The masochist within me occasionally envies those who can consistently pull the big hours at work. How do they do it? They seem to be happy, healthy and living their version of having it all. But I find it frustrating too: who doesn’t get tired after pulling 12+ hour days for weeks on end?
In professional services, working on a major project can easily mean spending 15-20 hour days at work. We all know a lawyer, a banker or a consultant who regularly works big hours.
But are they really working? New research from Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University, shows it’s not always so. She interviewed over 100 consultants at a US consulting firm and found that some of the men and women working there were actually faking their hours.
The firm has a strong culture of being present and pulling the long hours – just like most professional services organisations. The pressure to be seen and not leave before your manager is felt by many. This flies in the face of existing research that highlights that this is an inefficient use of resources.
Reid has distinguished the consultants into three groups:
- Those who embrace the culture and pull long hours
- Those who push-back
- And those who achieve moderation without asking for it.
31 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women fell into the third category: they are achieving balance without asking for it.
Shrewd as they come, these people line up clients locally and avoid the need to travel. If they have a caring responsibility they do it quietly avoiding the need to ask for permission.
It looks like they are putting in the effort, but in most cases they are not doing anything more than they can handle. They have learned to meet client and manager needs without stretching themselves too thin.
“To succeed… I think you have to actually do well within this culture”, said one respondent. “Our partners tend to make people feel bad for leaving, as if it’s a betrayal. It’s a divorce”, another senior manager.
Managing the work-life-balance is a struggle for most people, but for women these issues are magnified because of the expectation to be the primary carer too.
Reid’s research has found the answer lies in the art of subtlety. It is about doing enough face-time for your superiors but actually making it work for you. If you need to be at a school assembly, ask the teacher for the date early on.
The modern manager ought to realise the opportunity that lies with flexibility. Productive staff work best on outcomes and targets, not on making sure the executive responsible sees them fleetingly.
The ideal worker isn’t strapped to their desk, we know that’s unhealthy and does not deliver optimal results, yet managers are still fixated on physical presence and late nights.
Until the day managers and organisations actually value performance over staying til 2am, all power to those who are faking it.
Do you “fake” your hours? Would you?