Extreme Jobs

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.

  2 comments for “Extreme Jobs

  1. December 21, 2006 at 2:07 am

    I used to do the whole 60 hour week thing on a regular basis when I was working in new media. Then go down to the workplace bar on a Friday and stay till midnight. Then come in on a Sunday. Reached it’s peak when I was doing all that plus 16 to 24 hours flying a month (flying was billed to clients but didn’t filter it’s way into your working hours, somehow).

    One day, I basically called a halt and walked. I’m pretty convinced, some years later, that the additional 20 hours, except in situations of geniune need, are grandstanding, poor project management and peer pressure in no particular order. Plus, the whole ‘this job could be your life’ culture that the smaller kind of new media agency requires.

  2. December 23, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    Sorry to go on about the Germans, but I do like the work culture here. Germans come in to work, greet their colleagues, sit down and actually work. They take a lunch break and then they work again. After a ten hour work day (one hour for lunch), they go home, having worked effectively and efficiently during their given work hours. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule (big deadlines, senior executives), but generally the idea is that if you don’t get your work done during your working hours, then there is something wrong with the way you’re working.

    I do think a lot of the long hours culture is posturing. Also, being available 24/7 means people struggle to stop working – logging at night to check mails, and that sort of thing. While I agree with you that workaholics probably encourage other workaholics, it’s difficult to avoid when technology encourages it.

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