With Christmas preparations in full swing, work expectations often ramp up too, says Professor Sir Cary Cooper. 

The shift to working from home during the pandemic has offered some much-needed flexibility for a lot of workers, but this newfound freedom has also caused many professionals to become addicted to work. In fact, a recent survey has revealed that 45 percent of remote employees now work more hours during the week than they did before. 


What is work addiction

Work addiction, also known as “workaholism”, is the inability to switch off your professional life. It is driven by the need to achieve status and success. Similarly, those who suffer from a work addiction tend to get a “high” from getting good recognition for their efforts and completing a task. It can not only affect your mental but physical health too.

Workplace addiction rising in UK

Workplace addiction is an increasing concern among Brits over the festive period, with searches for “workaholism” increasing by 92 percent, since the government announced a return to working from home. 

If the last 20 months have taught us anything, we should be taking time off over the holidays to relax with loved ones. People are now working harder and longer hours than ever before and should use Christmas time as a way to disconnect from corporate life.

This means if you have emails or messages coming to your phone, switch them off so that you aren’t distracted or thinking about work when you should be relaxing. Having the temptation to look at work emails while off can mean you end up going back after the holidays more tired than when you left, because you didn’t fully disconnect.”


How do HR teams tell if people are addicted to work 

Given the nature of your job role, like working in the healthcare or hospitality industry, staff often do more hours than usual over the Christmas period.

It is, therefore, the job of employers or line managers to make sure that staff are not overworking so they have enough time to rest.

If you are concerned that a member of staff is becoming addicted to work, there are a few telltale symptoms that you can look out for including acting withdrawn, looking physically exhausted, over-using substances like alcohol or drugs or using work as a form of escape.

What can employers do to help their staff manage their workload run-up to Christmas? 

It is important that employers give staff enough time to relax over the Christmas period, so they feel refreshed and energised in the new year.

To help keep work addiction to a minimum, managers should not send any kind of email outside of working hours, even if it’s work that can wait until the new year. For those that might struggle with addiction to their job, receiving an email like this could cause the person to start working again when they should be resting.


                Seven ways to recognise work addiction


  1. You work more than intended

If you find yourself skipping your lunch break and working long hours into the evening, this is a definite sign that you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. When working in the same space you live in, it can be especially difficult to establish boundaries and know when to switch off.


  1. Over-consuming alcohol

Delamere’s survey reveals that one in four adults increased their alcohol consumption during lockdown in the last year. As we find ourselves working from home again, there could be a possibility that this trend will remerge. With this in mind, if you find the urge to break into the bottle every night, this could be a sign that you’re using alcohol as a destresser from working long hours.


  1. You’re using work to escape your problems

People use their addictions as outlets to escape what  they’re going through in their lives. Those with a work addiction tend to dive headfirst in their work to distract themselves from the problems occurring in their lives. With the surging spread of the Omicron variant and the general chaos of the Christmas period, it’s common that people will feel the need to do this.



  1. You have trouble sleeping

As the mind is so alert during the day, people with acwork addiction tend to suffer from insomnia. This is a common occurrence when someone works in the same bedroom they sleep in.


  1. Not working stresses you out

When it gets to the evenings or weekends and you feel on edge due to not working, this is a key sign that you’re addicted to your work. This feeling tends to stem from guilt from not being able to devote yourself to your job all the time.


  1. You are deprioritising aspects of your personal life

 If you can’t remember the last time you made time for yourself, this is another indicator you’re working too much. Similarly, if you find that you aren’t exercising, eating takeaways way too often and meeting up with friends less regularly, this is also a warning that you need to take a break from your work life.


  1. Your loved ones have voiced their concerns

You should always place trust in your loved ones to let you know when something is wrong. That said, if you’ve received comments about your working lifestyle from the individuals close to you, it’s time to take action. 




Professor Sir Cary Cooper is past President of Relate, Clinical Advisor to Anxiety UK, President of the Institute of Welfare, President of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and past President of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. At Robertson Cooper he focuses on strategy, external relations and PR activity.