Workaholics work more and sleep less, but they don’t spend less time with their families

Workaholics work more and sleep less, but they don’t spend less time with their families

In a recent post, we showed that the activity that takes up the largest amount of our nation’s waking time is work. Work is clearly an important part of modern life, thus the way in which people’s work life is integrated and balanced with other life domains is an important concern.  In this post we look at what happens when people lose this balance.

Time is a finite resource, and when people spend more time at work, something else has to give. We were interested in finding out where these tradeoffs are made. For these analyses, we dove into data from a large national sample of Canadians [i] to evaluate the incidence of workaholism in the general population and explore differences in time use among workaholics and non-workaholics. To evaluate the impact that work has on workaholics, we focused on 8,635 people who were employed (part-time or full-time) at the time of the study.[ii]

Our first finding was that a considerable portion of the population identified with being a workaholic. Particularly, 29% of those employed label themselves as workaholics, and slightly more men than women do so [iii].

Do you consider yourself a workaholicDo workaholics generally see their work and home lives differently than non-workaholics? Yes, and in important ways.  A greater proportion of people who consider themselves workaholics say that work is a major source of stress in their lives (57% vs. 52%) [iv] and workaholics are also less satisfied with the balance between their work and family life [v].

Source of stress & work-life balance satisfactionNote: The error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the mean of satisfaction ratings.

Why are workaholics are less satisfied with work-life balance? Do they spend too much time at work? Does their work take away from the time they could spend with their families? To shed light on these questions, we looked at how people spent their time during the previous day – and this is where things get interesting. Unsurprisingly, workaholics reported spending more time at work than non-workaholics, and the difference is statistically significant [vi]. But contrary to common wisdom, those who consider themselves workaholics did not spend any less time with their families (spouse or partner [vii], or children [viii]). This finding goes against the stereotype of workaholics who spend little to no time with their families. Instead, these data paint a much different picture of the typical workaholic – and it appears that quantity of time spent with family is not where they are making sacrifices.

Partner-child-workNote: The error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the means of time spent on each activity.

People were also asked about specific reasons for their dissatisfaction with their work-life balance, and there were some important patterns in the responses of workaholics and non-workaholics. In particular, a greater proportion of workaholics (compared to non-workaholics) reported that spending too much time working is a source of dissatisfaction.[ix] On the other hand, roughly the same proportion of workaholics and non-workaholics named lack of time for family, lack of time for other activities, or other work-related reasons as a source of their dissatisfaction with work-life balance.

Reasons for dissatisfaction

We found that people who consider themselves workaholics are spending more time working, but not less time with their family. So what are people sacrificing to get that extra work time? The answer is…sleep. Workaholics reported getting nearly 20 minutes less sleep in the previous night. This accounts for about half of the extra work time put in by workaholics. The other statistically significant, albeit much smaller, differences between time use of workaholics and non-workaholics were found in the domain of leisure activities (watching TV, reading, and sports & leisure).[x]

Time spent sleepingNote: The error bars represent 95% confidence intervals around the means of time spent on each activity.

The finding that self-identified workaholics get less sleep is important because loss of sleep can have huge implications on people’s mental health, physical health, and their daily functioning at work and at home. Of course, with this being an observational study, we cannot rule out alternative causal pathways of the association between time spent sleeping and working. For example, it is possible that workaholics simply do not need as much sleep, and that they use the extra time to get some extra work done. In any case, it is evident that people who identify as workaholics are less satisfied with important domains of their lives (e.g., work and family). As such, understanding workaholism, its consequences, and its implications on individuals’ functioning at home and in the workplace should be an important concern for organizations and policy makers concerned with improving societal quality of life.

This analysis is based on the Statistics Canada General Social Survey. All computations, use and interpretation of these data are entirely that of the authors.



[i] The data come from wave 24 (collected in 2010) of Statistics Canada General Social Survey, the latest wave in which information on time use was collected. 15,390 people participated in this wave. Survey weighting was applied to ensure the estimates are representative of Canadian population. More information can be found at [back]

[ii] Analyses involving time spent with partner/spouse included only participants who reported living with a partner/spouse. Analyses involving time spent with children included only participants who reported having at least one child in the household. Analyses involving time spent with family included only participants who satisfied at least one of these conditions. [back]

[iii] 27% of women and 31 % of men consider themselves workaholics: Χ2(1) = 19.2, p < .001.
Rao-Scott corrections were applied to all chi-squared tests to account for weighting of survey data. [back]

[iv] Table of chi-squared tests. [back]

Χ2   df p
Overall test 33.03 * 5 .024
Work vs. all other categories combined 22.81 * 1 .002
Financial vs. all other categories combined 0.27 1 .736
Family vs. all other categories combined 13.12 * 1 .017
School vs. all other categories combined 2.16 1 .440
Time vs. all other categories combined 2.14 1 .330
Other vs. all other categories combined 6.88 1 .076

Note: *p < .05.

[v] Workaholics (M = 2.64, SE = 0.03) vs. non-workaholics (M = 3.00, SE = 0.01): t(8,633) = 11.56, p < .001. [back]

[vi] Time spent working: workaholics (M = 374.63, SE = 8.40) vs. non-workaholics (M = 334.83, SE = 4.75): difference of 39.08 minutes; t(8,633) = -4.13, p < .001. [back]

[vii] Time spent with the partner/spouse: workaholics (M = 299.04, SE = 8.24) vs. non-workaholics (M = 308.05, SE = 4.78): difference of 9.02 minutes; t(5,423) = 0.95, p = .344. [back]

[viii] Time spent with a child (in minutes): workaholics (M = 297.36, SE = 12.36) vs. non-workaholics (M = 305.31, SE = 7.04): difference of 7.95 minutes; t(2,795) = 0.56, p = .576. [back]

[ix] Reason for dissatisfaction with work-life balance. Statistical tests of comparisons between workaholics and non-workaholics. [back]

Χ2   df p
Too much time spent working 104.94 * 1 .006
Not enough time for family 2.68 1 .661
Not enough time for other activities 0.72 1 .819
Other work-related reasons 0.87 1 .800

Note: *p < .05.

[x] Differences in time use between workaholics and non-workaholics. [back]

Not workaholic Workaholic Difference t df p
With Partner/Spouse 308.05 299.04 9.02 0.95 5,423 .344
With Child(ren) 305.31 297.36 7.95 0.56 2,795 .576
Working 289.78 328.54 -38.75 * -4.56 8,633 .000
Education 23.09 22.53 0.56 0.17 8,633 .867
Volunteering 18.98 19.62 -0.64 -0.31 8,633 .755
Childcare 87.56 77.9 9.66 1.75 2,795 .081
Shopping 44.01 42.74 1.27 0.51 8,633 .611
Cooking 37.32 34.68 2.64 1.76 8,633 .079
Housekeeping 31.7 33.04 -1.34 -0.64 8,633 .524
Maintenance & repair 8.52 12.61 -4.09 * -2.02 8,633 .043
Meals at Home 57.61 56.58 1.03 0.53 8,633 .596
Restaurant Meals 18.35 16.85 1.5 1.02 8,633 .310
Watching TV 101.6 93.01 8.59 * 2.5 8,633 .012
Socializing 74.11 70.54 3.57 0.86 8,633 .390
Sports & leisure 62.68 55.49 7.19 * 2.21 8,633 .027
Reading 14.72 10.7 4.02 * 3.59 8,633 .000
Sleeping 488.05 468.64 19.42 * 5.17 8,633 .000

Note: *p < .05.