Celebrating Overwork: Can We Not?

Celebrating Overwork: Can We Not?

In American work culture, long hours, despite the well-established downsides, are often worn as a badge of honor, particularly for young employees in “prestige” industries, though not only. And while tales of 70-hour workweeks can be presented as complaints, they often seem to include a bit of boasting as well: Look on my work ethic, ye mighty, and despair. Well, Washington Post business columnist Jena McGregor has had enough of people bragging about how late they work:

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer … said in a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek interview that she regularly pulled all nighters when she worked at Google and can judge a startup’s chances for success by whether people are working on the weekends. “Could you work 130 hours in a week?” Mayer said, referring to the value hard work played in Google’s success. “The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom.”

This has got to stop. No one, no matter what the upside may be, should have to be that strategic. The idea that being well-rested could be a black mark against a leader is preposterous. And even if a super early wake-up time works for some people — and they’re sensitive about sending out email before dawn — if you’re having to get up at 4 a.m. to avoid distractions in your day, there’s probably something wrong with how we’re working.

She lays the blame for this primarily on leaders who take too little time away from work and in so doing, send a signal to their employees that it’s not OK to disconnect:

Managers, after all, are probably the biggest factor in changing our increasingly work-all-the-time world. If workers see people taking time off to coach their kid’s soccer game, or leaving by 6 p.m.to have dinner at home, they’ll feel entitled to do the same. But if they toil under someone who suggests that working on weekends is “a huge indicator of success,” or that working 130 hours a week is possible, they may feel compelled to emulate them.

Yes, success comes from hard work. And yes, CEOs paid millions of dollars or early startup employees who stand to reap huge rewards may choose to work 100-hour weeks. Entrepreneurs who can kick off at 3 p.m. if they start at 4 a.m. and aren’t expected to show their face until rush hour starts may love their early morning routines. But they should be mindful that while oddball hours or absurdly long slogs at the desk may work for them, they also set an unattainable standard for many others.