Workaholic or Work Engaged?

Everyone loves the co-workers that like to make long hours, that are productive and are highly involved in the job. But there are subtle differences between the two categories of workers that fit the aforementioned description. Although it is too stringent to say the one is good or bad, work engagement can be considered to be better than a workaholic. Let us first explore both types, then compare them and eventually also look at burnouts, who is more likely to get one?



Workaholism consists of three dimensions, these are affect, cognition, and behaviour. The affective part consists of enjoyment in working, the excitement of doing your job. And on the other hand, the guilt and anxiety that workaholics experience when not working. From the cognitive point of view, they can be considered as addicted to work (like being addicted to chocolate or drugs). And the behaviour of workaholics consists of making long hours at work, to the cost of the work-life balance.


Work Engaged

Work engagement is a relatively new term coined by Dutch researchers. It is described as a positive, fulfilling, affective-motivational state of work-related well-being that is characterized by vigour, dedication, and absorption. As with workaholics the work engaged employee feels a strong identification with his work and enjoys working. The last characteristic is the high level of energy not only during but also derived from work.


Whilst the two types of workers may look alike on the surface, there is a vast difference in drive. The workaholic feels a compulsion to work, and has little possibility of stopping (and feels guilty when he does). The work engaged likes to work and is driven solely by this. The problem of the workaholic is that their need for work is so exaggerated that it endangers their health, family life, social functioning and overall happiness.

And a final danger is that of a burnout. Although there are some positive aspects of being a workaholic, it too does increase the chance of a burnout. Both forms of working carry the notion of working long hours, but without a sense of happiness, but one of guilt, exhaustion is far more likely. Next to a poorer performance in the long run, putting all your energy into work can physically and mentally exhaust a person. When compounded with the two other aspects of burnout, cynicism and inefficacy, a person who is a workaholic is far more likely to face a burnout than a work engaged employee.


References & Further Reading:

1. Ng, T. W., Sorensen, K. L., & Feldman, D. C. (2007). Dimensions, antecedents, and consequences of workaholism: A conceptual integration and extension. Journal of Organizational Behavior28(1), 111-136.

2. Bakker, A. B., Schaufeli, W. B., Leiter, M. P., & Taris, T. W. (2008). Work engagement: An emerging concept in occupational health psychology. Work & Stress22(3), 187-200.

3. Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B., & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.