From the lawyers huddled over coffee and contracts at midnight, to the executives dictating letters while driving, Washington is a mecca for an intense breed of hard-driving professional.
Despite the strains a man's work addiction may place on his family, workaholism in a male still carries cachet. The man who rises at 5 a.m. to see how the London market opened, who stays by a sick patient's bedside is considered a dedicated professional, a good provider and a credit to his family. Meanwhile, the workaholic's wife -- with varying degrees of good humor -- is picking up the slack of home and family.
All that works out nicely for the man workaholic. But what if the workaholic is a woman?
"Even though there is increased acceptance of working women," notes Washington psychiatrist Sandra Hershberg, "they are still the ones considered largely responsible for the home life." Internal and external conflicts, she says, make it "very difficult -- if not impossible -- for a woman with a family to work 12-hour days where a father doesn't necessarily experience that same pressure."
The women's movement didn't create women workaholics. They've always been around, contends psychologist Marilyn Machlowitz, author of the book Workaholics. "If housework were rightfully regarded as work, generations of compulsive cleaners could be considered workaholics, and so would the tireless organizers of charity events." Today, women's workaholism is "merely more apparent," she says, since increasing numbers are channeling the energy formerly devoted to fighting waxy yellow build- up into jobs outside their homes."
Women who are labeled "workaholics" generally fall into one of two categories, says Felice N. Schwartz, president of Catalyst, an organization that promotes women in professions. "First you have all those women who are working terribly hard in their careers and doing more than their share at home," she says. The second category is "the classic work addict who immerses herself in a demanding career -- just as workaholic men do -- not necessarily from a neurotic compulsion to escape something but because she loves her work."
Women are "natural work addicts," observes Collette Dowling, author of The Cinderella Complex, since "workaholics have a psychological need to overcompensate for feelings of inferiority, and women are filled with insecurities. Also, they're less likely to delegate responsibility and more likely to do drudge work themselves."
Many women workaholics believe that they are happy absorbed in their work -- and they are. But some overlook side effects of their addiction. "Many women in the executive suite are falling into the male workaholic trap," says sociologist Nora Scott Kinzer, author of Stress and the American Woman, and a high-level manager with the Department of Defense and mother of four. "They seem convinced of the old saw that a professional woman has to think like a man, act like a lady and work like a dog."
Job addiction can often change the course of a woman's life outside of the office. "It's more difficult for a workaholic woman to meet and sustain a relationship with an appropriate man. Those that do marry are among those most likely to postpone having children." says Machlowitz. A crucial variable for workaholics is control, and families don't fit schedules very neatly."
Another reason workaholic women tend to eschew marriage and children is "the fear that a love relationship will force her to give up her independence," claims Dowling. "There's a particular class of women now whose social, emotional and sexual energy goes into the job. Like the stereotypical overachieving male who sees his family for a half day on Sunday, these women are avoiding intimacy."
But the effects of work addiction on a woman's life don't stop there.wo Although none of the workaholic women in Machlowitz's study had children she concluded that "children of workaholic parents tend either to be carbon copies or bums."
The adverse affects workaholism has on children often stems from "the underlying insecurities that drive someone to work addiction rather than the work itself," says psychiatrist Jay Rohrlich, author of Work and Love: The Crucial Balance. "I'm seeing a great many angry women with a hostile 'I'll show you' attitude. Many feel that they were raised as second-class citizens and are channeling their anger into their work . . . When children react adversely to their mother's neurosis," Rohrlich says, "very often the work will be blamed."
But a mother's work addiction is not necessarily harmful. Psychiatrist Rohrlich observes, "There are some women who work just as hard for healthier reasons -- a sense of achievement, involvement in the world -- who don't convey a sense of anxiety. Their children are able to function quite well."
Current studies of the effect of maternal employment on children confirms that "a mother's morale and state of mind may be more important than her sheer presence in the home," says University of Michigan child development professor Lois Hoffman. "If she's home full time and dissatisfied with that, it's not a happy situation for the child. Likewise if she's working and unhappy about it a child will pick up on her unhappiness. Employed mothers aren't absent mothers. Usually they have a very high rate of interaction with their children when they are home. What they tend to lose out on is sleep time or leisure time."
But some consider the new women workaholics an already-dying breed. "There is a cultural trend away from workaholism for women," claims Susan Easton, co-author of "Equal to the Task: How Workingwomen are Managing in Corporate America. "Women who 10 years ago threw everything they had into their jobs are realizing work isn't as all-fullfilling as they thought it would be. Instead of women humanizing corporations, corporations were de-humanizing women.
Says McLean psychologist Nancy Fretta: "I'm seeing 30-year-old career women who are asking 'Is that all their is?'"