Should I stay or should I go? The impact of a 24×7 work culture

Late spring is a time of major career transition as interns arrive for summer assignments, college students begin their careers and the rest of the workforce assesses their place at work and considers next steps. Do I stay or should I go?

Three articles in the past three days develop an argument that we are long overdue for an accounting of the way work is structured, expectations set, and effort rewarded.

In the first article, psychologist Art Markham was asked the question, ‘Is it hurting my career to skip happy hour with co-workers?’ Here is a question that gets right to the issue of work/life balance. What activities in the workplace are optional?

He responded:

“Your question…brings two aspects of workplace happiness into conflict. On the one hand, research suggest that people who feel like they have good friends at work are happier than those who don’t. On the other hand, research also suggests that your long-term happiness at work requires that you feel like you can express your authentic self at work. If you don’t like to go out for drinks with a crowd, then forcing yourself to go is not an authentic expression of who you are.

The main principle here is that the social time with your colleagues is an important way to feel included in the community. You don’t have to become a party animal to make that happen, but you might have to put in some effort to create these social opportunities. Developing your relationships with your colleagues will help you feel closer to the group and will improve your overall satisfaction with your job.”

Nice idea, but here is the reality. You are on deadline to complete a project and at the same time you are watching the clock and trying to calculate how much time you have, building in a possible SIG alert, to get to the day care center before they turn the lights out and leave your children on the steps.

Which bring me to the second article, ‘The 24/7 Work Culture’s Toll on Families and Gender Equality’. It surveys a group of studies, the most recent being released by Harvard Business School as part of a gender initiative led by Professor Robin Ely.

Professor Ely and her colleagues studied “a global consulting firm, which was not named. The firm, where 90 percent of the partners were men, asked the professors what it could do to decrease the number of women who quit and increase the number who were promoted. In exchange, the academics could collect data for their research. The firm was typical in that employees averaged 60 to 65 hours of work a week.”

After conducting “.. in-depth interviews with 107 employees, men were at least as likely as women to say the long hours interfered with their family lives, and they quit at the same rate. One told the researchers: “Last year was hard with my 105 flights. I was feeling pretty fried. I’ve missed too much of my kids’ lives.”

The researchers said that when they told the consulting firm they had diagnosed a bigger problem than a lack of family-friendly policies for women — that long hours were taking a toll on both men and women — the firm rejected that conclusion. The firm’s representatives said the goal was to focus only on policies for women, and that men were largely immune to these issues.”

Which transitions to the final article, ‘Reflections on Stress and Long Hours on Wall Street’. In a previous life, I often advised students who were considering internships or full time positions with investment banks. The high paying starting salaries were difficult to ignore. For some, financial services was the perfect cultural fit, but for those whose only incentive was money, it was a quick calculation to determine the breakdown of the princely starting offer to the actual hourly wage.

In The New York Times article, Andrew Ross Sorkin reports on the stress on Wall Street and reflects on recent deaths that may be attributed to long hours and an out of balance work load.

“Studies have suggested that financial service employees are at higher risk than those in many other industries. According to the National Occupational Mortality Surveillance, individuals who work in financial services are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. The highest suicide rates in the United States are among doctors, dentists and veterinarians.”

Changes in policies have not worked, with those excused from Saturday work, showing up on Sunday and working late into the night.

“Some banks, like Goldman, are also taking new steps, like introducing more efficient software and technology to help young analysts do their work more quickly. And investment banks say they are hiring more analysts to help balance the workload.

That may help. But as long as young analysts are expected to work 80 to 100 hours a week, invariably some run the risk of finding themselves in a situation they cannot handle. With new classes of such analysts arriving each year, it is incumbent on the industry to make sure it is doing everything possible to make sure that no one is too overwhelmed.”

And this is where your value radar clicks on. Every career decision is a result of a series of tradeoffs. However, no client, no deal is worth sacrificing family, health and well-being. And if you are in a place that truly believes those are fair tradeoffs, it’s a no brainer… you should go.

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