This Will Totally Change The Way You Think About Work-Life Balance

Photographed by Ingalls Photo.
In 2015, the 40-hour work week is an archaic idea. Thanks in part to smartphones and high-speed Internet, it's easy for workers to always be on-call. Businesses champion these so-called "ideal employees" — those men and women who are willing to give up their personal lives for professional pursuits. There is a lot of pressure to perform at that high level, but it turns out many of the men who claim to be putting in 80-hour work weeks might be lying about it.

Erin Reid, an assistant professor at Boston University's Questrom School of Business, interviewed 100 employees at an unnamed U.S.-based consultancy firm — and had access to the company's HR files and performance reviews. She published her research in the academic journal Organization Sciences and shared her findings in an article in the Harvard Business Review. What she found is fascinating.
Many of the men at the company had the same concerns as women about the issues of work-life balance. Reid writes they complained to her about "children crying when they missed their soccer games, of poor health and substance addictions caused by how they worked, and of a general sense of feeling 'overworked and underfamilied.'" But, she found how men and women handled these feelings to be very different — and their response had a direct impact on their performance reviews. 

The men who were not transparent about their unhappiness, but who made small changes — rearranging their schedules, culling a local client base in order to cut back on travel, and working as a team to cover for each other — were able to put in fewer hours while maintaining the appearance of being "ideal workers."

On the flip side, women, more often than not, appealed to their bosses for help in achieving work-life balance. According to Reid, these women took "formal accommodations, reducing their work hours, but also revealing their inability to be true ideal workers." As a result, they were "marginalized within the firm."

Similarly, when men did go to their managers for help reducing their hours for a family issue, "they were marginalized and penalized, in the same ways that women who reveal work-family conflict have long been," Reid wrote. 
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Reid's full article in HBR is worth a read — it is interesting, frustrating, and informative. While she argues the practice of "passing" is bad, because "not only does it involve an element of deception between colleagues, bosses, and subordinates, it also perpetuates the myth that those who are successful are also all wholly devoted to work," it's hard not to be impressed by the "shoot first, apologize later" mentality of these men.

I've had colleagues who put in unnecessarily long hours and were praised for their dedication to the job; it's frustrating when efficient employees are penalized for their ability to manage their time. Have things gotten so bad in the workplace that employees have to resort to dishonesty in order to achieve any semblance of work-life balance?

As my dad always says, arguing over who works more is like having a contest to see who can hit the softest. It's a game you want to lose. Unless you're trying to get ahead — in which case, the best way might be to fake it 'til you make it.
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