A recent article in the Harvard Business Review entitled Extreme Jobs – the Dangerous Allure of the 70 hour workweek (reported here) sums up again why I don’t think creating work-life balance is just about telling (asking?) employers to be nicer to their employees.
Many people enjoy their work, and like working all their serious waking hours at work. I find it hard to imagine – even at my most extreme, I probably only ever worked a regular 60 hours at a time – 70 hours in a horrible week. But if there are people like that, pathologising them as “workaholics” doesn’t remove their influence on the workplace.
If you think you will manage to get three or four years out of people at that pace, why wouldn’t you encourage them to work that hard? And by being such workaholics, they may pull other people along with them. The reason you would pull back from hiring workaholics is fundamentally about labour supply – if there aren’t enough people who want to do it, you have to change your employment models.
So a very important part of changing the workplace for the better is to do what Sweden has done, and gradually encourage hands-on fatherhood. If men and women both want to spend less time in the office when they become parents, there will be a much smaller supply of people willing to put in the extreme hours. And to hire good people, employers will then have to be flexible.