Workaholics risk depression from internet addiction

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2014

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If you were one of the nearly three-quarters of workers logging on to work emails instead of switching off over the holidays, it could be unhealthy and counterproductive, researchers warn.

British psychologists found it is workplace high-fliers, rather than students or the unemployed, who risk isolation, depression and anxiety disorders as they increasingly show signs of internet addiction.

More than 60 per cent of participants said they used the internet compulsively and that was strongly linked to working excessively, even when emotional stability was taken into account.

Cristina Quinones-Garcia of Northampton Business School and Nada Korac-Kakabadse of Henley Business School surveyed 516 people, both employed and unemployed, on their emotional stability, workload, life satisfaction and internet usage.

More than 60 per cent of participants said they used the internet compulsively and that was strongly linked to working excessively, even when emotional stability was taken into account.

The researchers said the addictive tendency of compulsive internet use was seen strongest in the the employed group and they were therefore more at risk to the withdrawal symptoms of isolation, anxiety and depression.

The researchers told the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference that workplace over-achievers were more likely to burn out more quickly, and their performance in the office would suffer.

They warned that companies should set limits on out of office work expectations to take pressure off and help workers relax with their families.

Auckland registered psychologist Sara Chatwin said "workcreep", where employees increasingly stay alert and prioritise work above all else, is occurring in New Zealand and the study results are not surprising. "It's dog eat dog and people want to be on top . . . but I see it all the time and this is an increasing phenomenon and stress is a killer.

"People are increasingly staying plugged in. That means they cannot relax and get the benefits of that relaxation process," she said.

An Expedia survey of 300 New Zealand workers found 73 per cent of them log in to check work emails when they are on holiday, with nearly a third checking them regularly throughout a trip away.

Chatwin said it may be the case that workers were wanting to check in on what was awaiting them on their return to the office.

"In some of the workplace cultures we have, where it's hyper-competitive or there, are mantra's like ‘always please the client' and ‘the customer is always right', you're bound to end up with these work activities creeping in and becoming habits," she said.

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A separate University of Tallin study showed nearly 75 per cent of workers dreaded opening their work emails on a Monday.

Common reasons for the Monday morning dread were workers seeing commands or requests that were days old or urgent.

"In the long run, these over-achievers come out second-best but companies also need to realise that if people burn out, the company loses that high achiever and staff turnover increases," she said.

Strategies to combat "workcreep" and compulsive internet use would need to be personal, but many centred on creating supportive environments free of technology.

STRESS TIPS

Be honest with your boss about work expectations outside of work hours.

Consider putting an "out of office" reply on emails, even during weekends.

Avoid conversations about work duties or deadlines.

Schedule downtime, like you would a meeting.

Create technology-free spaces, particularly in your bedroom. 

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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