The rise of the spiritual workaholic

The days of the greedy, money-flashing yuppies are over, argues Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 10 Sep 2014

Do you remember the 1980s workaholics? Superficially, these greedy yuppies looked a lot like the average employee of today: always busy and connected, networking non-stop and seeing everything as a work opportunity.

But there was one fundamental difference: they were actually making money. In contrast, today's employees are generally unable to translate their workaholic habits into cash. However, there is an upside, which is that money has been downgraded - at least psychologically - in the world of work.

Of course, some people are more addicted to work than others, and this is usually the product of who they are. People with an addictive personality have less impulse control and a lower EQ, but are more neurotic, obsessive and given to sensation seeking.

They often become addicted to work because it offers them a sense of control over other, less socially accepted habits. Thus work fulfils an important compensatory role for failures in other areas, such as relationships.

But today we no longer evaluate workaholics on the basis of their personality. Rather, the determinant factor is whether or not they love what they do. That - and not how much someone works or earns - differentiates the alienated workaholic from the engaged one. In fact, people who work hard to earn tons of money are as deplorable to the public as people who work hard to earn nothing, and they deserve no sympathy. They are, in fact, as vulgar and morally questionable as people who are lazy or unwilling to work.

On the other hand, a man should be allowed to work as hard as he wishes if his purpose is not to make money but to find a meaningful existence. In other words, spiritual fulfilment is not only understandable, it is a refined goal everybody should be encouraged to pursue.

Furthermore, if money - earning it rather than spending it - is the price we have to pay for self-actualisation, then hard work may be justified. Welcome to the age of spiritual workaholism. This Hegelian synthesis of the 1960s hippy and 1980s yuppie is the main reason for the glamorisation of billionaire entrepreneurs.

Traditionally, money and love didn't mix in any acceptable way, but for the first time we have found a PC way to blend both. We may even need to redefine the parameters of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology: a man's social status may come, not from what he does or how much he earns from it, but from the spiritual growth he achieves.

A fulfilling career is to workaholism what expensive champagne is to alcoholism.

- Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of metaprofiling.com.

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter at @drtcp.

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