What is the relationship between work issues and behavioral addictions?
The arrival of desktop computers in the 1980s transformed the workplace, increasing demands for mental productivity. Employees deal with increased stress by using the Internet for non-work-related activities such as shopping, gambling, and visiting social media or pornography sites. In excess, such activities mirror other behavioral addictions and cost employers billions of dollars in lost productivity and health claims.
Researchers estimated that by the year 2000, employees had been spending one hour per day on personal web use (PWU), which can be defined as any Internet activity not related to the job. PWU produced losses amounting to $35 million per year. By 2010, productivity losses were in the billions of dollars. PWU now accounts for more than one-half of all online activity at work, according to the American Management Association.
Mark Griffiths, an eminent researcher in the field of workplace addictions, claims that most employees are not “Internet addicts,” but they may use the Internet to maintain other behavioral addictions, such as gambling, pornography, or shopping addictions. He refers to excessive PWU as a technological addiction, a subset of behavioral addictions that are not chemical in nature and that involve human-machine interaction.
Other researchers agree that, like other behavioral (and chemical) addictions, compulsive Internet misuse or overuse is likely caused by problems of low self-esteem and self-control, obsessive compulsion, and mood disorders. Excessive PWU follows the same progression as other addictions: mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, conflict, and relapse.
While some researchers view PWU as a variation on dysfunctional work behaviors such as stealing and making long personal phone calls, others believe it is of value in the modern workplace. The human-resources view states that PWU gives employees access to the knowledge needed in rapidly changing fields such as health care, where online collaboration is accelerating the adoption of best practices.
PWU also can be viewed as a way to take a break from concentrated endeavors or boring work. It allows employees to achieve a tolerable life-work balance as the work week expands beyond forty hours, often in a cubicle. A study published in 2003 found that Americans spent more time online at home doing work than online at work doing personal business.
What is needed in the workplace are clear examples of acceptable Internet use and a shared understanding among employees and managers. Rather than using monitoring tools, filters, and firewalls, for example, organizations should make PWU policies known and should partner with employees so that everyone is vigilant.
The main deterrents to PWU are time and lack of privacy, although sanctions and personal disincentives are also effective. A human resources officer, rather than a technical officer, should lead discussions to make employees aware of appropriate PWU.
Pathological gambling is especially worrisome in conjunction with PWU. Most gambling takes place during workday hours to hide the compulsion from family members, and employees now have access to thousands of gambling websites. If the sites are blocked by the employer, employees can place bets by telephone.
Gambling problems may be recognized as an employee’s work performance deteriorates. Other signs of a gambling problem include frequent absences and missed deadlines, eagerness to take part in or organize office betting pools, borrowing money and arguing about having to pay it back, not taking time off from work or asking to be compensated in cash, complaining about mounting debt, spending time on personal phone calls, receiving credit card and other bills at work instead of home, increased time spent gambling during lunch or other breaks, and making false claims on expense accounts or otherwise stealing from the employer.
Businesses that deal in large amounts of cash or that are located near gambling venues should have a sound gambling policy. This policy should define the types of gambling that are acceptable at work (for example, office pools) and those that are prohibited.
The compulsion to overeat has gained behavioral addiction status among laypersons, likely due to the popularity of Overeaters Anonymous, a twelve-step program modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and other such programs. Overeating can result in obesity and leads to high costs in the workplace. Overweight or obese employees have more workplace injuries and disability claims and use more sick leave than their coworkers who are not overweight.
A 2010 survey by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that overweight men cost their companies between about $300 and $6,000 more per year. Estimates ranged from about $800 to $6,600 for overweight women per year. The survey concluded that 37 percent of the obese are responsible for 65 percent of excess employer costs. Employers who encourage physical activity with gym memberships or exercise classes, for example, can save a significant amount of money in benefits.
While it may seem counterintuitive, work addiction is not good for business. People who become “workaholics” are less effective team players, taking on so much work that their performance suffers. Some workaholics cannot get started on projects for fear that the end result will not be perfect; others begin working obsessively and then fail to finish when they get another assignment.
Like all behavioral addictions, workaholism happens in stages. In the first stage, a worker is constantly busy and will put in extra hours without being paid for those hours. The employee has a difficult time relaxing on days off. In the second stage, the employee becomes distant from family and friends and, when at home, is distracted and emotionally still at work. He or she may have trouble sleeping and may see a change in weight, up or down. In later stages, the workaholic experiences physical and emotional symptoms such as chronic headaches, high blood pressure, and stomach ulcers that lead to increased medical claims.
Anandarajan, Murugan, and Claire A. Simmers. Personal Web Usage in the Workplace: A Guide to Effective Human Resources Management. Hershey: Information Science, 2004. Print.
Griffiths, Mark. “Internet Abuse in the Workplace: Issues and Concerns for Employers and Employment Counselors.” Journal of Employment Counseling 40.2 (2003): 87–96. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Nov. 2015.
Ladouceur, Robert, and Stella Lachance. Overcoming Pathological Gambling: Therapist Guide. New York: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.
Robinson, Bryan E. Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them. 3rd ed. New York: New York UP, 2014. Print.