Denver Bar Association
March 2003
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Treating the Workaholic: Send Comments and Questions to TheLegalEthicist@aol.com

by S. Goodsayer

Q I am general counsel for a large corporation. Last year, I hired an attorney for our litigation department whose experience and abilities are perfect. He is capable, does excellent work, and is extremely dedicated to the job. My dilemma is that I am unsure what, if anything, to do about his work habits. He seems to work almost every waking hour. He arrives before I arrive and leaves after I leave, and on those occasions when I have called late in the evening to leave him a voicemail message, he is almost always at his desk. He has a wife and a child, and there must be days he doesn’t see them. Should I address this situation?

A You are to be commended for even considering the situation to be one worthy of concern. The sentiment in the legal community appears to be that the decision to be a workaholic is purely personal and that being disapproving is inappropriate, at least until the offender suffers physical ailments that interfere with his job performance. ("Bill, I am afraid we are simply going to have to insist that you take some time off for heart surgery.") In fact, most firms reward unbalanced lifestyles. This sentiment is perilous to the employee, the work environment, and the profession generally.

A person has a right to choose how much time to devote to work. However, it is appropriate to reprimand an employee for not working enough or working too much. The consequent ills are different, but equally problematic.

An employee who works too much threatens their own physical and psychological health, as well as the organization’s health and the profession. The risks to the individual are obvious and include the emotional and/or physical loss of his family. The risks to the organization include potential loss of the employee due to stress or illness. The profession suffers because the attorney cannot devote time to the myriad of public service activities that enrich the profession and the community. All are legitimate concerns for you as the supervisor.

Readers are asked to write The Legal Ethicist, anonymously, with their ethics questions. The opinions expressed are soley those of the author, who shall also remain anonymous.


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