Identifying and describing the roles of companion animals in the lives of workaholics: An exploratory study of workaholism, animal companionship and intimacy

Melody Arlene Santarpio-Damerjian, University of Pennsylvania


Workaholism is a chronic problem in American society today. Workaholics habitually devote most of their energies to their work at the expense of their health, their relationships and even their work productivity, efficiency and creativity. It is reported that they are isolated, spiritually challenged and not “intimate” (Fassel, 1990; Pietropinto, 1984; Robinson, 1989). I have observed that some workaholics have companion animals (“pets”) in their homes and even, where feasible, in their workplace. People often express closeness, familiarity and warmth with their companion animals (Fogle, 1984). Workaholics are characteristically distant, tense, nonfamilial and cool in their relationships (Fassel, 1990; Pietropinto, 1986). Hence what is the role of companion animals in the lives of workaholics? The purpose of this study was to identify and describe the roles of companion animals in the lives of workaholics. This was accomplished through semi-structured interviews with 15 people who scored high on the Work Addiction Risk Test (Robinson, 1999) and who have a dog or cat in their place of residence. Roles were elicited from the participants and inferred from what they said in the interviews. Additional information included the Risk in Intimacy Inventory (Pilkington & Richardson, 1988), the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale (Johnson, Garrity & Stallones, 1992), the Family Life Space Diagram (Barker & Barker, 1990), a checklist of intimate behaviors developed for this study as well as photographs, and data gleaned by visiting participants in the presence of their dog or cat. Forty roles were elicited from participants. All of the participants described the roles family member, friend or companion, and source of intimacy, touch, and connection . Many roles, such as source of stress relief, form of protection, health benefit and walking/exercise partner foster wellness and roles such as playmate, source of humor, source of peace, source of distraction or escape from work can naturally restore one's calmness. About half of the sample identified the roles companion for others in their household, therapist or counselor and “glue” in the family, encourages family cohesion, as bringing the family together by promoting communication and interaction within the members of the household. This study has identified 5 themes relevant to the lives of workaholics: Intimacy; Wellness and Therapeutic Support; A Natural Restorative; Control, and Surrogate Care Provider. It was found that some workaholics are intimate with companion animals. The current scholarly literature suggests that workaholics lack intimacy. The participants touched, stroked, walked, played and laughed with their companion animals. Many said that their pets helped them live healthier lives. For some participants their relationships with pets are ones they can seemingly readily control. Furthermore companion animals often provide physical and emotional care for family members in the absence of the workaholic. Future research could focus on elaborating on the quality and various degrees of intimacy with companion animals, the potential health benefits of companion animals in the lives of workaholics as well as on the role(s) of companion animals on family functioning and bonds between workaholics and members of their household.

Subject Area

Academic guidance counseling|Psychotherapy|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Santarpio-Damerjian, Melody Arlene, "Identifying and describing the roles of companion animals in the lives of workaholics: An exploratory study of workaholism, animal companionship and intimacy" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3041082.