Expecting your employees to prioritize work above all may backfire, according to a new study of a global consulting firm with a big presence in the U.S.
Not unlike being an entrepreneur, the rigors involved in a consulting job--from traveling on a moment's notice to taking client calls on the weekends to missing kids' soccer games--can be particularly crushing. But as Boston University Professor Erin Reid found, working 80 hours a week can and will be fudged, especially among men.
In the study, first published in Organization Science, Reid interviewed more than 100 people, as well as canvased performance data and internal HR documents. Based on her findings, she notes that men face many of the same challenges as women in the workplace, including freeing up time for family. And while many employees were indeed workaholics--conforming to the firm's expectations--some employees (typically men) simply passed as workaholics.
She cited her interview with one senior manager who attempted a more clever rouse by using telecommuting and controlling information about his whereabouts. "He found ways to work and travel less, without being found out," writes Reid. "He told me: 'I skied five days last week. I took calls in the morning and in the evening but I was able to be there for my son when he needed me to be, and I was able to ski five days in a row.'"
Women aren't necessarily more trust-worthy than men, however. Reid found that the company was more flexible with female staffers. "Women, particularly mothers, were expected to have trouble with [intense] expectations," she wrote in an article examining her study for the Harvard Business Review. The firm, she adds, offered women accommodations such as part-time work or internal roles. "Generally, the firm expected that men were willing and able to comply with its demands that they be ideal workers," added Reid.
Those that didn't received negative performance reviews. When one consultant requested three months to care for his newborn, the company gave him six weeks, and later said his annual review was incomplete because, "he had this big donut hole in [his] year."
By contrast, employees who posed as ideal workers received performance reviews just as good as the dedicated ideal worker. A male junior consultant who made repeat visits to a local client freed up time to spend with his children and received a high performance review along with a promotion. But not everyone can pretend to be overachievers. Reid says "passing" requires strong networking and relationships in the firm to find local clients.
So the company's culture actually spurred diceit, which should serve a cautionary tale to any business owner who wants to encourage loyalty and honesty among employees.