The Hours We Put In

late night
If you’ve got a 9-to-5 kind of job, have you noticed yourself working longer hours but not seeing any additional financial benefits from putting in those extra hours? According to The Wall Street Journal, a recent survey of 9,699 full-time employees in eight countries found that more than 50 percent who work in a management position reported that they’re working more than 40 hours a week, and taking on additional responsibilities while their wages remain flat. Working parents report having a harder time balancing their work with their personal lives, and 9 percent of employees who work at companies that allow them to have flexible schedules reported that they’ve “suffered a negative consequence” such as getting passed over for a promotion, because they’ve arranged for a flexible work schedule.

At the Upshot, Neil Irwin echoes the argument that employees who ask for things like flexible work hours and less travel so they can spend more time with their family have suffered punishment in the form of a negative performance review. Irwin looks at a new study by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, who conducted a field study focusing on the “ideal worker image” at one consulting firm. The gist of the study was this: “Hyper-ambitious” employees who busted their butts working 80-hour workweeks by traveling to meet clients whenever necessary and putting in extra work time on weekends tended to be top performers who were rewarded with promotions. Employees who pushed for more reasonable schedules tended to get negative performance reviews.

But it was a third category of employee that was the most revealing: The employee who was “passing” as an employee who put in 80 hours a week, but actually had lighter workloads; these employees were getting the same kind of positive performance reviews that their hyper-ambitious colleagues were. Rather than pushing for more flexible hours and arguing for more life-work balance, these employees were being a bit more discreet: if they needed to skip out of work to do something, they didn’t call attention to it. Instead, they asked fellow colleagues to cover for them in a kind of quid pro quo arrangement so that everyone could have flexible hours. Essentially, they were faking it and making it.

Irwin notes that the 80-hour workweek fakers tended to be men, since women, especially those with young children, were usually the ones asking for flexible schedules. This is, of course, highly problematic, and Irwin points out the main problem at hand: Companies should be rewarding employees for actual productivity and for reaching defined goals, and not for some kind of “illusion of extraordinary effort” based on how many hours it looks like a worker is putting in each week.

Photo: Floris Oosterveld

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