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'Workaholic' personality traits can fluctuate

Alan Flurry

Dreading a tough day at work? New research led by University of Georgia psychologist Malissa Clark reveals that anticipating a high workload can lead to daily fatigue and affect spousal relationships—even for people who don’t identify themselves as workaholics.

Workaholism—the inner compulsion that you should always be working, as well as feeling anxious or guilty when you’re not working—is typically viewed as a disposition or fixed trait, according to Clark. You either are a workaholic, or you’re not.

But recent research has shown that personality traits like extroversion or conscientiousness can fluctuate day to day based on circumstances. In the study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, researchers found that workaholism can fluctuate similarly.

“Some fluctuation in daily workaholism is not necessarily a crisis, but what we do with that information is important,” said Clark, associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. “Are there checks and balances in our workload? Will there be downtime, or are we expected to work 24/7? What are we doing to recover?”

Clark and the team evaluated workaholic tendencies and daily fluctuations in workaholism using a sample of 121 U.S. employees and their spouses, who completed self-report surveys for 10 working days. They found that when individuals started their workday anticipating a high workload, they reported higher levels of daily workaholism that evening. And on days when they reported higher levels of workaholism, they also reported feeling more fatigued.

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