Halle Sparks, freshman in biology, walks into her dorm room at midnight and goes straight to bed. Sparks has been up since 7:30 a.m., went to classes, worked on assignments and assisted with a research project through an on campus job. Some might say that Sparks is overwhelming herself, but Sparks said she knows her own limits.
“I probably could handle more hours at work, but 10 hours a week is enough for me right now,” Sparks said. “Some people push themselves so much and they don’t realize they need a break. I personally have to limit my time spent working.”
Where is the line between working hard and overwhelming oneself? According to a study conducted by Sarah Asebedo, doctoral student in the College of Human Ecology’s personal financial planning and conflict resolution program, a line in the sand can be drawn between working hard and overwhelming oneself. – often becoming apparent when people skip meals. Asebedo’s study explored the association between workaholism and personal and mental well-being.
Asebedo, along with her colleagues Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and program director of the university’s personal financial planning, and Jamie Blue, doctoral student in personal financial planning, obtained data from the 2010 administration of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979.
“We completed statistical regression analyses that indicated workaholics, defined by those working more than 50 hours per week, were more likely to have reduced physical well-being, measured by skipped meals,” Asebedo said. “Also, we found that workaholism was associated with reduced mental well-being, as measured by a self-reported depression score.”
Students should not assume that they are excluded from possible threats of workaholism, and should be aware of their physical and emotional well-being.
“We encourage students to take self care,” said Marek Dvorak, doctoral psychology intern and counselor for K-State Counseling Services. “[To look] after their physical and mental care. This includes eating right, getting enough sleep and having good study skills.”
Within the workaholism study, respondents were asked to indicate the number of times they skipped a meal during the past week. If respondents skipped at least one meal in the past week, then they were categorized within this study as having skipped meals.
“If you find you are stressed with work and/or school and are skipping meals often, then take the necessary steps to plan your meals more carefully,” Asebedo said.
The study did not state that working a certain number of hours is good or bad. However, it showed that on average, holding all else equal, those who are spending 50 or more hours of their time working are more likely to skip meals and are associated with reduced mental well-being.
“Moving at a fast pace is not always a bad thing,” Dvorak said. “It can show that a person is goal-oriented, but sometimes there are cues that show a person needs to slow down. It is a very individual thing, some people can cope and handle a busy schedule better than others.”
If a student can efficiently engage in a hectic schedule and still continue to eat meals regularly, they stand a better chance at having a positive quality of life.
“Generally, I would recommend that college students look at their combined work and school time together, although viewpoints on this may vary,” Asebedo said. “I am currently a PhD student and also work a full time [40-50 hours a week] job as a wealth manager. I view my school and work hours together [as work] since it does reduce the amount of time I have to allocate to my family, friends and personal time.”
Asebedo said awareness of workaholism and the potential for negative health consequences is key. Awareness is often one of the first steps needed before change can occur. It is important for each individual to assess how work may be affecting their lives and to take the necessary steps to mitigate any potential negative consequences
“Assess how you are spending your vacation time from work and school,” Asebedo said. “Are you able to fully disconnect and recharge? Are you fully utilizing the vacation days offered to you by your employer? If not, then taking steps to address how you are spending, or not spending, your time away from work and/or school can be a very good step in the right direction.”