Perspectives on Workaholic Behavior

Activity Description:


Pressure to work more and work harder is a reality in most businesses today, but the workaholic individual is one who responds to those pressures by over-sacrificing other life interests.  Defining how much sacrifice is too much offers lots of room for debate. Additionally, because the same behavior is interpreted differently by various people, what seems to be a problem to one group (e.g., family and friends) may also be rewarded by another (e.g., the boss).  

An appropriate video clip provides context for small groups discussions, followed by a full class debriefing to compare interpretations and implications. This exercise can be accomplished within 1 hour if needed.


1. Provide a worksheet to each student on which they can note critical incidents from the video that demonstrate how the individual values work, family life, outside friendships, etc.  A variety of readily available videos can be used for this. Below are a few suggestions:

  • ‘Baby Boom’ starring Diane Keaton, distributed by MGM.  (This one is a personal favorite based on providing a short sequence that gives broad coverage of issues.  The first 6-7 minutes show scenes of her high-powered job environment, a conversation with the boss about promotion that elicits great excitement, and a personal scene in the bedroom with her significant other — very tastefully done)
  • ‘The 24 Hour Woman’ starring Rosie Perez, distributed by Artison Home Entertainment. (This one takes a slightly longer clip to make needed points, but several are acceptable throughout the movie — especially one on splicing in of extra clips to a video of her daughter’s birthday party, so it looks like Mom was there.)
  • ‘Livelyhood’ series available at (Episode 8: The workday that wouldn’t die, shows the work culture at “Flickerbox” a high-tech, creative environment that consumes employees’ lives.  This same series also has Episode 6: Carpool to Nirvana, including the story of SAS Institute — also high-tech but only working 35 hours/week and the difficulty new employees have accepting that.)

2. Each worksheet is marked with a role for viewing the video clip.  Depending on the total size of the class, the objective is to assign roles so that 3-5 students have each role — some combination of family and friends (one or two roles), coworkers, bosses (can split to immediate and higher up if need more groups), and perhaps customers. For a very large class, two separate groups could cover each role, adding extra comparison of ideas.

3. Students watch the video, working independently at this point to note critical incidents from the perspective of their assigned role.  If the major character is not obvious, tell them who to focus on in their observations.

4. Having completed their personal notes, students then move into groups by role.  Their task is to note on a large sheet (e.g., flipchart page), their role, whether they consider this person a good or bad employee, and a few of the clearest examples from their notes used in that judgment.  Discussions get more pointed if they are not allowed to give examples on both sides of the argument but, rather, are forced to make one final declaration of either good or bad from the perspective of their role. It also adds discussion by having each group decide from their role what constitutes a good employee versus a bad employee.

5. As each group finishes, have them post their page on the wall for full-class debriefing.  Ask each group to explain their position and it’s basis in observed behavior, with questions & comments from others.

(A comment on noted trends over time:  In years past, it was very predictable that bosses would think ‘good’ and family would think ‘bad.’  More recently, bosses have become more enlightened (or groups are simply going for the socially desirable answer for a particular course or topic of the day).  That still leaves room for discussing how typical the expressed view is, and people always have examples to share from their own experiences to the contrary.0

Other Recommended Books:

Robinson, B.E. (1998). Chained to the desk: A guidebook for workaholics, their partners and children, and the clinicians who treat them. New York: New York University Press.

Fraser, J.A. (2001). White-collar sweatshop: The deterioration of work and its rewards in corporate America. New York: Norton & Company.

Robinson, B.E. & Chase, N.D. (Eds.). (2001). High-performing families: Causes, consequences, and clinical solutions. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Schaef, A.W. & Fassel, D. (1998). The addictive organization. San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row.

Schor, J.B. (1992). The overworked American: The unexpected decline of leisure. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Kofodimos, J. (1993). Balancing act: How managers can integrate successful careers and fulfilling personal lives. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Ciulla, J.B. (2000). The working life: The promise and betrayal of modern work. New York, NY: Times Books/Random House.

Beder, S. (2000). Selling the work ethic. Carlton North: Scribe Publications.

DeGraaf, J., Wann, D., & Naylor, T.H. (2001). Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Activity Source:

Content contributed by Gayle Porter, as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity