Healthy workaholics exist, study finds

Turns out, you can work till you drop, and your body won’t suffer — as long as you love what you do.

A new study in the Academy of Management Discoveries wanted to test how unhealthy it is to be a workaholic. What they found upends the conventional wisdom that working excessively is automatically bad for your mental wellbeing.

Researchers recruited 763 employees at a consulting firm to take a questionnaire on their work habits and then undergo a medical health screening. To determine whether or not they were workaholics, participants were asked how many hours they worked a week and to rate how much statements like “I feel guilty when I am not working on something” resonated.

Study: Happy, healthy workaholics exist

The researchers found no link between working long hours and major health risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, and high levels of blood cholesterol.

This doesn’t mean that being a workaholic will give you a clean bill of health. The researchers found that a “compulsive work mentality” would make you more predisposed to stress-related physical symptoms like headaches.

The main difference between the happy, healthy workaholics and the unhealthy, stressed workaholics in the study was whether or not the employees said they were engaged at work. Workaholics who reported above-average engagement with statements like “I am enthusiastic about my job” showed no signs of serious health risks. Employees who felt like they were wasting their every waking hour on a task they didn’t care about were more likely to have heart disease or diabetes risks.

Work hard, be healthy

The study shows that if you work long hours, you can still live a healthy life if you are dedicated, enthusiastic, and absorbed in the work you do.

“There’s a big difference between workers whose propensity to overwork and inability to relax after hours stem from absorption in the challenges their job presents…and those for whom it reflects, say, anxiety about the job or obsessive ambition,” the study’s author Lieke L. ten Brummelhuis said.

So if you love your job, go ahead and stay late at work finishing up your passion project. If you’re just going through the motions, however, working overtime can have serious consequences for your health.

Whether or not you take pride in your workaholic lifestyle, don’t be a work martyr, leave the office — the benefits of frequent breaks and vacations are well-researched.