Mindfulness to the rescue of workaholics

Do you know “Boulomania”? This is workaholism, an Anglicism-derived term “workaholism” to describe the uncontrollable need to work constantly, invented by the American psychologist and religious educator Wayne Oates in 1971. This addictive phenomenon is not related to the use of substances such as e.g B. alcohol or drugs, but describes a behavioral addiction, similar to, for example, a gambling addiction.

Workaholics are people who feel the need to work so hard that they don’t hesitate to jeopardize their physical and mental health, as well as their interpersonal relationships. A recent study shows that 37% of professionals use professional digital tools outside of work hours. Legally, workaholism has been added to the list of psychosocial risks.

Read more: What drives us to become “addicted” to work?

The occasional increase in working hours, for example in connection with a large file to be processed, does not count as workaholism. To speak of workaholism, this behavior must become compulsive and last for several weeks. As with other addictions, this addiction sets in gradually, often without the knowledge of its victims. The compulsion to work creeps in. It always intervenes a little more in family life, in leisure time or on vacation, until there are conflicts, even breaks.

The protective function of mindfulness

Science has already proven the key role of personality in the phenomenon of addiction. Through the scale developed by the American researchers Kirk W. Brown and Richard M. Ryan, it is possible to assess the personality trait associated with mindfulness, which consists in using sustained attention and awareness of what is happening. The ability to self-regulate that underlies mindfulness has already shown its positive effects on behavioral addictions such as gambling or smartphone addiction.

Read more: What if meditation helped you drop your phone?

However, no study had previously examined the protective role of mindfulness in workaholism.

Can mindfulness help protect against this addiction and its detrimental effects on work-life balance? To answer this question, we conducted a study with a total sample of 1022 employees, which was published in the journal social sciences &medicine. Specifically, our research is based on two separate studies aimed at exploring the protective role of mindfulness as a personality trait (Study 1) and as a practice (Study 2).

The first part of our study allowed us to demonstrate this protective function of personality careful also extended to work addiction. In fact, out of 307 French workers, the most mindful individuals were also those whose work-addictive tendencies impacted work-life balance the least.

In view of psychosocial risks such as workaholism, companies and administrations must act. Among the solutions is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) mindfulness training program, known for the rigor of its protocol, which was the subject of the second part of our study.

This MBSR program is an educational approach that guides participants in their mindfulness meditation practice and encourages them—through experiential learning—to develop the ability to respond to stress more effectively. This program, which combines practical and theoretical time, takes place over eight weeks.

We sent a questionnaire to 715 people and formed three groups of staff: a group of staff who had never practiced mindfulness meditation (Group 1), a group of staff who had practiced mindfulness meditation but had never participated in an MBSR training program ( Group 2) and a final group of employees who practice mindfulness meditation and have participated in an MBSR program (Group 3).

Our results indicate that the practice of mindfulness plays the same protective role as the personality trait that characterizes mindfulness, in that employees who practice mindfulness meditation (Group 3) are better able to manage the harmful effects of their workplace addictions on them more balanced than non-practicing employees (comparing groups 1 and 2). This protective effect is reinforced by mindfulness training (effect proven by the comparison between groups 2 and 3).

develop knowledge

If we know that burnout and addiction are affecting more and more workers (34% of employees affected by burnout in 2021), in a teleworking situation to an even more alarming extent (according to 41% of employees and 47% of managers who believe that addiction is more common in telework), it is important to study the possibilities to prevent both the occurrence of this phenomenon and its consequences for health and well-being.

Beyond the many well-known positive effects of mindfulness, such as reducing stress and anxiety, new avenues of research are opening up on its key role in addiction prevention. It is important to continue field experiments and to further develop the level of knowledge about mindfulness, so that a fair assessment of its effects can finally take precedence over beliefs and fears.

We would like to thank Emmanuel Faure and Sophie Faure for their valuable help in collecting the data (lahuitiemesemaine.fr).

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