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July 10, 2013

53

Should a Great Career Require Great Sacrifice?

by Jeremy Arnone

Sheryl Sandberg has recently offered advice for talented, career-savvy women:  Do what successful men do and work.  A lot.  I was especially struck by her recommendation to “lean in” given end-of-life surveys which consistently rank “working too much” as one of the biggest regrets in life.  Men especially “…deeply regret spending so much of their lives on work…and missing their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship.”  In economic terms, many professionals – and men in particular – discount the opportunity cost of all that work until it’s too late for anything but regret  Yet this is the unbalanced life that Sandberg extols and follows herself.

This post won’t argue that working long hours isn’t good for your career; it is.  But why does working long hours enhance your career?  What are the assumptions underlying that relationship, and are those assumptions valid?  If not, why not, and what is the true relationship between work, productivity, and value?

Perceived Relationship Between Hard Work and Career Growth

For most, a life spent at – and on – work isn’t the goal but the means to an end:  Money, prestige, opportunity, early retirement.  At its core, the “work more” rationale is that combining talent and hard work leads to business results which make an employee valuable.  In other words, hard workers make a positive impact on the business and are therefore rewarded with career growth.  Here’s the assumed relationship:

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 9.30.26 AM

Talented employees take on increasing levels of responsibility (more on their plate), which leads to heavy work loads and long hours.  Those long hours result in getting a lot done – superior results – which leads to career growth.  Sandberg’s belief is that without loading up our plate – and working long hours – we can’t deliver results that lead to outstanding career success.

Sandberg’s perspective is widely shared today.  Researchers interviewed corporate managers about their perceptions of their employees.  Employees who came in over the weekend or stayed late in the evening were seen as “committed” and “dedicated” to their work.  A typical comment: “Working on the weekends makes a very good impression. It sends a signal that you’re contributing to your team and that you’re putting in that extra commitment to get the work done.”

I’ve seen – and regret to say, implicitly encouraged – this perspective, especially early in my career.  However, having worked with all sizes and manners of companies as a consultant, I’ve come to the conclusion that many of these assumptions are incorrect.  In this post I’d like to explore the true relationships between working long hours, getting stuff done, and results.

The Relationship Between Hours Worked, Productivity, and Results

Whether you work long hours enthusiastically or begrudgingly, the assumption is that your effort creates value and benefits your organization.  Because if it doesn’t – if companies aren’t better off, or are even worse off when their employees work long hours – then the personal sacrifices are not only painful but unnecessary and counterproductive.

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 9.59.07 AMThe relationship between hours worked and productivity isn’t linear; an extra hour of effort often leads to different levels of output.  Over the course of a day/week, these returns begin to decline, as we get tired and distracted.  Work long enough and returns become negative:  An extra hour of work actually destroys value, whether it be a defective widget, a flawed business strategy, or anything in between.

So when do we become unproductive?  Turns out there’s 150 years of research (see here, here, and here) for blue collar workers:  40 hours per week.  We see this in Figure 1 above (point B).  Note that our most efficient productivity (point A) occurs at 25 hours – about 5 hours per day.

Blue collar productivity is pretty easy to assess.  While the productivity of knowledge workers is harder to pin down, recent research (see here) estimates knowledge workers maximize productivity around 30 hours per week.  Thinking requires more focus than sweating.

There is a caveat to these findings:  They apply over the long run.  Research shows that there are short-term increases in productivity from working longer hours.  Below we see the productivity impact of working consecutive 60- and 80-hour work weeks compared to the 40-hour baseline.

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 10.24.14 AM

In a 60-hour week, maximum productivity occurs at 4 weeks, while breakeven productivity occurs at 8 weeks. (In other words, work 60-hour weeks for 8 straight weeks and you’ll get as much done as if you’d just worked 40-hour weeks the whole time.)  Similarly, productivity maximizes at 2 weeks in 80-hour weeks, while breakeven productivity occurs just one week later.  Notice also that it takes a week for productivity to recover from an 80-hour week.

Employees that brag complain about how crazy busy they are should really be apologizing for the mess they’re creating.  And Sandberg’s boast that “…the days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or a vacation are long gone…” is hardly praiseworthy from a productivity point of view, even if it might explain the Facebook Home debacle.  Ironically, it’s easy to imagine the takeaway for Sandberg is to work herself and her team even harder next time.

The True Relationship Between Long Hours and Career Growth

In my experience, it’s not talent but motivation – perhaps greed, ambition, or fear – that leads to working long hours.  As both research and countless anecdotes suggest, long hours negatively impact an employee’s contribution to the business.  Yet, in most organizations, long hours still result in career growth.  In fact, in many companies, the willingness to work long hours, by itself, “signals” an employee’s fit and commitment and leads directly to career growth, without even attempting to quantify productivity and impact on results.  We see the revised relationship below.

Screen Shot 2013-07-08 at 11.51.25 AM

Notice that “talent” and “results” are no longer necessary for career growth; they’re hard to assess and measure, so we assume they’re proxied by hours worked (which, to be fair, is sometimes the case).  This fits with my experience, where successful employees are often set apart not by skill or measurable results but by willingness to ask of themselves and others to “do whatever it takes.”  They fit the current stereotype of a successful business leader, a stereotype that, regrettably, is reinforced by Sandberg’s well-intentioned but misguided advice.

Why Even “Productive” Work Often Adds Little Value

Most of us believe the work we perform is valuable, if for no other reason than to assure ourselves of our professional indispensability.  But do we really add value, and if so, how much?  The answers, it appears, are “not usually” and “not a lot.”

A 10-year study in the Harvard Business Review looked at both productivity and value, to better gauge both volume and quality of work.  The results were eye-opening.  Just 30% of work actually added value to the business.  Put another way, 70% of all work accomplished was mere busywork – work for work’s sake.

Busywork often masquerades as work vital to an organization’s success.  For example, last year I worked with a client looking to improve their website’s customer conversion rate and brand identity.  A 6-month website overhaul project was launched, which, by my calculations, consumed 30,000 engineering and design hours in a nearly 30-week blitz of 60+ hour weeks.  Tempers and burn out rates were high, mistakes and rework common.  And the new website’s impact on conversion and brand identity vs. the old site?  None.  At the project debrief, all the talk was about how to cushion the impact of all that work – dinner catered, facilities to take showers, even “sleep” zones complete with couches and alarm clocks.  The true takeaway, of course, is that efficient productivity is irrelevant if the work itself – vs. the status quo –  adds no value.

If It’s Easy to Measure You’re Probably Measuring the Wrong Thing

They say that in business, you manage what you can measure.  Well, actual value added by an employee is tough to measure, so organizations focus on something they feel must be related:  hours worked.  Superficial regard is given to the quality of those hours – whether the work is productive and truly adds value – because that’s inherently difficult to measure.

The present work-is-life mania is neither necessary nor inevitable; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our grudging acquiescence to it.  Few of us want to live like this, any more than any one person wants to be part of a traffic jam – it’s something we collectively force one another to do.  Taken within this context, role models like Sheryl Sandberg do a disservice by encouraging employees to build their lives around the context of their career, to monetize their lives by doing things which are easy to measure – hours worked – and de-prioritizing things that are hard to quantify and measure, but so much more important for most of us and those around us – life outside of work.

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53 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anonymous
    Jul 10 2013

    In my experience people who work too much are inefficient, manage time poorly (including planning) and are not the kind of person you would choose to be stranded on an island with.

    Reply
  2. Jul 10 2013

    Amen! In my experience people who work too long are inefficient, manage time poorly, cause chaos, and are socially annoying.

    Reply
    • Jul 19 2013

      I’ll give you professionally annoying. It’s a shame if you have to spend time with them outside of work.

      Reply
  3. lhunnicutt
    Jul 15 2013

    I guess everybody else is too busy to comment but i live very much as you do and enjoyed reading this essay. I made the same decision years ago that i’d prefer life over money and have not regretted it since. When i hear people lamenting their busy lives (boasting actually) i feel sorry for them. I have learned to live on less than some people spend on a vacation and by doing this i found a life filled with riches.

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      Comments got turned off a few minutes after I posted this last week, but I just changed the settings…

      Everybody has different priorities – not sure I feel sorry for the workaholics. But I do feel sorry for their relationships – both personal and professional – who don’t get a “vote” in the matter.

      Reply
  4. Magpie
    Jul 15 2013

    Alan Watts: “we’re human BEings, not human DOings…”

    It’s not so much “work/life” balance as it is “do something/do nothing” balance. Doing nothing is contagious. One early summer Saturday morning, my young daughter found me on the porch, sipping coffee and watching birds on the feeder. She had come with an un-urgent demand for attention; when I told her that I was in the middle of my nothing-time, and would deal with her request when I was finished- she disappeared into the house, then reappeared a few minutes later with a mug in her hands- to join me in doing nothing. Success 🙂

    Reply
  5. Lonevoice
    Jul 15 2013

    When I worked as a freelance writer for 6 years, I always marveled at others who were not able to manage to volunteer as I did, work on personal development projects as I did, or enjoy life as I did. With my arrogance, I took on a full-time job to A) enjoy the financial reward of my talent in a steady paycheck from a job with set hours and B) prove to others how easily it could be done.

    Well, that failed miserably because A) there really are no “set hours” in the corporate world. You work as long as it takes to get the job done, and in this current economy, you actually work longer to compensate for understaffing. I also discovered that B) it’s not so easily done when you are subject to the “normal working hours” of everyone else. No more hair appointments at noon or grocery shopping at 10AM. I was relegated back to squeezing in personal errands after work and shopping on weekends–leaving me exhausted with the other overtired, busy masses.

    I still work full time, but would LOVE a work-from-home schedule that would allow me to enjoy life as you and I know it should be lived, and allow for my productivity to take place naturally–which often is outside of the 9am-5pm hours of the day.

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      Great perspective. You’re right that it’s very hard to achieve “life” within a corporate setting, for the very reasons you mention. With “collaboration” being the current trend, your work life is subject to the demands – however unreasonable and unproductive – of the workaholics. See this link for recent research calling into question the productivity of “collaborative” office layouts… http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2013/06/24/is-your-office-making-you-unproductive/

      Reply
  6. Eyes Open
    Jul 15 2013

    Let us not forget BF Skinner, who wrote Walden II, in which the utopian community’s residents worked 4 hours a day. He specified that “work” was stuff that had to be done, like the community’s laundry and cooking and car repair, that most people didn’t necessarily want to do. He determined (don’t know how, but it sounds right to me) that 4 hours a day on tasks one doesn’t like very much is the right amount for people to stay healthy and happy.

    We’ve made the world complicated. We’ve made it impossible for 98% of people who have to earn a living to work four hours a day, and so we’ve made it impossible to be healthy and happy.

    Reply
  7. Anne G.
    Jul 15 2013

    There are absolutely people who truly have no ability to take a day off. But there is also a group of people who would esteem themselves above someone who dared claim some time for their own. In the former group, you don’t have a choice; but in the latter group, you just don’t realize you have a choice. I sure as hell didn’t realize the “choice” my mom worked so hard to give me until a friend pulled me out of that world for a moment so I could look start reflecting on it. I wonder, though, how much the preoccupied group might (unknowingly) be a part of keeping the paycheck-to-paycheck workers to occupied to fight back…

    Reply
  8. Sarah D.
    Jul 15 2013

    Nice piece. We’ve got the problem of necessary productivity all sewn up, to the point that in some ways, if we keep being productive, all we do is glut the market with more and more senseless junk. Capitalism has its many virtues, but unfortunately many people seem to think that if some is good, more must be better. Ain’t so with ice cream, ain’t true of anything else. We could all probably work 4-hour days and live very well, and that includes low-level work.

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      If those 4 hours were incredibly productive – and, accomplished work that actually mattered – then I agree with you.

      Reply
  9. Shoot the Critic
    Jul 15 2013

    Great article. I used to be one of those people who scheduled her day in such a way that I was moving from one activity/obligation to the next, with just enough travel time in-between. So I’d “fit in” everything in this organized way. Later I started to just limit my obligations to just one per day, so that I could do that thing right and be able to relax or take it easy for the rest of the time. This I found to be much more effective. I have more time to enjoy long conversations, walking around, daydreaming in bed, eating long and varied meals, cooking, and other things I was “too busy” for before. I personally dislike when people tell me they’re “so busy” – it does seem like a boast about the meaningfulness of their lives when it’s really their choice to fill up their time with various things they’ve selected in order to feel important or at least that they’re not alone or insignificant. I read somewhere: “I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.” I think that’s right. And I think that more “idleness” would help us to see what really does matter and how we could actually be happier and be more productive for society doing other things than what we’re doing.

    Reply
  10. The Muse
    Jul 15 2013

    In our recent survey as many as 87% of respondents said they regularly overwork (http://www.wrike.com/blog/Snapshot-Work-Life-Balance-Realities-Wrike-s-New-Fascinating-Infographic). Almost 40% replied that the overwork more than 5 hours weekly. And, surprising as it may sound, 38% of those who overwork say they’re absolutely satisfied with their work-life balance! So, it looks like extra hours are becoming a part of people’s working habits. And many workers don’t seem to mind.

    Reply
  11. Jeremy Hutchins
    Jul 15 2013

    The key difference is PASSION. If you are passionate about your work, then putting in 20 hours extra a week is likely not much different than putting the 20 extra hours into anything else one is passionate about.

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      I’m not sure if passion is enough to ensure work is productive and worthwhile. Some of the most “passionate” folks I’ve worked with are too blinded by their zeal to take a realistic assessment of the value their work is accomplishing.

      Reply
  12. Nisa Berzeg
    Jul 15 2013

    All work and no play make Jack a very dull boy indeed… this old adage is the epitome of the article’s core concept. Haven’t human beings been saying the same thing for centuries? Yet we all seem to slip back into the same mode. We know it’s bad for us, but we can’t help but do it. It’s like taking exercise… we think it’s a good idea for a month then we slip into the same old habits of coming home (too late from too many hours at work) and slipping in front of the telly to watch something utterly pointless while eating a frozen Sainsbury’s pizza.

    Reply
  13. Nico Micell
    Jul 15 2013

    Think about the tech giants now, facebook, google, apple, and twitter. When they started there founders were working around the clock to create these things that were going to change the world. Should they have stopped at 40 hours? No, when Google crashed at 3am the founders jumped up from their sleep to work on it.

    Sheryl Sandberg leaves at 5:30 everyday…ya, she’s the COO of Facebook. She doesn’t have to work late because she delegates all her tasks that take alot of time. When she graduated from Harvard and was working at McKinsey & Co, do you think she left at 5:30? No, those people are sharks and work all the time and deliver results. Google engineers still work like 60-80 hours a week are they being unproductive? Steve Jobs was an insane boss and required people to stay late and finish projects on crazy deadlines, but is Apple not a successful company?

    Also what about artists and musicians? They play their instruments, paint, and draw all day and night when trying to get better and work as an artist… Was Jackson Pollock and doing something wrong or could he have created better works of art if he put up the brush at 5pm?

    Every entrepreneur knows that starting a company requires insane hours and a lot of companies fail but none of the companies that took off and became a major players started with their founders not working 16 hour days. Is it sustainable for 10 years, no its not but then the company hopefully will be big enough for you to hire staff and be able to relax.

    I proudly work & learn 12 hours a day so that I will gain enough knowledge and one day I can be in charge of something great that lets me leave at 5:30pm.

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      I see you haven’t read my posts on correlation and causation. While one can point to very successful companies whose founders worked insane hours, you can point to thousands which failed despite similar work schedules. It’s entirely possible that what drove the Apple’s and Google’s of the world was the value they offered, rather than the hours the founders worked.

      I worked at Apple after business school. Steve Jobs was a perfectionist; getting something 90% right wasn’t enough for him. If half of his hours were spent on the last 10%, it’s entirely reasonable to question whether the demands that 10% made on his team’s life outside of work was a good tradeoff. For him? Probably. For them? Unlikely.

      Reply
  14. Dominik
    Jul 15 2013

    Is there any information suggesting that less than 40 hours is better than 40 hours? For myself I know I’m more productive at work, doing things I should be doing at work, if I’m around 7 hours per day. That extra hour just about always ends up being used for something that’s not work related.

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      The first chart shows that we’re most efficient working about 5 hours per day. Those remaining 3 hours – while productive – are much less effective.

      Ideally, a company would string together a series of 5-hour workdays – balanced amongst all its workers – to maximize both marginal (for the worker) and total (for the company) productivity.

      Reply
  15. Claudia
    Jul 15 2013

    Love this article, probably because I worked way too many 80 hr work weeks in public accounting. If all the facts indicate optimal productivity on 40 hrs, how is corporate american culture so contrary?

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      Inability to measure productivity, and very low cost of salaried people working long hours. If companies were forced to pay overtime to even salaried employees, there would be an emphasis on productivity, and those 80-hour weeks would largely disappear.

      Reply
  16. Todd Charon
    Jul 15 2013

    We often don’t think of the long term consequences not only to ourselves, but to our organizations and to the quality of what we produce as a result of working sustained overtime.

    Overtime is an indication of a failure in the system. If you keep doing it, you’ve got a systemic problem in your organization that needs to be addressed. Most places that keep working overtime never look at the reasons why they always end up having to work longer hours.

    Reply
  17. Shauna
    Jul 15 2013

    Interesting. I immediately think of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule” — the idea that success in any field is reached by practicing those skills for a total of 10,000 hours. Working 40 hours a week at a job, that puts you at nearly 5 years to consider yourself a master, in Malcolm’s terms anyways. I personally think people accomplish work in very different ways, at different paces, and through different techniques. A 60 hour work week does not work for some but others thrive in this environment. In terms of the 10,000 hour rule, I’d much rather work longer hours to achieve mastery much sooner than 5 years (assuming my hours are efficient).

    Reply
    • Jul 15 2013

      Agree that productivity varies across individuals. I haven’t seen standard deviations – to see the variance around the 40-hour average – but it would be interesting to know what % of people fall into the different buckets.

      Reply
  18. Greg Morrison
    Jul 16 2013

    Just out of interest I’ve worked in Korea, Indonesia and Singapore. In my experience workers in these countries at least certainly do spend more hours at work than workers in the west yet get less achieved. The work culture I observed put heavy emphasis on ‘being there’ not on what was actually being achieved. In Korea in particular I was amazed at how many cigarettes were being smoked in stair wells! Basically workers would just hang around when there was no real need for them to be on site just to show how dedicated they were. As such I believe comparisons between the hours worked in countries are not valuable or instructive. More can be achieved in a focussed eight hour work day than in one with a large component of ‘hanging around’.

    Reply
  19. Greg Lawler
    Jul 16 2013

    The solution to this whole debate but is most likely not feasible is that everyone work for Commission. You are rewarded for results, not how much time you “put in”. When working commision there are no hours. You do what you need to do and when you need to do it to drive results. Results drive income.

    Reply
    • Jul 22 2013

      Greg, great point. I agree that most employers have no incentive to ensure efficient productivity when they pay salary – there’s no (direct) penalty of employees overworking. An hourly wage – based on an assumed 40-hour week – would provide great incentive for employers to do some digging into the value of work being done.

      Reply
  20. Dmytriy Voloshyn
    Jul 16 2013

    Hm, I think there is a big problem when all businesses are perceived equal. For example for a violin player a 40+ hour week is “must have” to achieve success the same story with sportsmen. Moreover I am sure that youth have much hight productivity potential then older people – and to accomplish life goals they could work more then 40 hours a week.

    Reply
  21. LG Nition
    Jul 16 2013

    It’s all about balance and then taking into account what is important to you at whatever phase you are at in life…If you strip back to the basics you’ll realise what is important and what is not, in turn you’ll become more efficient and take control of whatever it is that you want…ooh and hey, those CEO’s that like to chest beat working 12-16 hours a day…deduct the lunches, the dinners and the “bring the car round the back” (wink, wink) and it would be more like 8 (maybe less).

    Reply
  22. Edmundas Radavicius
    Jul 16 2013

    I can understand that if you are running a car at 8000 RPM all the time your motor probably won’t last long. On the other hand sometimes you need to push it to the max in order to outrun your competition. Especially when you are young start-up entrepreneur with black zero budget. In my opinion the most important thing is the final result. I always explain it to my employees – it doesn’t matter actually how you are paid per hour or per month or per piece… You are valued by company as long as you are useful and create more value, than you generate costs.

    Reply
  23. Jaime Cruz
    Jul 16 2013

    I see all comments here and respect all the people who works 40, 50 even 60 hours a week, I used to be on that boat until I said to myself. there has to be better ways, Now I work part-time, and I’m still as productive as I was when I used to work a lot of those hours for someone else, When you have kids, and family to support your thoughts are there is no other way than working 40 hours/wk and stick to the 9-5pm job to get theb sustent for that week. you work hard, without llimits and even Overtime when you realize is too late at night and you are exhausted, knowing that tomorrow will be the same routine and you still will have to di it to supplement your income or make the extra money you need. I used to work 60 hours a week and I don’t regret i, but what about your passions?, your dreams?, do you have time to acomplish them working 60 hours a week?, maybe maybe not, Unless you are working for youself….Waking up in the mornings and take your kids to school, do what ever you have to do and have the time to do what you are passionate about and to be with family worth the ride. If you plan yourself and pursuit your dreams, even when still working 9-5 or 5-1am. It worth the ride. My Respect goes to all hard workers out there. I used to work that hard too. Balance out Your time, your job, your dreams and Your family. Jaime (El Tigre).

    Reply
  24. Dan O'Keeffe
    Jul 17 2013

    I think we’re confusing the words “work” and “productivity.” I run my own business (have been doing so for 11 years). I never stop thinking about it. In fact, some of my most creative ideas come at times outside of work, whether I’m running, in the shower, in the car…whatever. I don’t work regular 12-hr days (although I have, and will again when the projects demand it). The fact is, I’d be completely burnt out. And I love what I do. HOWEVER, the business is constantly on my mind. The only way I manage it without going insane is to break up my days between work, leisure, and–perhaps most importantly–other types of “productivity.” For instance, if you’re constantly productive throughout your day, but that productivity includes exercise, taking classes of interest, caring for your kids and/or pets, volunteering, cooking dinner, etc., I’ve personally found that the time I’m actually “working” is much more productive than if I were at the office for 10 or 12 hours each day. I’ll add (and I know this sounds cliche) that on my death bed, I don’t want my fading thoughts to be of how much I worked in lieu of “living.”

    Reply
  25. Anonymous
    Jul 17 2013

    What I found most interesting about this article–that is often not addressed in the back and forth between workaholics and those who think 40 hours is enough–is the fact that workaholics can lower the productivity of others by their inefficiency and perpetual crisis mentality. Think about how much “team damage” is done by the person who works until 10pm every night and wants everyone to meet at 4:30pm on a Friday to talk about the thing he’s planning to work on all weekend.

    I have worked in startup companies on teams of young hotshots, back before I had kids of my own and I was probably guilty of promoting that culture. But I also know that for every night where people were working till midnight, there were plenty of wasted afternoons.

    Reply
    • Jul 17 2013

      I agree that the workaholics have a negative impact much beyond their own productivity. In the tangible world, Henry Ford measured how mistakes in one area of the assembly line impacted productivity everywhere else. Unfortunately we don’t have an easy way to assess 2nd-order impacts in the knowledge world, but it’s probably very similar.

      Reply
  26. Vigneshwar Raj
    Jul 17 2013

    The 6 most COMPETITIVE country in the world Sweden, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, and the UK have made it illegal to get more than 48hr/week from an employee.

    Reply
  27. Slworking Kevin
    Jul 17 2013

    Yeah right. You’re saying “Don’t work more than 40 hours a week”, yet Americans are constantly compared to workers in 3rd world countries that live to work – often 80 hours a week or more. Whose advice are we supposed to follow?

    Reply
    • Jul 22 2013

      Mine! Show your boss this post and then head out to a sports bar for happy hour.

      Reply
  28. John Gray
    Jul 17 2013

    CEO does 9-5. Great tip. When could one short Facebook?

    Reply
    • Jul 17 2013

      She’s COO, works way more than 9-5, and you can short Fbook anytime. You’ll have a lot of company…

      Reply
  29. Bob Gannon
    Jul 21 2013

    I’ve never heard of anyone saying on their deathbed that their one regret was that didn’t work more hours. Usually people regret not spending time with their families and friends. I agree with everything in this article. If I go home at 5:30 and put my daughter to bed, have dinner with my family, spend time with my wife and get rest, I actually look forward to coming into work the next day. I work in advertising as a freelancer and I meet with perspective bosses and tell them that I will come in, roll up my sleeves work hard and efficiently and leave at 5:30 PM. If that’s cool, hire me. If not, hire some kid who thinks it’s cool to eat pizza and drink at beer at 10:30PM because someone forgot to ask what font to use. If you are working 50, 60 or 70 hours a week either you spend too much time on Facebook, are incompetent or work in an understaffed workplace. These are all YOUR problems. The solutions? Get off Facebook and work! Work at a job you can do! Work at a job where you are valued for your contribution, not some place that is working you to death because they can’t staff properly. LIFE = CHOICES.

    Reply
  30. Annabelle Drumm
    Jul 21 2013

    Hey Jeremy, I very much agree with this article. Sure, when you’re running your own business you’ll have more enthusiasm to work longer hours. The people that get affected negatively though are employees. The ones there just to do a job and pay the rent. They’ll get hit with burnout and stress much quicker when doing longer hours.

    I’ve found in my own coaching I’ve been experimenting with my clients in changing their mindset around how long an activity might take with great results. When they look at a job they’ve been given a 4.30pm and expect it to take “ages”, it will. However, if they turn it around and expect it to take “about an hour”, providing they believe it possible, then it fits exactly into an hour. Give it a try!

    Reply
  31. Ron Troy
    Jul 22 2013

    Since the late 1990’s, my employers have all had a common theme; you are on salary and you work whatever number of hours it takes to get the work done. And if you have enough work for 2 or more people, we’re not going to hire anyone extra, and we’re not going to get you a temp. If that means you work in the office 60 – 70 hours, on top of a long commute, then work remotely most of the weekend, so be it. And if you have to not take vacation days, that’s your problem; we certainly won’t pay you for the unused days. And if it gets you so sick you can’t work, you get to use up vacation days – but you are still expected to work from home anyway even though we won’t count those as working days.

    At one firm I worked for, I actually wasn’t putting in horrible hours, and even had time to do some community work. One day the firm announced it wanted employees to do a lot more volunteer work. As soon as that happened, my work load suddenly increased so much I could no longer do any volunteer work.

    I consider this topic to be a bad joke. It’s not that I disagree, it’s that firms today – if you are lucky enough to be working, expect you to put in massive hours for no extra pay or even bonus – and to be grateful. The only exceptions are the bosses.

    Reply
    • Jul 22 2013

      The employee-business relationships is very one-sided right now. Without leverage, many workers are left the unpalatable choice of either long hours or no hours at all.

      Reply
  32. Sean Parker
    Jul 22 2013

    I think it’s important to mention the type of job when debating hours worked vs Productivity.

    Reply
  33. Michael Hughes Espedal
    Jul 22 2013

    I don’t debate the article, but would offer two perspectives to it:

    The first being that of the competitive advantages of nations. Take Norway, immensely rich, governed by a highly socialistic government for almost 40 years, a social welfare view also embedded in the people. We DOn’t have to work more than 40 hours a week! Average wage, living standards, child/family/elderly support functions and schools/universities are free. So here it is a choice. Which many still chooses.

    Second point, being that of you personally! Remembering one of my former European P&G managers telling me, he regarded life as a three legged chair. Consisting of Your personal needs, Your family and Your carer. A three legged chair wont balance very well, if the legs are not equal in length. Point is, for each individual person these three legs has to fill x% of our life, to actually be equal in size and for you to be in balance. For some this means work 80% of life, 10% on family and 10% on yourself. For others it would be complete opposite. Point is, it doesn’t matter. If you understand yourself, then manage your own expectations and find a job which makes you happy and matches those needs.

    Now it’s late, in the middle of night actually and I have to get back to work… Yes I’m one of those with a long working leg, who leave office early to pick up kids, put them to bed at 7 and take another few hours at home… ;o)

    Reply
  34. Terry Glancy
    Jul 22 2013

    It’s clearly a huge generalisation , in the case of a startup you are heavily involved in, or run, you are likely to put in more hours. If your work is project based there will be times when your workload is heavier. I’ve worked in 6 different countries, including the US and three on the list where it’s “illegal” to work more than 48. It’s not, you can just sign it away and offer to do over the limit altough I’ve never heard of anyone being co-erced into it. Personally , I think if you’re working more than a third of the hours in day you need your head examined. You sleep for 8, your commute may take up another hours or so, leaving you 7 hours to actually live. There is (generally) an unhealthy balance in the US but it’s pretty much a money orientated society. Me – I’m work to live and that’ll never change. You can’t take it with you and nobody on their death bed wishes that they had worked more hours.

    Reply
  35. Anonymous
    Jul 22 2013

    A very good article. Unfortunately, some people relate working long hours with commitment.

    Reply
    • Jul 22 2013

      Absolutely, I make that point in the post. The current “collaboration” craze means that any person/department working excessive hours results in every collaborating person/department having to work long hours as well. Otherwise, you risk the “bad team player” or “uncommitted” label. More and more research is showing that heavy collaboration leads to worse business performance, not better.

      Reply
  36. Tilly Meuwissen
    Jul 22 2013

    Wow! Did this strike a chord with many. Workaholics or not, you have only one life to live. Make the most of it and be self employed, love it!

    Reply

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