Do You Work Too Many Hours?

Several of my coaching clients are trying to find a solution to the same challenge—they work so many hours a week that they have no time for relationships, friends, exercise, relaxation, or children. These clients are men and women in large corporations, academia, small businesses, and large and small nonprofits. Their stress levels are high, their sleep quality is poor, or their hours of sleep too few. They often love their work—but they are not happy with their lives. Does this sound familiar? Robin Ely of Harvard University and her colleagues Irene Padavic and Erin Reid of Florida State University and Boston University recently reported the results of a new study they conducted for a large consulting company. The company asked them to conduct the study to determine what they needed to do to retain, and increase promotions of, women. The researchers concluded that the problem is not a lack of family-friendly policies—it is a surge in the number of hours worked by both women and men. Ely explained, “The culture of overwork affects everybody.” Here are some startling facts about the current situation when it comes to work hours:

  • The number of hours worked has increased by 5 percent for high-wage earners over the last four decades.
  • The typical professional employee works 60–65 hours per week, although in some sectors, like finance, employees are expected to work 80–100 hours per week.
  • Long hours have become a status symbol in high-wage sectors.
  • A combination of globalization and technology has created the expectation of 24/7 availability for work.
  • In addition to creating an expectation of 24/7 availability, the use of technology can become an addiction that does not allow for a balanced life.
  • The number of hours worked by low-wage workers has increased by 20 percent over the past four decades
  • Low wages that have not increased as the cost of living has gone up (and, consequently, are not living wages) combined with unpredictable work schedules mean high stress for workers who have to juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Study Findings

In their study, Ely, Padavic, and Reid found that men and women at the large consulting firm were equally unhappy about long work hours. But, interestingly, the women and men dealt with the pressure of long hours differently, with different consequences:
  • Women took advantage of flex-time or part-time policies, and stalled their careers.
  • Men suffered silently and complied with the expectations of long work hours, or they worked the schedule they wanted, without asking permission, with no career consequences. (This same strategy did not work for the women who tried it, however.)
The authors found two cultural assumptions behind these different outcomes:
  • Men are expected to be devoted to work, and it is assumed they are working even when they are not in the office.
  • Women are expected to be devoted to family, and it is assumed they are not working when they are not in the office—even when they are.

What You Can Do

Here are some steps you can take to fight the trend toward long work hours:
  • If you are a team leader, you may be able to create a team culture where people agree to rotate coverage for nights and weekends to give each other dedicated family or relaxation time when there is a need for someone to be on call.
  • You may be able to change the expectation that you are available 24/7 by announcing that you are not available outside the office, at least on some nights and weekends—or during vacations. If you are the boss, you can be a role model by not sending e-mails during off-hours.
  • You may be able to get your boss to prioritize your work and eliminate low-priority projects or reassign them to create a more manageable workload.
  • If a lot of your work requires travel for meetings, you may be able to use technology for meetings instead.
  • Working for a smaller organization may allow you more control over your work life. Some small law firms, medical practices, and nonprofits are committed to real work-life balance. The pay may be less, but the tradeoff may be worth it.
  • Join with others to put pressure on organizations, and governments, to pay a living wage for low-wage workers.
We can all be part of the solution to bring about reasonable work hours and schedules for everyone, but it can be hard to make changes on your own. It’s unlikely that organizations really need us to work all these hours, or that hard-working people can’t be paid a living wage. Start talking with your coworkers and see what you can figure out together.   Photo credit: Image courtesy of stockimages at]]>

Women Worry More than Men about Family Chores: Why This Matters

  • Is he lazy, or not really committed to equality?
  • Is she doing it all so well that he doesn’t feel a need to do more?
  • Are her standards so high that she doesn’t trust him to “do it right” regarding child care?
  • Is she really unwilling to let go of control?
  • What is clear to her is that she is becoming resentful and exhausted. Why is this important? There is the obvious potential damage to her relationship if her resentment continues to grow. There is also a potentially negative impact on her career. In an article in the New York Times, Judith Shulevitz noted that it takes “large reserves of emotional energy to stay on top of” all the details in the management of family life. Shulevitz cited research on heterosexual couples (she noted gay couples as being more egalitarian) from all strata of society that confirms that my friend’s experience is not unusual—women do the larger share of “worry work” about the details of family management. Tracking all these details can actually be a significant distraction for women at work and can scatter our focus, potentially disrupting our careers. Shulevitz speculated that these distractions “may be one of the least movable obstacles to women’s equality in the workplace.” Wow! Think about the possible significance of this statement. What, then, could be our part in keeping this inequality in place? Shulevitz related a story about young women in a recent undergraduate course on women and work who were making presentations at the end of the course. Many of them slipped in their language and talked about the importance of men “helping out” with household tasks and “babysitting” the children. Helping out and babysitting are not the same as sharing responsibility. These slips in language probably reflect traditional societal stereotypes that create pressure for women to be the right kind of mother. These pressures seem to be alive and well in our society, and even young women seem, to some extent, to be internalizing them. I think my friend may be asking the right questions. As women, have we internalized the traditional role expectations for us as women and mothers? If so, are we acting out these expectations by
    • Sending a mixed message to the men in our lives about whether we really want them to do an equal share?
    • Feeling we “should” do more of the household/child-care tasks to be the right kind of mother?
    • Keeping control of the lists because we really like being in control?
    • Being inflexible about our standards for doing family management?
    What is the truth of the matter for you on the questions above? What can you let go of? What has worked for you to equalize the load with your partner?]]>