I’ve been noticing a lot of people talking about working long hours recently, mostly on the topic of “I want to work less” or, at least, “differently.” That uptick in occurrences could just be because I’ve been thinking about those things more and more recently. Regardless, here’s some interesting fragments.
Avoid Bosses Who Work Long Hours
Adam Barr (author of the interesting MSFT book, Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters) all but posists a sort of “Rule of Work” in a recent post:
Microsoft does not have its employees on a fixed work schedule, so you wind up with some months where you work harder and some months where you can goof off a bit. BUT, overall, this attitude is a reflection of the overall Microsoft attitude towards time management:
- Take all the employees who react to having too much work by working extra hours, instead of cutting work–in other words, the employees who don’t have good time management skills
- Promote these people into management positions where they are responsible for scheduling software deliverables
- Scratch head when your software isn’t done on schedule
Put another way:
- There is too much work to (in 40 hours) do for the goals that are set.
- Some people don’t do anything differently.
- Other people will start working as many hours as it takes.
- This second group of people is rewarded with, among other things, promotions, and become management.
It’s a sort of mix of two classic org-theories, The Peter Principal and Parkinson’s Law: people are promoted to their level of incompetence, and work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
Furthermore, these “long hour bosses,” like all humans, will expect that the only way to be a good, successful person (resulting in bonuses and good treatment) is to be more like themselves. Meaning they’ll think highly of people who work longer hours, just like they do. When they encounter a problem, more than likely, they’ll golden hammer it and immediately think, “well, we just need to work longer hours. What else can we do?”
Thus, if you find yourself working for a boss who works long hours, there’s a good chance that you’ll be expected to work long hours. Furthermore, chances are the fact that you have to work long hours will never be seen as a problem, and, thus, you’re doomed to always have to work long hours.
As I’m fond of saying, I learned more about pragmatic human-psychology in dog obedience school than I did in school: dogs do what they’re rewarded for and conditioned to do, and if you start randomly rewarding them, they do it even more consistently. People, if they don’t watch it, are the same way.
Applying this thinking: your boss will never initiate and (rarely) accept any idea to reduce the number of hours worked. More subtly, anything that causes you to work less hours will be seen with suspicion: if you’re not working long hours, something’s going wrong, ’cause long hours are the path to success and more dog treats. They’ve been heavily rewarded, with promotions, for working long hours. So, long hours are a pleasing, good thing to them (more treats!). Layer on the goose/gander equation, and you can understand why that boss wants everyone to work long hours.
So, if you don’t want to work long hours, you’ll want to avoid working for a boss who works long hours. It’s not 1-1 (your boss might work 40- hours and expect you to work 50 hours), but I’d say it’s damn close.
(Link to Adam’s post via Steve’s bookmarks.)
Money and the Future
60 Minutes II had a story this week about the French work ethic. Essentially, aside from a gratuitous dissenter, the opinion expressed was “work as little as possible, and take lots of time off.”
I always get a little greener-on-the-other-side syndrome, and chuckle sadly, when my fellow country-folk make fun of the French: “Yeah, work only 35 hours a week; pretty much free health-care and school; have America pay for all the policing/wars in the world and like it; fresh, cheap baguettes; living in France. It sounds absolutely terrible! Who’d want all that?! It sounds like a life of sin-a! Where’s Calvin when you need him?!”
The two comments from the French interviewed that I’ve been tossing around in my head-can were (paraphrased):
- It’s easy to work 35 hours and take lots of vacation when making more money isn’t your number one goal. (Editor of major daily.)
- It’s easy to work hard if you think the future will be better than the present. We don’t think the future will be better than now. (Corinne Maier)
So, consequently, the report goes on, people have at least a month of vacation every year and they’re mandated by law to work only 35 hours a week (with over-time comp’ed by more vacation). Sounds terrible!
Michael Sr.’s Rule of Work
My dad has a pretty pragmatic philosophy about all this. He’s a damn dedicated worker and he always brings home the bacon. He seems to apply what we might calls Michael Sr.’s Rule of Work: “You can be replaced or off-shored. There’s bills to pay. Suck it up.”