In our modern working life there remains a strong ethos that our value comes not in the quality of the work that we do but the number of hours we put in each week. It leads to a culture of presenteeism, where the office remains largely occupied until the boss leaves for the night, at which point there’s a big sigh of relief and a mass exodus. In such a culture, it’s perhaps not surprising that there is a great deal of boasting about the number of hours you work, with the more the better.
A recent study from academics at Boston University highlights that such boasting is particularly common among men, whose bold claims of doing 80 hour weeks are often enormous exaggerations, with the reality typically more akin to 50 or 60 hours.
The study wasn’t so much interested in the exaggerated claims as it was about how the male employees were managing their time so ‘efficiently’. It emerged that many of their attempts to reduce their work week, such as cutting down on business travel by taking more local clients, was done very much under the radar. It’s a trick that the authors believe many of the female employees they encountered were uncomfortable partaking in.
Faking a long hours lifestyle
The focus of the study was a consulting company where staff are expected to register 80 hours each week, with a demand that they show willingness to travel at the drop of a hat and put clients before everything else in life.
The male consultants at the firm seemed keen to cultivate just such an image, even as they were doing significantly less. Interestingly though, no one seemed to really notice, as the fakers were securing the same kind of promotions as the people who were actually working 80 hours a week.
When a small group of employees (consisting of a small number of the male consultants and nearly all of the female ones) revolted and requested a more even work life balance, the firm was publicly compliant with their wishes, but in reality these people failed to get any of the rewards given to the ‘superstars’.
Rewarding the wrong things
Of course, the faking of incredibly long hours is a direct consequence of the company clearly measuring and valuing completely the wrong things. What’s more, the study revealed that there was strong dissatisfaction among staff, even among those who were complying with the intense expectations put upon them. Staff would complain about the huge impact on family life and even in some cases the onset of substance addictions provoked by the stressful lifestyle.
You wonder however, quite how commonplace such activity is in workplaces throughout the world. How many of us are faking a degree of presenteeism in order to curry favour with bosses that have no other apparent way of measuring our productivity? There is a lot of talk about the allure of flexible working and the importance of well rested and engaged employees, but the reality is often that such people are sidelined.
Of course, not all of the consultants were unhappy to put in such long hours, with around half of the workforce (from both genders) happy to do so. Where the genders appeared to differ was in their coping mechanisms. Women tended to be much more up front about their concerns, especially when they had children, and would take the company at their word that accommodations would be made. The end result was nearly always lower salaries and fewer promotions however. Men who were equally open about things tended to suffer a similar result, which prompted many men to be sneakier about how they’d reclaim their lives.
Suffice to say, the study involved just one organization, but there is enough research into presenteeism to suggest that it remains a widespread issue.
Would you (or are you) tempted to overstate your own work hours in order to progress at your current employer?