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Long work hours, a status symbol?

Clock Yesterday, I was watching a clip of an upcoming web series. One of the characters is a high powered executive who actaully slept at her desk one night to make everyone aware of the long hours she is putting in.

It used to be a status symbol to brag about how much we were working. In First Things First, Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill write, "People expect us to be busy, overworked. It's become a status symbol in our society — if we're busy, we're important; if we're not busy, we're almost embarrassed to admit it."

Is that still the case? 

Lately, all I hear is groaning about long hours and overwork. But why then, do we feel we need to claim to work more hours than we actually do? 

Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think  had me totally entertained when she wrote a blog post called  “Stop Lying About How Much You Work,” It deals with our tendency to tell tall tales and talk about 80-hour weeks, as if we were actually working 80 hours. As she notes, in the vast majority of cases, we aren’t.

University of Maryland sociologist John Robinson has conducted several studies comparing people’s estimated workweeks to time logs. It turns out that the average person claiming to work 70, 80, or more hours per week is actually working less than 60

So are we overinflating our workweek to brag, or to gripe?

Laura also points out that when people talk about 80-hour weeks, it encourages people to stay late, wandering around, ordering delivery, surfing the web at their desk. Even if all this hanging around only adds up to 60 hours, it’s still inefficient. And more importantly, complaints about 80-hour weeks scare off people who are willing to work hard but not stupidly, she notes.

Dr. Stephanie Smith adds to the conversation on the Your Mind Your Body blog by noting how along with long work hours, stress is the new status symbol. She says many of us have gotten caught up in bragging about the amount of stress we are under as a way to impress people.  We count the number of hours we spend in the car, on the laundry, at our kids’ schools, at our desk, and paying our bills.

When was the last time someone you spoke to went through the laundry list of reasons they are stressed out? Five minutes ago?

Dr. Smith provides some great solutions to stopping the cycle and I added some of my own:

  • Keep your mouth shut.  If you find yourself with a group of people who seem to do nothing but compare notes on their stressful days, or the long hours they are putting in, try staying out of the conversation.  If you just cannot keep your mouth shut, try changing the subject.  “Hey, I hear the Rockies are doing great in spring training this year.”  Sometimes it is good to have a few of these alternate conversation topics on hand just in case.
  • Go home. If you aren't being “productive,” or getting things checked off your to-do list, you may as well leave the office and think more about the benefits and importance of relaxation. 
  • Check your priorities.  We all know that our families and friends should be more important than our jobs, but when was the last time you really took stock of your priorities and what makes you happy? Do you need to win the prize or the status for working long hours or being stressed?
  • Keep tabs.  Log your time for a few weeks. See what you average. Then make it clear that hanging around to order take-out every night does little except drive up your food bill — and make your 
    organization a less attractive place to work.


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    Kristen Brown

    Great reminder to keep things in perspective! I own a stress management company and always have to remind people of this. I recently read that scarcity actually contributes to power more than full accessibility so if you're one who thinks working long hours adds to your influence, maybe it's time to think again! Thanks for the post!


    Great article. I hang out with couple of friends and they only brag about how they work late hours. I don't like to respond and I smile at them but again when we meet and the same discussion. Always when we meet they compare my hours with them and say "Oh! you come home early, that is so good", as if I have lesser things to do and am lesser busy. It is very irritating. Common sense is that we are all into different professions. What matters in life is productivity not hours you put. If you put more hours and get lesser pay, then it is of no worth (unless you are really passionate about your work and that trait supersedes everything). I don't know how to tackle these friends.

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