The 100-Hour Week Non-Question

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.

People lie.

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.


3 thoughts on “The 100-Hour Week Non-Question

  1. I think the more interesting question is, OK so what does a successful– thinking in terms of projects not time workweek look like?

    If you don’t have to work 100 hours, you don’t have to work 80 hours ( I just met a guy who told me he worked 80 hours until his business was well-established something as a working mom and entrepreneur I just can’t do unless I want a nanny to totally raise my kids right?

    How many hours do you have to work and how do we define this.. something interesting to do might be to profile several folks — lawyers and business owners are great for this b/c they bill for their hours — and see who is getting more done and why.
    Most salaried employees are lousy judges of how much they work b/c they get paid the same either way.. Another good professional for tracking this is any profession where the person works on commission b/c the more they put in the more they make — of course until a point. Most commission employees also collect salary whereas say a business owner salesperson does not.
    I want to work more but also have a life and be a good mom and wife. So it is about how you do that not just how many hours you put in. I think this post starts the discussion… How many men versus women report 100 hour workweeks.. . also if it is more men doing this then it would be interesting to learn how this marginalizes women or the other spouse in the workforce.. so if 100 hours aren’t necessary then maybe more parents in a two-parent household would feel they could work at least 35 … so how do we get there? I have becoming very efficient since having kids and for example can get as much done in 35 hours as I used to do with 40 or more without kids and endless time b/c your work tends to fill t h e time you allow for it… and you have to learn to work close to the revenue line or the goal line.. whatever the main goal of your work is.. this is harder for those who work for others b/c you still have to sit through a bs meeting eveni f you don’t want to and this is till work in that you can’t be anywhere else but not really work in that it doesn’t get any projects or goals done… whether or not someone actually works 100 hours — them claiming too in a two-parent couple inevitable marginalizes the other worker in that couple b/c they feel they cant’ work.. and this would be a better use of a the discussion in modern feminism.. i think we as modern feminists could do more for women doing something about this than actually worrying about whether or not they actually do work those workweeks… right? saying you do and being away from home or actually unavailable for leisure or childcare for 100 hours whether or not you are actually working them still marginalizes the other spouse once there are kids .. b/c the other person can’t work also 100 horus and still parent and manage a household..

  2. I concur with Cara as usual. Whether you’re an attorney, waiting to appear in court, or a surgeon, waiting for an operating room to be available, or a maintenance worker, waiting at the landfill to ensure that your employer’s waste is sorted and disposed according to all appropriate environmental and legal criteria, you are NOT available to your family.

    One of the challenges of many dual professional couples (vs. a second job with defined hours, like teacher or nurse) is the problem of business travel, in particular international travel. In business, travel scheduling is often difficult, subject to last minute change, and when the traveling spouse returns home, she (or he) is often struggling with jet lag and unready to jump into sharing half the household duties.

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