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All Work and No Play Leads to Back Pain and Mental Distress

According to the results of a new study, people who seem to have an addiction to working are much more likely to suffer with low back pain (LBP), mental health problems, and somatic sicknesses when compared to nonworkaholics. The study, which was led by Ko Matsudaira of the Clinical Research Center for Occupational Musculoskeletal Disorders at Kanto Rosai Hospital in Japan, is one of the few to look at the effect of workaholic behaviors on psychological and physical health.

Workaholism is defined as the habit of working obsessively, working more than is required, and continuing to think about work when at home. Workaholics often have difficulty disengaging from work, and choose work over leisure and family time. There is some evidence supporting a link between workaholic behavior and poor mental health.

Matsudaira’s study is the first to look at how workaholic behavior affects LBP, an often chronic and debilitating condition that can have significant negative effects on mental and physical well-being. Further, this study is among the first to look at how workaholism is related to absenteeism. While at first glance, one would think that a workaholic would not miss time from work, LBP and mental distress caused by workaholism could increase absenteeism.

For the study, Matsudaira conducted an internet questionnaire survey on nearly 4,000 Japanese workers from various types of jobs, including professional, manual labor, and desk jobs. The results revealed that workaholics were much more likely to have LBP than individuals who did not have workaholism. This finding remained constant even after controlling for the type of job conducted. Further, poor mental health, high levels of stress, and poor sleeping patterns coalesced to decrease overall well-being, leading to higher rates of depression among those with workaholism.

Surprisingly, despite having an intense commitment to work, workaholics were more likely than others to miss work due to mental health problems. These results suggest that compulsive and addictive work behaviors can compromise overall quality of life and well-being. Matsudaira added, “Our current data support the association of workaholism and poor psychological health and the chain of associations needs to be tested in subsequent investigations.”

Matsudaira, K., Shimazu, A., Fujii, T., Kubota, K., Sawada, T., et al. (2013). Workaholism as a risk factor for depressive mood, disabling back pain, and sickness absence. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75140. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075140

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  • foley

    October 17th, 2013 at 5:55 AM

    have never been one of those people who derives all of my meaning from my work
    i like my job and all that but those people who are constantly thinking about work and stressing baout what goes on there without them? that’s definitely not me

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