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How does workaholism affect families?

Workaholism, as with any addiction, is tough to accept, particularly when working can be a very positive experience, as well as well-rewarded such. A job well done gives us a lot of pride and happiness, and meaningful employment may help us build confidence and self-esteem. It may, however, quickly become poisonous if we are overcommitting and overworking.

But what’s the specific point when somebody crosses the border from being a diligent worker to work-addicted? If there’s someone you know who works all the time, you probably know that everything else in their life such as family and friends falls in priority to work. Here's how overlooking one’s tendency to work around the clock might impact their private relationships with people close to them.

How does workaholism show up in relationships?

Maintaining a strong, loving relationship with your companion requires finding an equilibrium across your career and personal life. Hence, being glued to the job may put a burden on the relationship due to choosing to prioritise work demands and obligations. Here are some other ways it may harm a personal relationship:

  • The children may fail to build a healthy attachment because of a parent’s lack of involvement in their lives.

  • The partner might feel abandoned and unimportant if they are always starved for attention, connection and affection.

  • Problems with one’s sexual life may also emerge, due to overwork, built-up stress that can knock the libido out and also lack of connection with one’s life partner.

How to recognise a workaholic?

Anyone could be a workaholic. A workaholic is really not defined by the sort of work they do, the number of hours they labour, or the sum of money they earn. What determines whether or not someone is a workaholic are their working habits and compulsive and/or excessive behaviour around work. Here’s how you can recognize a potential workaholic:

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Examine the person's work schedule

They never find time for you or anyone else in their lives. Work is the most important thing to a workaholic. You observe that they lose out on ordinary activities like family meals, dog walks, going on holidays, resting, and even having a good night's sleep.

Take a look at how they handle money

Money, they might believe, is the path to happiness and the only key to a successful life. Many workaholics place an excessive emphasis on money - especially if they’ve been brought up poor or in a financially unstable home. Another factor that may have influenced their fixation on money is an instilled belief in them that they must be a provider and earn well in order to be a desired and respected life partner. Ego and desire to outclass one’s neighbour, for instance, may also play a role as they could put pressure on themselves to earn well enough in order to get a high-end luxury car or another brand’s handbag. However, after they have purchased or achieved well, they are mostly dissatisfied with it or have a very short-lived positive experience of the newly acquired shiny toy or accomplishment. [1]

Observe whether the individual is often preoccupied

Even on days off, a workaholic is obsessed with what is going on at work. [2] They live and breathe their work. They feel that work is the most important thing in their lives and they are always thinking about it. They often feel that they are not good enough and often experience a feeling of guilt when not engaging in work activities. They are always switched on, available to their colleagues and ready to jump on a project even when on a holiday.

Check to see whether they're taking on too much

A perfectionist is frequently a workaholic. They believe that no one can accomplish a superior job than them. The workaholic individual assumes a greater deal of responsibility and seldom seeks assistance. [3] Yes, some people seem like workaholics because they love what they do, but many people are workaholics because they feel pressure to be constantly busy and productive. Workaholics often overwork and overcommit. They think that if they don't take on more work, they're not being productive. They feel that they have to constantly improve and grow, and if they don't, they'll become obsolete. Many workaholics, however, don't get all of their work done all the time, and that ultimately burns them out. If you’re curious to learn about the different types of workaholics - read our article outlining them. >

Note their usage of electronic gadgets

Laptops, cellphones, and tablets destroy the distinction between work and private life. Observe the behaviour of your workaholic and their obsessive engagement in the digital world to see whether they are regularly checking them for work.

Take note of what they love talking about

Is work the one and only subject your partner brings up while you're enjoying a casual chat? Do they ignore you whenever you speak about things that aren't work-related? If that's the case, their work title is likely to be more than pure calling and more of an identity. [4]

How Working Too Much Affects Relationships

Employees with obsessive inclinations to devote a large amount of their time to work found it difficult to quit working even when they were at home, disregarding their domestic responsibilities and partners. Their spouses, on the other hand, expressed a belief that there is lack of care and general relationship dissatisfaction. Couples may begin to feel alone rather than part of a team or relationship during this period, which is understandable. [5]

A study from University of North Carolina at Charlotte found that a couple is 40% more likely to divorce when one partner is a workaholic. This brings evidence to the impact of workaholism on the family being profound.

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Workaholics are often disconnected from people around them and are unavailable spiritually, emotionally and physically to their partners and offspring. Partners of workaholics often say they feel estranged and abandoned, left to try to compensate for the absence of the other parent. Unfortunately, they may also be blamed for the workaholic’s work habits when they express their needs or resentments. Workaholics use a wide range of excuses and accusations to absolve themselves of responsibility for their actions. They may say ‘’I’m doing this for us all’’ or ‘’You wanted a bigger house and nice holidays - how do you expect us to have this if I am not working as much as I do?’’.

Sadly the effects on children are also very severe, as they grow up feeling like they don’t have a parent, and may begin to believe they are not important enough to spend time with. Feeling invisible is the worst for a child - their survival is under threat. Hence, if doing their best to please the absent parent and gain their attention is not successful, they may start acting out to get attention - even negative such - from the unavailable parent.

Bonding and feeling connected to one’s parents play a vital role in the healthy development of children. Children brought up in families where they felt disconnected - grow up to be insecure adults who do not feel worthy of love and may end up going down the path of addiction or excessive people-pleasing to their own detriment and serious health issues.

Hence, we need to be mindful of the fact that when one parent is pre-occupied to the exclusion of their partner and kids, this results in marital dissatisfaction, emotional hurt for the children and ultimately family breakdown.

Sadly, when there are problems at home, the workaholic dives deeper into work. This is important to note, as for workaholics - work is a coping mechanism and simply demanding them to remove it is unreasonable and counterproductive.

We share some ideas on addressing workaholism in the family, for those unfortunately partnered with workaholics.

5 Actionable Steps to Help Your Relationship and Workaholic Partner

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Discuss what you've observed

Expect them to deny, minimise or justify what you're expressing. Denial especially is a powerful coping tool as it prevents a person from realising the consequences of their conduct. Moreover, the individual may focus on the good parts of their activity while ignoring the bad sides. They may also try to blame the relationship issues and their tendency to overwork on you or somebody else. [6]

Help your partner in recognising the addiction

Chances are, your partner will have a difficult time approaching their own problem like you do. You may have to help your partner in diagnosing workaholic habits.

Assist the individual in setting priorities

Although you can assist your partner in devising a strategy after they recognise their life could no longer continue be preoccupied with work, it is advisable that you encourage them to seek help from professionals - as you too need to focus on healing your own experiences of trauma of feeling abandoned and neglected in the relationship. This journey is for both of you.

Make an agreement with the individual to refrain from using electronics for some time

They will have to change the way they invest their time on a daily basis. Writing down everything one wants and needs to accomplish is a wonderful approach to analyse how they spend time. Then divide the jobs into three categories: urgent, essential, and not essential and engage with electronic devices outside of work only when compulsory. [7] Partners can request that the workaholic promise to turn off the TV, turn off their tablet, and put their cellphone and laptop aside when engaging with the family. This may assist the workaholic in resisting the need to constantly check in on work. [8]

Assist the individual in obtaining assistance

Keep encouraging the workaholic to find suitable counselling or a support group if they're keen to change but still trapped in their work-obsessed behaviours. Professional or peer support may be able to assist them in achieving a good work-life balance. [9]

Workaholism is a serious issue, and it’s one that’s becoming more and more common. It’s one of the leading causes of stress, divorce, and poor performance at work. In this post, we discussed the effects of workaholism on families and why it’s important to get help if you think you or a loved one might be suffering.

If you’re interested in learning more about addressing workaholism, feel invited to take our course Bin Burnout & Thrive - which will give you a structured path to addressing your workaholism and ending the burnout vicious cycle. In our course you’ll find two whole chapters helping couples focus on building their connection, making time for family as well as for intimacy and finding sexual fulfilment. For more information about the course and all of its chapters - visit: And to learn more about workaholism and related topics, be sure to subscribe to our blog! We’ll continue posting new blogs on a wide variety of wellbeing topics covering:

  • burnout,

  • workaholism,

  • perfectionism,

  • how these lead to high turnover at companies,

  • costly errors at work, and on the more personal side of things -

  • how childhood trauma along with social structures and norms lead us to have poor work-life boundaries,

  • what are the family dynamics in workaholics’ homes,

  • how our bodies, relationships and intimate lives are affected by our working habits

  • and more….






  5. Mcmillan, Lynley & O'Driscoll, Michael & Brady, Elizabeth. (2004). The impact of workaholism on personal relationships. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling






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