Over the past weekend I got a call from Phil who is one of my long-time colleagues who works in the telecommunications business. We got to talking and then, as it always does, the macho game of “who’s working harder” came up. This around Phil won the game: he had just put in 105 hours in the past week. I had worked hard, but I didn’t even come close to that – remember, I’m a big believer in completing the most tasks, not spending the most time.
You just know that I couldn’t be a graceful loser, so I followed up with some questions about how the rest of his life was going. Initially he said that things had never been better; however, after some probing on my part he started giving up the goods: his personal life was a wreck. His troubles seemed to fall into two main categories – personal health and love life. Phil is about 5″8′ or so and, last time I saw him, had a fairly lean frame. On the phone he told me that in the last three years he’s put on about 25 extra pounds. This has done bad things to his health as well as making a difficult home life even rougher. I remember Phil’s wife as being gorgeous and very nice. However, Phil confided in me that because of the stress in their relationship, she had been gaining weight also. Additionally, she was fed up with him for never being around to help out with the kids.
In the IT field, this “love of work” or “work as a gigantic black hole” syndrome can swallow us up at any time. What’s interesting is that by hunting around on the Internet, I found an article by Kelley Holland that said that this is a relatively recent occurrence. The folks over at the National Bureau of Economic Research keep records on this type of stuff and they say that back in 1983 the lowest paid workers worked the most. However, by 2002, the highest paid workers were 2x as likely to work longer hours as the lowest paid.
Why do we do this to ourselves? It turns out that the old Puritan work ethic seems to be alive and well and working in IT. It seems as though since we are being well paid for our work (are you?) we feel the need to work more. Additionally, we seem to like our jobs more than other people do. Finally, now that we don’t HAVE to work 12 hour days in the mill, maybe we are more willing to do in order to maintain our conspicuous consumption lifestyle.
What’s the downside for IT workers? Stand up & look down at your shoes. If you can’t see your shoes, then you know what’s going on here. Early days require a stop at some drive through on the way in and late nights often involve a run to the food machine at the end of the hall. There’s no reason to wonder why we are getting bigger! Toss in the fact that we’re getting too little sleep and we try to make up for this by multitasking which by now everyone should know is a really, really bad idea. Click — now you have a snapshot of Phil’s life.
What to do? I talked for a little while longer with Phil and asked him, now that he had set a new personal record for hours worked in a week, how he was going to fix his life? Phil said that he had started taking fruit with him to work and eating that instead of worshiping at the powered doughnut cathedral at the end of the hall. He had also started to take the stairs at work more often and tried to go out for a walk at lunch time. He was cutting back on work by leaving on time on Friday and having a set time to work on email on Saturday and was trying very hard (but currently failing) to go unconnected and do no work on Sunday.
So what do you think? Do you think that Phil has a fighting chance? What’s your life look like – are you on the fast track and have the baggage to show for it? Leave a comment and let me know how you hold it all together both for yourself and for your team…