My husband grew up in Rochester, NY, graduating from school in the early 1990s. You may be familiar with the big companies in Rochester-Xerox and Kodak. It seemed that everyone worked at one or the other. The pay was good, the benefits great, and my mother-in-law still talks about how she could set her clock by the coming and going of the men (and it was mostly men) in the neighborhood. Not only did many of them walk in the door by 5:15 every night, the work day was completely over by then. No email. No cell phones. Sure, the boss could call, but he'd reach the family phone and if someone was on it, or the family wasn't home, it was a lost cause.
Compare that with today. I don't know a single person in an office job that I can set my watch by. If I could, it certainly wouldn't be because they walk in the door at 5:15. And, if that theoretical person was home by 5:15, you can pretty much count on this person checking email and taking calls later on in the evening.
Kodak and Xerox are both shadows of their former selves, and there are plenty of theories as to why. Is it possible that they didn't adapt to today's much more intense workforce? I'm sure that people who work there now are not walking in the front door at 5:15 anymore either.
The workforce has changed. We changed it. Do we like it? For one thing, it's not just the men going to the office while the women either stayed at home or worked as secretaries, teachers or nurses. Women hold high positions and young women expect to climb the career ladder. Somebody has to watch the children, though, and that falls overwhelmingly on women. Of course, that's a choice that each couple makes, but the businesses, to compete, push for overwork. Women often opt out.
But, it's not just women who don't like the toxic number of hours. Professors Irene Padavic, Robin J. Ely and Erin Reid conducted a study in a company that felt they had a gender problem-only 10 percent of their partners were women, even though women made up 40 percent of the junior positions. The end result of this careful study? The New York Times Reports,
After careful study, Professors Padavic, Ely and Reid found that an equal number of men and women had left the firm in the preceding three years, a simple fact that contradicted management's women, work and family story. Some of the men also left because of the long hours; others "suffered in silence or otherwise made do." The firm's key human resources problem was not gender, as management believed, but rather a culture of overwork.
So, are the long hours necessary? After all, Kodak didn't require them of everybody (although some people did work those hours), and Kodak missed the digital revolution. Maybe they are-budgets are tight, we can't afford to hire three people at 8 hours per day when two people can do the work in 12 per day.
It's not sustainable. Sure, it is in the short run, but can your business really survive with so many people opting out? Yes, you get the super dedicated that want to climb the ladder, but that makes your but you lose everyone else. Those people have different ideas than those who want to work 70 hours a week. In other words, it's killing your true diversity.
How can you compete if you don't require what your competitors require? You can do it, and you'll build a loyal work force if you do. Consider the following:
How many hours per day are wasted? Don't you think you're wasting time? How many meetings have you been in that could have been handled by two emails? How many phone calls could be replaced by an instant message?
Are you working long hours for show? While people might think that's ridiculous, there definitely are some people who stay late and come in early so that people will see them working, not because they have to.
Are you efficient? I once worked with a woman who put in a ton of hours, but I've never seen anyone work more slowly than she did. I could have done her job in 4 hours a day. For instance, she would spend hours making detailed lists of the corrections that needed to be made on a spreadsheet. Guaranteed, it took longer to type up each one of those correction than it would have taken her to make them herself.
As a manager, are you demanding unreasonable things? If you are a manager that values quantity over quality, you're contributing to a toxic environment, and it's not helpful. Take a look at the end results rather than how much time people spend on a project. Are you calling people on Sunday afternoons? You're the problem.
Rearrange your paradigms. I have a friend who is in the midst of a medical residency in Switzerland. He complained about his 12 hour work days. I said, "If you were in the US, wouldn't you be expected to work 24-hour shifts?" He conceded that he would. Are Swiss doctors not competent and capable? Of course they are. Does the American system have to remain as it is? Of course not. Your business can change as well.
When you truly need coverage. What if you need someone to be able to handle your global clientele at all times? Consider hiring telecommuters in different time zones. Bob in California can handle the later calls just as well as Jane in New York can and neither one has to work crazy hours.
There are benefits from working lots of hours-quantity does matter. But, it may not be as necessary as you think it is.