Differences Between A Workaholic And A Hard Worker

I must admit that I am guilty of using the word workaholic out of context. I will quickly accuse someone of being a workaholic because they spend long hours at work knowing that they do not necessarily fit the scientific definition. In fact, it is a pretty popular thing to do to poke fun at the amount of time we spend working or thinking about work.

workaholic addiction

I have a friend who works about 50 hours per week and declares she is not a workaholic. She and I often debate about whether she is a workaholic or just a hard worker. The National average for American workers is 47 hours per week. Would’t this alone qualify her for being a workaholic? Many people would say yes, but the differences between a workaholic and a hard worker is not just based on the amount of hours someone works. In fact, that is not a significant difference factor at all as both of these groups of people work long hours.

So what exactly is a workaholic? The following are definitions of workaholic that are found in various versions of various dictionaries. A workaholic is a person who:

“…compulsively works hard and long hours”

worked too much
Workaholic? or Hard Worker?

“…works compulsively at the expense of other pursuits”

“…chooses to work a lot”

“…is always working, thinking about work, etc…”

“…obsessively addicted to work”

“…works far beyond what is reasonably expected of the worker”

“…persistently think of work off hours”

“…has a compulsive and unrelenting need to work”

As you can see by the definitions above, the most common characteristic of workaholics which distinguish them from the hard worker is the obsession and addiction nature. Their work obsession tend to cause them to be isolated from family and friends emotionally. Even off hours, they tend to think of work assignments, all the stuff that need to be done at work, and the pressures of work. They just can’t seem to turn work off. They are usually performance focused, often multitasking, perhaps perfectionists, and simply feel a need to over commit. If you look carefully though, they are frazzled, impatient, tense, anxious, and often show other visible signs of work overload. Yes, these are the people who come to work extra early, may work and eat through lunch, and then stay extra late. They secretly look forward to working on weekends.

As stated earlier, it is very interesting to find that the amount of hours worked between the workaholics and hard workers, are not significantly different. But what is considerably different is the state of mind and outcomes from working long hours. The negative outcome of workaholic shows up as an obsessive nature, whereas for a hard worker, the positive outcome of long hours shows up as dedication.

The hard workers know how to turn off work when it begins to interfere with other life commitments. A hard worker is emotionally present for family, friends and fun when they leave work. They may experience occasional times of working long hours or being absorbed in their work, but it is only for a specific assignment or unexpected deadline. At the same time, they will counterbalance that period of long work days with days off or breaks throughout the day, healthy eating, or effective delegation/assistance.

The fact is, there is a small number of people who are truly workaholics and a much larger number that are hard workers; however, there is a very large number of hard workers who behave like a workaholic. This hybrid group is guilty of working hours far beyond what is reasonably expected and working hours at the expense of other pursuits.  Frankly, they just lack work-life balance. For those who fall in this group, they are in jeopardy of long term impacts of stress and burnout just as the workaholics are. Making a commitment to life balance is a fundamental solution for all three groups. If you fall into the workaholic category, however, I strongly suggest that you seek professional life coaching services or counseling to deal with the addiction.

Please comment below. I would love to hear your opinion about this topic.

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10 Replies to “Differences Between A Workaholic And A Hard Worker

  1. Nice read I think people can take alot out of this post the differnece between workaholic and hard workers, I myself have been accused of both, while looking forward to working the weekend it was mainly due to getting the overtime rate. But I can definately turn off as required to present in the moment. Thanks

    1. Getting extra dollars is definitely the biggest incentive for working extra hours. Sounds like you have work-life balance. Thanks for commenting.

  2. This is a helpful post. I think I was becoming a workaholic earlier this year, but I’m doing better. I’ve learned to simply take a day off once in a while. Very rewarding. My family is much happier and so am I.

    I hadn’t thought about it as being a workaholic, but your article describes my mindset perfectly.

    All the Best,


    1. I’m glad to hear that you are working toward work-life balance. Usually it will be a small adjustment, such as a commitment of some sort, that can reel you back from workaholic tendencies. I wish you much success with staying on your happy path. Thanks for commenting.

  3. This is good information, I never thought about the difference between working hard and being a workaholic before. I’m thinking for me I need to evaluate my boundaries. In other words what things am I willing to ignore (from my kids, my health, etc.) in order to stay focused on work.

    1. Hazel, I think it is a good time to evaluate your boundaries just as you stated. Setting and committing to boundaries is exactly what helps us maintain work-life balance, a life that is both meaningful and happy. When we ignore those boundaries, we function as workaholics and create unhealthy habits for ourselves and our families. Thanks for commenting.

  4. I over the years have learnt to work smarter and not hard it had to be done to meet my family commitments. As well I was working nights and doing 60 hours plus per week and I ended asking my self do I live to Work or do I work to live.

    Many thanks

    1. James, I’m so glad you have made the switch to work to live instead of live to work. As a result, I’m sure you and your family are more productive and happier. I wish you continued success in this area. Thanks for commenting.

  5. Very interesting! The only label I have really put on myself is being a hard worker. At times I find myself falling into a workaholic state, and it starts to consume my entire life. There are only 24 hours a day, and are time is limited and precious. I find myself thinking that I need to work, because of this. Other times I feel like absorbing the moment and relaxing. It is a viscous cycle!

    1. Tyler, I couldn’t agree with you more that time is precious. We all are given the same amount of time each day. We have more than enough time to do work related things and personal things. We just need to be mindful of work-life balance and not to overwork obsessively at the detriment of every other area. I think Life balance can be a vicious cycle for workaholics, but a symphony for hard workers. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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