I deeply understand the fear of appearing to be putting our families above our careers. Mothersdon’t want to be perceived as less dedicated to their jobs than men or women without familyresponsibilities. We overwork to overcompensate. Even in workplaces that offer reduced or flextimearrangements, people fear that reducing their hours will jeopardize their career prospects.
And this isnot just a perception problem. Employees who make use of flexible work policies are often penalizedand seen as less committed than their peers.
And those penalties can be greater for mothers inprofessional jobs.
This all needs to change, especially since new evidence suggests working fromhome might actually be more productive in certain cases.
It is difficult to distinguish between the aspects of a job that are truly necessary and those that arenot. Sometimes the situation is hard to read and the lines are hard to draw. Amy told me about aconference dinner she attended with a group of fellow physicians, including one who had given birthto her first child several weeks earlier. About two hours into the meal, the new mom was lookinguncomfortable, glancing repeatedly at her cell phone. As a mother herself, Amy was sensitive to thesituation. “Do you need to leave and pump?” she whispered to her colleague. The new momsheepishly admitted that she had brought her baby and her mother to the conference. She was lookingat her cell phone because her mother was texting her that the baby needed to be fed. Amy encouragedthe new mom to leave immediately. Once she left, the young mother’s mentor, an older malephysician, admitted that he had no idea that she had brought her baby. If he had known, he would haveencouraged her to leave earlier. She was torturing herself unnecessarily. This is one instance where Iwould have recommended not to sit at the table.
Technology is also changing the emphasis on strict office hours since so much work can beconducted online. While few companies can provide as much flexibility as Google and Facebook,other industries are starting to move in a similar direction. Still, the traditional practice of judgingemployees by face time rather than results unfortunately persists. Because of this, many employeesfocus on hours clocked in the office rather than on achieving their goals as efficiently as possible. Ashift to focusing more on results would benefit individuals and make companies more efficient andcompetitive.
In his latest book, General Colin Powell explains that his vision of leadership rejects “busybastards” who put in long hours at the office without realizing the impact they have on their staff. Heexplains that “in every senior job I’ve had I’ve tried to create an environment of professionalism andthe very highest standards. When it was necessary to get a job done, I expected my subordinates towork around the clock. When that was not necessary, I wanted them to work normal hours, go home ata decent time, play with the kids, enjoy family and friends, read a novel, clear their heads, daydream,and refresh themselves. I wanted them to have a life outside the office. I am paying them for thequality of their work, not for the hours they work. That kind of environment has always produced thebest results for me.”
It is still far too rare to work for someone as wise as General Powell.
A related issue that affects many Americans is the extension of working hours.
In 2009, marriedmiddle-income parents worked about eight and a half hours more per week than in 1979.16This trendhas been particularly pronounced among professionals and managers, especially men.
A survey ofhigh-earning professionals in the corporate world found that 62 percent work more than fifty hours aweek and 10 percent work more than eighty hours per week.
Technology, while liberating us at timesfrom the physical office, has also extended the workday. A 2012 survey of employed adults showedthat 80 percent of the respondents continued to work after leaving the office, 38 percent checked e-mail at the dinner table, and 69 percent can’t go to bed without checking their in-box.
My mother believes that my generation is suffering greatly from this endless work schedule. Duringher childhood and mine, a full-time job meant forty hours a week—Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m.
to 5:00 p.m. She tells me over and over, “There’s too much pressure on you and your peers. It’s notcompatible with a normal life.” But this is the new normal for many of us.
The new normal means that there are just not enough hours in the day. For years, I attempted tosolve this problem by skimping on sleep, a common but often counterproductive approach. I realizedmy mistake partially from observing my children and seeing how a happy child can melt into a puddleof tears when he’s shy a couple hours of sleep. It turns out that adults aren’t much different. Sleepingfour or five hours a night induces mental impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level above thelegal driving limit.
Sleep deprivation makes people anxious, irritable, and confused. (Just ask Dave.)If I could go back and change one thing about how I lived in those early years, I would force myself toget more sleep.
It’s not only working parents who are looking for more hours in the day; people without childrenare also overworked, maybe to an even greater extent. When I was in business school, I attended aWomen in Consulting panel with three speakers: two married women with children and one singlewoman without children. After the married women spoke about how hard it was to balance their lives,the single woman interjected that she was tired of people not taking her need to have a life seriously.