But I WANT To Work 80 Hours A Week…!

by drjim on August 4, 2008

Businessman Swamped with Work

Businessman Swamped with Work

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…

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

hs April 22, 2009 at 11:44 am

I did this for a couple of years, lost all my hair and 3 years on am still not able to do any exercise that used to be easy for me.

I’m quite sad I didn’t think about the stress of this job more before I took it and paced myself. My hair isn’t going to grow back now (and I looked so much better with it… )

I never should have worked all those 12-14 hour days (didn’t get paid overtime either if you would believe that)

It’s a trap that I would warn other to avoid. If you are paid well, be happy, but don’t work extra (especially without overtime 1.5-2x pay rate on top), otherwise it’ll become expected.

Pace yourself is the best advice I can give if you are stuck in IT. Never give up exercise for IT, never give family time for IT, never miss your lunches or work evenings/weekends/nights for IT.

If you follow this advice you’ll have a chance.

The problem I’m finding is that the damage from this lifestyle is permanent unfortunately, as is damage done to your heart from lack of exercise/stress, so don’t trade all those years of your life expectancy/health/fitness/happiness/hair/marriage for a £5K pay difference cos you won’t be able to trade it back when your times comes earlier than it should have. (also it’s not significant after tax anyway)


Dr. Jim Anderson April 23, 2009 at 9:12 pm

HS: So my story goes like this – I used to look in the mirror at my hair that was turning gray and think, “This is terrible, it can’t get any worse than this.” Then I started losing my hair! You are completely correct – pacing is the key. I’ve got friends who went to work on the business side of the financial markets and they made incredible amounts of money in a short time, BUT the lifestyle and the hours nearly killed them – not a one lasted more than 4 years doing that. Perhaps they have something to teach us…


Rob England April 22, 2009 at 6:28 pm

I think Phil needs to get back in touch with What Matters. Sadly weseem to need to nearly die or to have someone near us die before we get our perspective back. Nobody ever lay on their deathbed wishing they’d worked a few more hours. It beats me why people rush to the grave the way they do. I’ve written about this in my book Working in IT


Dr. Jim Anderson April 23, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Rob: you bring up a really good point – we all seem to start out with a lot of energy, but it takes a wake-up call to remind us what’s really important. Perhaps IT workers need their own version of “The Christmas Story” where we’d get visited by three IT ghosts – projects past, present, and future. That might be just the kind of reminder that we need!


DTecMeister April 23, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Phil is taking steps in the right direction. He also needs to tackle the multitasking by prioritizing and delegating where possible. Phil is dealing with a tough situation because even though he loves his family, there are many tedious and draining activities involved with family life. The balance can be helped by scheduling family activities that he enjoys and treating them with the highest priority. Scheduling physically active events with and without the family can also help. Leaving work on time and later working from home can be a way to calm the waters at home.
There is no perfect action here. There really isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. The family and personal health should not be sacrificed in attempting to do so.


Dr. Jim Anderson April 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Ah, you caught me with the “m” word – multitasking. Over and over again I’ve been reading that as humans we just don’t multitask well – that’s why texting and driving don’t mix! Prioritizing our tasks and knowing where to draw the line between what will get done and what will never get done is the ultimate key to long term happiness in my opinion.


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