September 30, 2020
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“In intercollegiate athletics and beyond, you put in your hours. Many people believe the only way to get better, to be more successful, is to work harder.”

Elizabeth Taylor, assistant professor at the School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management.

Do you live to work, or work to live? 

Inspired by her own past as an intercollegiate volleyball player then coach, Taylor researched how being a workaholic could lead to emotional, physical and mental exhaustion known as burnout. 

In her recent study, “Workaholism in Sport: A Mediated Model of Work-Family Conflict and Burnout” published in the Journal of Sport Management, Taylor and her co-authors used structural modeling to examine the relationship among workaholism, employee burnout and the work-family interface within the context of intercollegiate athletics. 

“We took qualitative research about concepts like work addiction that have never actually been measured, and measured them with a scale.”

Over the course of two months, they collected over 30,000 emails and information from employees working in college sports at all levels—from administrative assistants and marketers to athletic directors, and more. 

While researchers found that there is a significant, positive relationship between workaholism and burnout, they also discovered that that relationship was partially mediated by family-work conflict. Employees with “conflicts” or priorities outside of work—whether it be a spouse, children, hobbies, caring for elderly parents, etc.—experienced lower levels of burnout than their workaholic colleagues. 

Professor Taylor with family

The research illustrates that work-life conflict isn’t just a women’s issue. Past research focused on the pressure new mothers felt when it came to returning to work after maternity leave, and the large number of women in the industry that decided to quit when facing the choice of prioritizing their jobs over their families. 

“But our data shows there is not much of a gender disparity here,” says Taylor. “It dispels ‘mommy myths’ and that women in the workplace experience more guilt about focusing on their career than men do.” 

Taylor asserts that this data could suggest a paradigm shift in family dynamics and a new wave of fathers who are more involved in the lives of their children. When the traditional roles of the father as the moneymaker and the mother as the childrearer are less severe, it levels the playing field. 

Along with the potential societal implications of Taylor’s findings, there are also a host of theoretical and practical implications for employers and employees. “When people get to the point where work is too much, they go from enjoying their career to being burned out. But how can organizations help their employees work smarter instead of harder?” 

In an industry where workers often live unsustainable lifestyles of all work and no play, what can organizations offer to mediate burnout? Schedule flexibility, telecommuting options and on-site childcare are a few options that Taylor suggests for employees in sports management. Through this research, Taylor and her colleagues have engaged with intercollegiate athletic department leaders across the country in order to foster positive workplace cultures.

For workaholics themselves, Taylor has a few suggestions. “Find something that is your outlet. For many people who work in sports, continuing to play your sport of choice can be hugely motivating. Make time for your passions outside of work.” 

Findings at a glance

1. People with family conflicts experience lower levels of burnout

2. Shifting away from traditional parenting roles brings less gender disparity in workaholism and burnout

3. Organizations can mediate burnout by offering:

  • Flexible schedules.
  • Telecommuting options.
  • On-site child care.

4. Find your passion outside of work

AthleticsBurnoutCollegiate AthleticsElizabeth TaylorFamily-Work ConflictResearchSchool of Tourism & Hospitality ManagementWorkaholicsWorkplace Issues