Sunday, December 04, 2005

On The Length Of The Workweek: Don't Fight The Patriarchy, Join It!

by Tom Bozzo

In comments, 'Novanglus' pointed me to this recent Fortune article describing how some workplaces — including traditional bastions of high pressure and long hours — are ditching long hours in part because even high-achieving men don't like working themselves to death. (Fanfare, and people inclined to conflate feminism with emulation of the stupidest things men do take note.) Interested parties should give the whole thing a read, but here is the bottom line:
...But while some CEOs assert that every time a top job opens up, a phalanx of "24/7" people is waiting in line to take it, most companies cite a shortage of talented leaders as one of their biggest constraints. Rethinking senior jobs and careers can help solve that, says Jeanie Duck of the Boston Consulting Group, who specializes in organizational change. "It's a myth that companies are filled with highly capable people who are willing to work 24/7," she says. "It's not true. The companies that crack this will have their pick of talented people."


What will it take to make headway on this agenda? Business leaders need to do four things. First, quit defining the desire for doable jobs as a "women's issue." Men want this too. Second, start viewing efforts to humanize senior jobs as a competitive advantage and business necessity, not as one-time accommodations for the CEOs' pets. Third, realize that progress is actually possible; there are examples to show that work at the top can be retooled. Finally, make it safe within companies and firms to talk about these things. "Businesses need to be 24/7," says Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy. "Individuals don't."

...So what do men really want?

Our new survey of senior FORTUNE 500 male executives offers surprising answers. Fully 84% say they'd like job options that let them realize their professional aspirations while having more time for things outside work; 55% say they're willing to sacrifice income. Half say they wonder if the sacrifices they've made for their careers are worth it. In addition, 73% believe it's possible to restructure senior management jobs in ways that would both increase productivity and make more time available for life outside the office. And 87% believe that companies that enable such changes will have a competitive advantage in attracting talent. Other interviews suggest that the younger a male executive is, the more likely he is to say he cares about all of this.

Of course there's a roadblock to reform: fear. FORTUNE's survey found that even though most senior-level men want better options, nearly half believe that for an executive to take up the matter with his boss will hurt his career.

Still, two things seem clear. First, men and women are far more alike in their desires than the debate over these issues has assumed. Second, as talented men raise their voices with women who have been irate about this for decades, the 24/7 ethic is pretty clearly on borrowed time. [Emphasis added.]
Excellent, excellent, excellent! Thanks for the link!
Am I the only one who is tired of high-six/low-seven figure execs who "say they're willing to sacrifice income" and "wonder if the sacrifices they've made for their careers are worth it"?

So long as companies continue to perpetuate the myth that there is "a shortage of talented leaders," that will just be noise, not data.

It may be a pity--and I concur with PS's comment that I'm glad to have seen it--but this is a recycling of the same old justification for exorbitant pay ("Look how hard I work! Oh, me, oh, my, if only I were less pressured, I would willingly make less money") dressed up in CAP clothing.

Meanwhile, the situatiion changing is slightly less likely than Coldplay remaking "Never Been to Me".
Ken: That's a good point about using this as a backdoor justification for exorbitant executive pay. I'm a little more optimistic in that some corporate workplaces are starting to behave more sensibly (Best Buy's corporate HQ springs to mind, saw something in the S'trib about their radical program of evaluating people by what they get done instead of the hours they spend burning their lamps).

Still, I think the article makes a useful contribution in specifying that 'talent' per se is not in short supply so much as talent willing to work like jackasses. I've never seen much of a correlation between quantity and quality of marginal labor supply, and even institutions as reactionary as "free market" corporate HR stuctures might be able to sniff that stylized fact out for themselves.

There are clearly strong change-resistant forces at play, though. Insofar as there are public good aspects of having sane work weeks, one of PS's commenters had an appropriate comment that some enforced 'mediocrity' wouldn't be a bad thing.
I think that the biggest problem with trying to have high level jobs at any level other than full time is the difficulty in organizing it. When you are pretty much working all the time, when an emergency comes up there is no expectation that you are going to do any more than you were doing already.

But lets assume you work Monday Wenesday and Friday. is Monday at 5pm and there is an important customer coming Wednesday morning at 8:00am. You need to give him a big presentation.

3 day schedule or no, you are working tuesday...end of story. This is what the modern workplace is like under present conditions. Your customer, or the market, or your boss expects results not time spent.

The only thing that even begins to make sense to shorten the time worked is some kind of work sharing...and you had better be on good terms with and trust the person that you are sharing with.
I agree that a lot of higher-powered jobs will unavoidably involve very high workloads from time to time -- I've worked a number of sixteen-hour days, even if not so many sixty-hour weeks. The more pertinent problem here, in my view, is when extraordinary work demands beyond full-time are routinized.

More nose-to-the-grindstone businesses should recognize that they're either paying for effectively zero productivity time or providing a lot of informal comp time (via Minesweeper, web surfing, fantasy sports, etc.), depending on how you'd want to look at it.
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