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Long work hours February 16, 2011

Posted by mareserinitatis in career, family, societal commentary.
Tags: , , ,

I’m not going to spend a ton of time belaboring this point, but there is something that gets me about the notion that one must spend around 60 hours/wk (or more!) to succeed in academia and even some industry jobs.

I know tons of women and a few men who would love to have part-time job when their kids are small and/or in school. And honestly, it makes me insane to see people who are working enough for two people when it would benefit everyone to break the work load down and give some of that to someone who would like to work part-time.

However, it’s not just parents who would like to work part-time…or even have jobs that really are full-time, not full-time and a half.

My husband gets to be my unfortunate example for this one. He has rheumatoid arthritis, and one of the side-effects of this is chronic fatigue. Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid doesn’t just attack joints, it causes the immune system to go after the whole body with a focus on joints. This is exhausting for the whole body, and within a decade of diagnosis, about 2/3 of RA patients end up on permanent disability. While my husband has been very fortunate because his condition isn’t that severe, he has spent a lot of the last decade exhausted.

At one point, he was working 60-80 hour weeks shortly after our son was born. This was so wearing on him that when we all got a stomach bug (which was gone in a few hours for the rest of us), he ended up in the hospital.

It was completely unnecessary. One month in delivering the product was probably going to make little or no difference except that the company could post just slightly higher profits for that year rather than the next.

People who have medical issues or disabilities are perfectly capable of making a contribution, yet it seems like they need to be given special dispensation to work “normal” hours. It makes no sense to force people into these situations to begin with, but honestly, people with need not be singled out. No one should really have to work that hard to prove themselves or keep their jobs. All that does is push people to burn out. In some cases, I’ve seen healthy people end up very sick with all the stress and time they put into their job.

I know I’m dreaming, but it would be really nice if people could have a healthy work life balance and that the workplace was able to understand that the balance point may be different for everyone. It seems like there is no getting away from the notion that a “good, serious” worker is one who puts in more hours than everyone else, while anyone who can’t do that is slacking.



1. arc - February 16, 2011

I so totally agree with you, and am lucky to have one of the very few part time jobs in a company that pretty much expects full time folks to put in at least 50 hours a week, if not much more than that.

I’m so over the “work tons of hours” thing now that I have a kid. There’s *so* much more important stuff in life than being in the office 24/7. And checking email at home, blah blah blah.

But I’m kind of bitter and jaded about that sort of thing, and also lucky enough to have a hubby with a decent income as well.


2. Fluxor - February 16, 2011

FluxCorp is great about work/life balance for its engineers. Or if it isn’t, I really don’t care. I go home anyway.


Chris Gammell - February 16, 2011

Saw that one coming from Flux from a mile away šŸ˜‰ Good for you though!

I’ve also been fortunate that my job has been flexible with time and not overly demanding. However, I usually come home and work on other stuff electronics related, so it’s kind of a wash. At least I get to choose what I get to work on and when I work on it at home.


Fluxor - February 17, 2011

Having said that, I was on a call with a manager in another dept until 1am last night. But it’s rare. The 0.3% defect problem is still haunting us.


3. GEARS - February 17, 2011

The proverbial “They” have a different philosophy to working long hours over here in Europe. While it is much more relaxed and you are not expected to work over 40 per week, it basically means people don’t give a crap about their jobs. They have no idea how to get things done at the last minute.

For instance, I’ve stopped giving my prof conference proceedings to review because he yells at me for getting them to him 1 day before they have to be submitted. He says it should be done weeks in advance. Yet, he has no idea what actually went into the proceedings to get the data. If he did, he would know that I busted my ass for 50+/wk trying to take data and I got it to him as soon as possible.

So, sometimes, the work ethic to “get shit done” is good even if you have to work more than 40 hrs/wk. However, when it’s not *necessary*, then yes, people shouldn’t be expected to do more.


4. Dwight Chew - February 18, 2011

The bottom line is that things need to be done. If you worked for some managers that I’ve had in the past, they wouldn’t give a rat’s ass for what it took for you to get the job done. All they want is to be able to check off the progress report that he has to supply his supervisor with.

Life is hard enough to deal with and working in any profession where “lean and mean” is the 2nd item on the company goals (profits is #1). All I can tell you is to try and work smarter, not harder. And, at some point, working too long is counterproductive. You can spend hours looking a computer screen doing absolutely worthless work when you could be at home getting a good night’s sleep.

If you need better tools to get the work done, ask for them. If the objectives are vague, get clarification on what the client wants. If you can’t get what you need, do the best with what you have and let it be.


mareserinitatis - February 18, 2011

There are a large number of people for whom deadlines are paramount and their judgement of you is entirely based on whether you’re there 60 hours per week. It comes down to having ridiculous expectations of one’s employees or students, and it’s not worth it to wreck your health and family and well-being over someone’s expectations.


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