Workaholism among academicians is associated with perfectionism, narcissism, and an unhealthy motivation to outperform others, according to new research published in The Journal of General Psychology. The findings provide evidence that so-called “work addiction” is related to an interconnected set of personality traits.
Workaholism, which describes working both excessively and compulsively, is associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes such as depression and sleep disorders. Workaholism is also known to be associated with both perfectionism and narcissism. However, most of past research has been conducted among university students. A team of researchers from Anadolu University believed that it would be useful to study another population: university faculty.
“Academicians are a specific group of individuals who are known to experience more workaholism compared to nonacademic workers, which is not surprising given that working overtime is unavoidable to meet the expectations of academia,” explained study author Elif Çimşir, an associate professor in the Department of Educational Sciences.
“Moreover, academic positions appear to be attractive for certain people with narcissistic personality traits given the ample opportunity for prestige, social approval, admiration and recognition that can be attained through various sources, such as publications, citations, peers and students. Based on this knowledge, I, and my colleague, thought that academicians may not only be more vulnerable to the negative consequences of workaholism but they may also have an increased likelihood of having other personality constructs, such as narcissism and perfectionism, that are known to be related to workaholism.”
“As a result, we were interested in this topic not only to understand some of the important personality dynamics of academicians that may potentially lead to maladaptive results, but also to help academic institutions and mental health practitioners who are interested in designing and providing support services for academicians, as well as for those who are associated with academicians both professionally and personally,” Çimşir said.
In the study, 317 academicians working at several universities in Turkey completed an online survey, which assessed workaholism, feelings of inferiority, perfectionism, the Dark Triad traits, and other factors. The researchers found evidence that perfectionism, narcissism and workaholism were all correlated with one another. That is, participants who agreed with statements such as “I often feel frustrated because I can’t meet my goals” also tended to agree with statements such as “I insist on getting the respect that I deserve” and “I find myself continuing to work after my coworkers have called it quits.”
In addition, Çimşir and her team found that a dimension of inferiority feelings known as useless superiority effort was associated with workaholism, perfectionism, and narcissism. Useless superiority effort is characterized by a motivation to be superior to others.
“Workaholism appears to be associated with certain personality traits of academicians, such as perfectionism, narcissism, and useless superiority effort, which can manifest themselves as maladaptive life motivations,” Çimşir explained to PsyPost.
“According to Adlerian Psychology, these kinds of maladaptive life motivations are indicators of an increased level of inferiority and, hence, of subconscious, fruitless attempts to overcompensate for self-perceived inferiorities. Because academicians are a specific group who are known to be highly affected by workaholism, these results may mean that academicians may be more likely to be affected by such kinds of maladaptive life motivations and their negative consequences.”
The researchers also used a statistical technique known as latent class analysis to categorize perfectionistic subgroups among the participants.
“There seems to be four distinct classes of academicians; which are non-perfectionists (NONPs; 20%), maladaptive perfectionists (MPs; 17%), normal perfectionists (NPs; 44%) and adaptive perfectionists (APs; 19%),” Çimşir said. “The findings potentially indicate decreased social, marital and personal well-being for individuals who are classified as maladaptive perfectionists as they seem to experience increased difficulty ‘switching off’ and unwinding from their jobs and from the related maladaptive consequences, in comparison to other three groups.”
Those classified as maladaptive perfectionists tended to set extremely high standards for themselves and had a high level of disappointment in failing to meet their goals.
But when the researchers examined whether the four groups differed in the number of weekly hours spent working, they found no statistically significant differences between them. “Weekly working hours are not associated with any of the dysfunctional personality characteristics that workaholism is associated with. This indicates that workaholism does not just mean working long hours, but rather indicates difficulty detaching from work related thoughts and feelings,” Çimşir explained.
As with all research, however, the new study includes some limitations. For example, “because the data was collected based on self-report measures that were administered at a single point in time, the relationships found in this study are inherently correlational rather than causal,” Çimşir said. “Longitudinal studies can thus be considered for establishing causality.
In addition, “because an Internet-based survey method was used in the recruitment of the study participants, the findings may have limited applicability to a population of academics who prefer conventional methods of data gathering over Internet-based methods,” Çimşir explained.
“Because inferiority feelings tend to form in childhood due to maladaptive parenting and/or difficulty experiencing a sense of accomplishment at learning tasks, parents and professionals should be aware of the importance of protecting children from these negative early life experiences,” Çimşir added. “This is in order to prevent the formation of inferiority feelings and the seemingly related personality dynamics, such as workaholism, perfectionism and narcissism, which may become disruptive in the personal and professional lives of a number of individuals, such as academicians. Moreover, educators, parents and counselors should take into consideration that certain personality characteristics originating in childhood may negatively affect the future career aspirations of certain individuals.”
The study, “The roles of latent perfectionism classes in academicians’ tendencies toward workaholism, useless superiority effort and narcissism“, was authored by Elif Çimşir and Gamze Ülker Tümlü.