Workaholism vs Work Engagement – links to health and performance

It’s OK to be committed to your work and to perform well in the workplace, but this does not mean you should be a workaholic, but rather an engaged worker. Cari Miller explains the difference between the two and how workaholism impacts negatively on general well-being.

‘I’m a real workaholic.’ Sound familiar? It should. ‘Workaholism’ has been named the addiction of this century.1 What we don’t often hear is: ‘I’m an engaged worker.’ It may not have the same ring as workaholic, but work engagement is what every employee should aim for. It’s not a matter of semantics – the difference between workaholism and work engagement has big implications on our well-being and performance.


Global competition, organisational restructuring, and a tough economy have deepened the focus on top talent. This competitiveness means that employees are heavily investing in their work.2 As a result, today’s workforce is spending more of its active time connected to the workplace.

If high work investment is the reality, we need to understand whether we’re positively engaged or work-obsessed – and what this means for our health, and the health of our organisations.


Workaholism is the inner need to work compulsively. Workaholics think about work outside of work time, go far beyond what’s expected of them, and are driven to work obsessively – often refusing to delegate and making tasks more complex than they should be.2

Work engagement is a positive state characterised by vigour, absorption, and dedication. Engaged employees work hard because they’re motivated and enjoy their work, not because they’re bound by an irresistible inner compulsion.2

Because workaholics tend to work excessively, there is insufficient time for them to recover and restore their energy. This leads to greater strain and a strong propensity for burnout.3

Engaged employees experience higher levels of energy, resilience, and optimism. This results in higher levels of mental well-being and greater overall health. In fact, engaged employees are found to suffer less from headaches and cardiovascular problems, and express fewer health complaints than workaholics.4


Because engaged employees experience good overall health, they’re able to tap into all of their mental and physical resources. This means that they can use their knowledge, skills and abilities to function optimally. They’re better equipped to handle job demands and achieve their goals.4

Engaged employees also regularly experience positive emotions; this allows them to build and mobilise personal resources. For example, the emotion joy broadens one’s thought-action range so that one is able to think creatively, actively participate in tasks, and explore ideas.4

Research suggests that the positive moods associated with engagement can be transferred

from one employee to another.4 The crossover of engagement creates a combined employee effort that can increase company performance.

Engaged employees are healthy, vital, and cheerfully engrossed in their work – enhancing their ability to realise better organisational results.


1. Job resources

Research has shown that job resources – support from supervisors and colleagues, adequate feedback, autonomy, and learning opportunities – facilitate employee engagement.

These resources are intrinsically motivating because they enable personal growth and development for employees. They’re also extrinsically motivating because they play a key role in helping employees to achieve their goals.4

Every organisation is unique. This gives leaders the opportunity to cultivate job resources in ways that fit their organisational culture – and deliver a competitive advantage.

2. New ways of working

Allowing employees flexibility in terms of when and where they work has been shown to facilitate engagement. Embracing new ways of working gives employees control over their own work processes. It also gives them autonomy in deciding how to use their time most efficiently.5

New ways of working include new media technologies, allowing for various forms of communication. This not only gives employees more options in terms of how they communicate – allowing for increased efficiency when, for example, a face to face meeting is not possible – but also a sense of connectivity and relatedness.

3. You!

Personal resources refer to positive self-evaluations – good self-esteem, resilience, and goal-congruence. Personal resources facilitate work engagement. There’s no perfect formula for developing personal resources, but the more we start becoming aware of our thoughts, actions, and goals, the more likely we are to find the right direction.4

From there, personal resources can be utilised to maximise engagement – and performance. It’s true: Time spent working on ourselves can be more valuable than time spent working excessively in the office.


With global competition, it becomes difficult to resist the urge to work excessively. Keep in mind that engaged workers are happily occupied with their work, they’re healthy, and they’re great performers. No matter the competition, work engagement – and not workaholism – makes you a more competitive worker, and healthier individual.


  1. Morin A. Seven signs you may be a workaholic. Forbes. 2014. Available from
  2. Shimazu A, Schaufeli WB, et al. Workaholism vs. work engagement: The two different predictors of future wellbeing and performance. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2015;22(1):18-23.
  3. Schaufeli WB, Taris TW, et al, Workaholism, burnout, and work engagement: Three of a kind or three different kinds of employee well-being? Applied Psychology: An International Review. 2008;57(2):173-203.
  4. Bakker AB, Schaufeli WB, et al. Work engagement: An emerging concept in occupational health psychology. Work & Stress. 2008;22(3):187-200.
  5. Ten Brummelhuis LL, Bakker AB, et al. Do new ways of working foster work engagement? Psicothema. 2012; 24(1):113-120.
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Workaholism vs Work Engagement – links to health and performance

Cari Miller
About The Author
- She researches and writes about well-being at within the work environment. She has studied Organisational Psychology for five years at the University of Cape Town and left a global start-up to complete her Master’s degree. Her final dissertation is currently being examined.She is excited about promoting health, engagement, and productivity in the 21st century workplace.