I’ve referenced before the old joke about the easy-going work-life balance that results from being an entrepreneur. “I can work for only half the day,” says the entrepreneur. “And I get to decide which 12 hours that will be.”
But long hours are certainly not reserved for the start-up of a new business. I’ve worked with clients with professional practices whose emails often bear time stamps of 3 a.m. And in many industries, there is an ebb and flow to the volume of work based on the time of year.
Take, for example, the accounting industry, where the run up to tax season can be insanely busy. I know one accountant who maintains his focus through the daily practice of martial arts. “It gives me the energy to work until midnight when I have to,” he told me. “Instead of losing steam by 8 p.m.”
But there is always the risk of allowing such extreme work patterns to become habit, endangering personal health and relationships outside of the office.
Back in 2006, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce published in the Harvard Business Review an article titled Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek.
The authors defined an extreme job as one that required at least 60 hours a week and had at least five of the following characteristics: unpredictable work patterns, fast pace with tight deadlines, 24/7 availability to clients, a broad scope of responsibility that is equivalent to more than one job, mentoring or recruitment responsibility, work-related events outside of regular hours, responsibility for profit and loss, lots of travel, many direct reports, and the need to be present at work for at least 10 hours a day.
What’s interesting is that the authors’ research found that the majority of individuals who held an “extreme job” loved what they did and got a rush out of it. They compared such individuals to the kinds of risk-takers who flock to extreme sports.
Extreme workers are obviously highly productive and soon advance to senior positions with incomes to match. However, there can be a severe impact on physical and psychological health. The authors warned that long working hours can be an unhealthy addiction, driven by perfectionism, narcissism, or the need for approval, involving a reluctance or an inability to disengage from work.
While many of us put in long hours, I think it is safe to say that only a minority fall into the extreme job category. Nonetheless, there is a cautionary tale here that warrants consideration if for no other reason than the holiday season is upon us. Any measurable definition of success must reflect a balance between the professional and the personal.
Scott Stratten, president of Un-Marketing, summed it up well in an anecdote he shared while speaking at the Canadian Internet Registration Authority’s AGM in September. He realized the need to put work aside once in awhile when his son asked him one evening to leave his smartphone at home while they went out for dinner. Having that constant link to work-related email and social media accounts was a distraction that had left his son feeling like he came second.
So with this in mind, take advantage of the weeks ahead to find some downtime, unplug and reflect upon what is truly important.
Image: Acting Up Stage