The most successful employees are at risk of isolation, depression and anxiety as they increasingly use the internet to continue to work outside the office, researchers have warned.
A new study suggests workaholics are increasingly logging on after work, becoming addicted to the web and are more likely to suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they switch off, reports The Telegraph.
But researchers warned the dangers are being overlooked by companies because those at the most risk are usually the most successful.
“Compulsive behaviour occurs when workers cross an invisible boundary and their internet use becomes unhealthy,” said Nada Kakabadse Professor of policy, governance and ethics at Henley School of Business.
“They spend increasing amounts of time online, waking up three times in a night to check their emails, eating patterns become irregular, relationships suffer and they become totally absorbed and feel anxious when separated from the computer.
“For overachievers it is worse and they are more likely to burn-out more quickly. They begin to lose judgement and make mistakes.”
Researchers said they had expected to find compulsive internet use among the young and the unemployed who had more time on their hands. But they were surprised to find overachievers were actually the most at risk.
The team found the working excessively was the ‘strongest predictor’ of compulsive internet use.
Co-author Dr Cristina Quinones-Garcia of Northampton Business School said: “Internet supports all areas of human interaction. However the omnipresence of this phenomenon could have double-edged sword impact on our lives.
“Those individuals who use technology to enable working beyond office hours tend to be highly successful in their jobs, but are at a high risk of developing problems.”
Researchers have called on companies to issue guidelines on safe internet use outside the workplace which educates about the dangers.
“Organisations seem to focus on the extent to which individuals lose working hours using the Internet for personal purposes,” said Dr Quinones-Garcia.
“However those individuals who work long house and use technology to work outside office hours are overlooked mainly due to their success.
“We urge companies not to underestimate the risks involved in encouraging working excessively.
“It could be that higher damage to the companies comes from over-achievers who are somehow encouraged to work long hours.”
The team recruited 516 men and women aged between 18 and 65 both employed and unemployed, to complete questionnaires to measure compulsive internet usage, emotional stability, excessive work, and compulsive work and life satisfaction.
Over 60 per cent of the participants reported compulsive internet use with many using the internet as a coping strategy and exhibiting withdrawal symptoms when not online.
Individuals who report a high level of compulsive use were found to be at a high risk of suffering from isolation, depression and anxiety.
A recent poll found that British workers would rather have no heat and water than lose their Internet connection at home.
The statistics echo the findings of a study on Internet addiction published in the journal PLOS ONE, which found that when heavy Internet users are forced to go offline, they undergo withdrawal symptoms comparable to those experienced by drug addicts.
“Although we do not know exactly what Internet addiction is, our results show that around half of the young people we studied spend so much time on the net that it has negative consequences for the rest of their lives,” study author Professor Phil Reed of Swansea University.
A 2011 University of Cambridge study found that one in three people are overwhelmed by technology and social media. The study also found that technology-related stress was correlated with increased feelings of life dissatisfaction.
A separate study of found that three quarters of workers are now afraid to open their emails on Monday morning.
Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia found that those surveyed were mostly worried of finding among their emails some orders or commands what were sent during the weekend.
For some it grew so bad that they felt ‘paralysed’ by the volume of messages , said lead author Mare Teichmann.
“Demands have been established to be “always online”, “always ready to react”, and “ready to work” she added.
“Interruptions in non-work time, family, friends, leisure, hobbies etc. have become common and increase the level of occupational stress.”
The internet findings were presented at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference while the Talinn report is published in the journal Recent Advances in Telecommunications and Circuit Design.