Over at the Wall Street Journal’s blogs, people have been debating the question “Would you work 100 hours a week for your dream job?” Kyle Stock’s FINS blog started it, then The Juggle picked it up (linking to this blog to inform readers that there are only 168 hours in a week! Thanks guys!)
Stock cited stats from the Center for Work-Life Policy, claiming that “In 2007, the Center for Work-Life Policy surveyed almost 1,600 workers who earned more than $75,000 a year. A little less than half of the respondents worked more than 60 hours per week, including 10% who worked more than 80 hours per week. Of the 110 respondents who worked in banking and finance, some 28% had ‘extreme jobs,’ which the Center defined as a position requiring more than 60 hours a week as well as factors such as unpredictable demands, travel and tight deadlines.”
Two thoughts. First, if only 28% had extreme jobs, that means that 72% of folks in finance did not — not exactly the image people project. But more fundamentally, as anyone who’s read 168 Hours knows, there’s a problem with relying on self-reported workweeks for claiming anything about American life.
Oh, do we lie. For years, we’ve talked about “80-hour workweeks” but the problem is that now we want to indicate that we’re more stressed because of the recession, so we have to talk about “100-hour workweeks.”
I’ve decided that these numbers are really just proxies to indicate a large volume of hours, much as the Bible uses seemingly exact numbers like “144,000” to indicate numbers that were considered big in the numerology of the time.
Because to actually hit 100 hours, you’d have to work more than 14 hours per day every day of the week. Work 7AM to 9PM all 7 days with absolutely no breaks and you get 98 hours. If you ever run an errand, start the workday at 8AM or on Sundays blow off the AM and then start your conference calls at 2PM, you will not even come close. If it happens one week, it will probably not happen the next week, yet we like to consider the worst week the typical one.
John Robinson and Geoffrey Godbey’s book, Time For Life, has a fascinating discussion of this phenomenon, and how people’s estimated workweeks compare to actual workweeks. Suffice to say, as people’s estimated hours go north, they diverge farther and farther from reality… and you can guess in which direction. No one claiming a 100-hour workweek is underestimating.
Over the years, I’ve had tons of people keep time logs for 168 Hours, and related projects. I only saw one 100-hour workweek, and (as I wrote about here) there were some other issues going on with that one. Many of the high fliers who’ve kept logs for me were in fact working around 60 hours a week. Which is a very long week! But it’s not 100.
Of course, a bigger question is “so what?” So what if we lie? We all like to complain, just as I wrote about in my other posts this week on things to do before having kids, or that working parents are too stressed for sex or conversations. The trouble is that this complaint-centered view of reality then shapes perceptions of what things like “work” or “parenthood” must entail. If you think having a job in finance or consulting or the corporate world means you’ll have to work 100 hours a week, you won’t go into it if you also value having a life. But what if that’s not really true? We limit ourselves and our options for reasons that fall away in the bright light of a time log.