Workaholism components and perceptions of negative organizational acts (1)

Ronald J. Burke
York University
Stig B. Matthiesen
University of Bergen
Stale Einarson
University of Bergen
Lisa Fiksenbaum
York University

Accumulating research findings on work addiction and work addicts has shown that individuals scoring higher on work addiction also report more negative affects and poorer psychological health. This study extends this research by examining the relationship of work addiction to perceptions of negative acts or bullying in a large sample of Norwegian oil rig workers.
Spence and Robbins (1992), based on an extensive review of the workaholism literature identified and developed measures of three workaholism components; work involvement, feeling driven to work because of internal pressures, and work enjoyment. Profile analysis using these measures were undertaken in a large sample of social work professors in the US produced three workaholic types and three non-workaholic types based on high or low scores on the three workaholism components. The former were: Work Addicts (WAs), Enthusiastic Addicts (EAs), and Work Enthusiasts (WEs); the latter were: Unengaged Workers (UWs), Relaxed Workers (RWs) and Disenchanted Workers (DWs). Researchers have found that WAs report higher levels of negative affect and poorer psychological health than one or both of the other workaholic types (see Burke, 2000; Burke & Matthisen, 2004; McMillan-O’Driscoll & Burke, 2003, for reviews), and that the Feeling driven component is the most strongly and consistently related with those negative outcomes.
WAs also have more negative work attitudes, more stress at work and more problematic relationships with colleagues (Porter, 1996; 1998;2001). Galperin and Burke (2006), in a study relevant to the present research, considered the relationship of the three Spence and Robbins’ workaholism components and measures of both constructive (e.g., developed creative solutions to problems, best to break the rules to better perform the job) and destructive deviance (e.g., making fun of someone at work) taken property from work without permission. Individuals scored higher on work involvement indicated lower levels of organizational destructive deviance, individuals scoring higher on Work enjoyment second higher on Innovative constructive deviance, while individuals scoring higher on Feeling driven scored lower on Innovative Constructive deviance.
This study considers the relationship of workaholism components with perceptions of negative organizational acts or bullying in the workplace. Workplace bullying has received significant attention during the past decade particularly in Scandinavia and the UK. Salin (2003a) defines bullying as “repeated and persistent negative acts towards one or more individual(s), which involve a perceived power imbalance ad create a hostile work environment” (pp. 1214-1215). She develops a model of organizational antecedents of bullying classifying structures and processes into three groups: enabling structures or necessary antecedents (e.g., low perceived costs, dissatisfaction and frustration), motivating structures or incentives (e.g., internal competition, reward systems and expected benefits) and precipitating processes or triggering circumstances (e.g., organizational crises, other organizational changes). Sales (2003b) argues that workplace bullying can also be a form of organizational politics. She reported a correlation between a politicized and competitive climate and bullying. Thus her description of the structures and processes that precipitate, enable and motivate bullying resemble those that support workaholism (Burke, 2000; Killinger, 1991; Robinson, 1998; Schaef & Fausel, 1988; Fasell; 1990). Thus the general hypothesis underlying this research proposes relationships between the workaholism components, particularly Feeling driven to work because of inner pressures, and perceived negative acts or bullying behaviors.

Data were collected from Norwegian oil rig workers using an anonymous questionnaire. Questionnaires were distributed by mail to 1800 randomly selected offshore workers representing various companies and installations. All were members of either NOPEF (Norsk Olje-og Petrokjemisk Fagforbund) or OFS (Oljearbeidernes Fellessammenslutning ) – later renamed SAFE (Sammenslutingen Av Fagorgoniserte: Energisektoren), the major unions for offshore workers in Norway. A total of 1017 individuals returned completed questionnaires to the research team in pre-stamped envelopes that were provided, a 59% response rate.
Most respondents were male (86%), between 35 and 55 years of age (70%), were about equally represented by the two unions, were employed by the installation operator (54%), had non-supervisory jobs (71%), had long offshore and platform tenure (66% had 11 or more years of offshore tenure and 52% had 6 or more years of platform tenure), most worked 100% offshore (95%), were permanent employees (86%), worked the same work schedule – 2 weeks on and 3-4 weeks off (93%), and worked in Maintenance, Drilling or Catering (26%, 19% and 16%, respectively).
- Workaholism Components
Three workaholism components proposed by Spence and Robbins (1992) were measured by scales they developed. Work Involvement was measured by seven items (α = .56). One item was “I like to use my time constructively, both on and off the job”. Feeling driven to work was assessed by an eight item scale (α =.82). An item was “I seem to have an inner compulsion to work hard, a feeling that it’s something I have to do whether I want to or not”. Joy in work was measured by seven items (α = .81). One item was “Most of the time my work is very pleasurable”. Respondents indicated their agreement on a five point scale (1 = Strongly disagree, 3 = Neither agree nor disagree, 5 = Strongly agree).
- Negative Acts
The Negative Acts Questionnaire developed by Einarsen, Rakner, Matthiesen and Hellesoy, 1994) examined how frequently individuals had experienced negative acts in the workplace on a five point scale (1 = Never, 3 = mostly, 5 = daily). The scale had 22 items (α =.91). Sample items were: “being ridiculed or humiliated in connection with your work”, “being shouted at or being the target of spontaneous anger”, and “spreading of gossip or rumours about you”.

Comparing Workaholism Types

Table 1: Workaholism Components and Negative Acts

The top half of Table 1 shows the comparisons of the six workaholic types on the measure of perceived negative acts or bullying. WAs reported significantly more negative acts than did WEs, UWs, and RWs; DWs also reported more negative acts than did WEs, UWs, and RWs.
The bottom half of Table 1 presents the results of a hierarchical regression analysis in which perceptions of negative acts were regressed on three blocks of predictors entered in a specified order. The first block consisted of personal demographics (e.g., age, sex, marital and parental status). The second block consisted of work situation characteristics (e.g., years of off-shore experience, unit size); the third block of predictors consisted of the three workaholism components. When a block of predictors accounted for a significant amount or increment in explained variance or perception of negative acts (p<.05), individual measures within these blocks having independent and significant relationships with the dependent variable were identified (p < .05). Only one block of predictors accounted for a significant amount or increment in explained variance (Workaholism components); oil rig workers scoring higher on Feeling driven reported more negative acts or bullying.

These findings extend our understanding of the work experiences of WAs and the key role played by Feeling driven to work because of inner pressures in predicting these experiences. As hypothesized, WAs reported a more hostile, bullying and toxic work environment.
These results offer another possible explanation for the lower levels of job and career satisfaction of WAs noted by others (see Burke, 2000; McMillan, O’Driscoll & Burke, 2003, for reviews).

(1) Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by York University, and the Department of Psychology, University of Bergen. We thank the two unions that participated in the data collection. Louise Coutu prepared the manuscript.

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