiction theory through each respective item. If an individual scores “often” or “always” at least on four of the items, they are classified as a workaholic. There is strong face validity because each item of the BWAS is clearly evaluating work- related aspects of addiction. My first impression of this scale was that it was too short to have enough sensitivity for differentiating between mild or severe addiction. However it turns out, these well-selected 7 prompts provide reliable discriminative sensitivity to distinguish non-addicts, mild and severe cases. The overall utility of this scale is somewhat foggy to me, however the developers claim it adds value to work addiction research and practice in terms of treatment and estimating prevalence rates.

Bergen and her team developed the scale by administering it to 12,135 randomly selected Norwegian employees from 25 different industries and two cross-occupational samples. This serves as a good representative sample to test because it is large enough to see shortcomings of the test, as well as if the seven items are sufficient to cover the breadth and severity of work addiction.

This test has shown to correlate highly with other measures of the same construct notably the Work Addiction Risk Test (WART) and the Workaholism Battery (Work-BAT) and thus these correlations increase its convergent validity. The scores of the BWAS did not correlate with scores on the Work Enjoyment subscale and thus shows good discriminative validity since this is a measure of a different construct. Equally, no research has yet been conducted, but it is hypothesized the Bergen Work Addiction Scale will correlate highly with study addiction. This is based on the premise that work addiction follows a life long course, thus showing its earlier manifestation as a student. The BWAS scale has shown to be correlated with stress scales, poor sleep quality scores and type A personality types.

After this, perhaps we should re-evaluate the age-old advice to “throw yourself into your work” as a coping strategy.

Hope you enjoyed reading, and let’s not get back to work!

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