With the northern hemisphere hurtling toward the start of another summer, it’s a natural time to think about breaks—and why some of us seem unable to take one.
What does it say to the people around us when we forgo trips to the beach or slink off to the side at the backyard barbecue to check in with work? And what are we saying to ourselves? That we are doing this because we have to? Or maybe because we want to?
Either way, there’s a growing body evidence suggesting it isn’t just drive that’s keeping us chained to our work; there might be more humbling clinical factors involved. A recent study of more than 16,000 workers in Norway found a correlation between workaholism and a host of psychiatric disorders, including ADHD, OCD, anxiety, and depression. And if we’re using work as a distraction from, or salve for, our other problems, our methods for doing so may be making things worse. In a study on students at the University of British Columbia, researchers found that the notifications and other interruptions pinging us from our smartphones make people less attentive and more hyperactive, mimicking the symptoms of ADHD.
It’s easy to blame technology for exacerbating the plight of the workaholic. Our gadgets and apps indeed make it easier for our bosses and colleagues to track us down, while making it harder to resist whatever temptation exists to tether ourselves to our work. But workaholism existed before the reign of the smartphone or the age of email, and it will likely outlive both.
In the meantime, technology’s intrusion on seemingly everything else in modern life offers a bit of cover to the workaholics among us. We may be the only people at the swimming pool this weekend negotiating deals or finishing projects, but we certainly won’t be the only people on our smartphones.