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Beyond Nine to Five

by Lieke L. Ten Brummelhuis, Nancy P. Rothbard, and Benjamin Uhrich


This study investigated whether two sides of working to excess, namely working long hours and a compulsive work mentality (workaholism), are detrimental for employee health by using biomarkers of metabolic syndrome, a direct precursor of cardiovascular diseases. In addition, we examined if working to excess has the same health outcomes for employees who enjoy their work versus employees who do not. Despite the common sense belief that working long hours is bad for health, we did not find a relationship between work hours and risk factors of metabolic syndrome (RMS; e.g. high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels) in a study among 763 employees. Instead, we found that workaholism was positively related to RMS, but only when work engagement was low. Surprisingly, we found that workaholism was negatively related to RMS in the highly engaged group. When further exploring mediation mechanisms, we found that workaholism, but not work hours, was related to reduced subjective well-being (e.g. depressive feelings, sleep problems), which in turn elicited a physical health impairment process. We also found that, compared to non-engaged workaholics, engaged workaholics had more resources, which they may use to halt the health impairment process. Our findings underscore that not long hours per se, but rather a compulsive work mentality is associated with severe health risks, and only for employees who are not engaged at work. Work engagement may actually protect workaholics from severe health risks.

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