Wednesday, July 04, 2007

CEOs Who Work Too Much

A great article in the Huffington Post on CEOs who neglect their families but get written up in Fortune for it. Low-income fathers who work too much get critizied, but Fortune blithely praises it in executives. Towards the end there's a nice bit on the long hours phenomenon more generally:
Fortunately, respect for this sort of parenting outside the board room is dwindling as baby boomers disappear from the parenting picture and Gen-Xers take their place. Sylvia Hewlett presents research to show that while baby boomers are willing to work extreme hours, younger people scoff at the idea of doing that for more than a year. And recent polls (via Hole in the Fence) show that men are sick of the long hours and want more time with their kids: Almost 40 percent of working dads would take a pay cut to spend more time with their kids. It'll be a great day when CEOs are dismissed for neglecting their kids. Meanwhile, employees, beware: CEOs like Stringer and Immelt have a negative effect on your own ability to keep your personal life intact, because work-life policy starts at the top and trickles down.

Amen. Some ways to figure out what the real corporate values around work-life balance are: Do people regularly have email exchanges on weekends or at strange hours of the night? (When you start a contract, do the execs welcome you via email sent on the weekend? :-) Who's still working at 7pm in the office?

Another point I'd add: How effective are they if they have that much to do, even at the office where they spend all their time? Executives at one of my past companies-- who praised it as an "aggressive" company with no ability to promise new hires good work-life balance and reasonable hours during their growth plans-- were themselves too busy to pay attention to many of the critical management issues that cross their desks! They're way past the tipping point on being good parents at the office, or good peers-- blowing off visiting VPs, even-- never mind what their wife and kids think of them for neglecting them! (This is, of course, my own opinion on them as seen from the middle management trenches, and may not be their own or their peers' opinions.)


Anonymous said...

I have some experience with Danish companies. People work very hard when they are supposed to be working - there isn't much in the way of water cooler talk and you had better have a good reason to visit someone's office. They get as much done in their roughly 40 hour weeks as many Americans do in 60+.

Working overtime is seen as a sign of not being smart enough to handle your job...

I wonder how much wasted time a Dane would identify in her American counterpart's day?

This doesn't seem to hold in some of the top European Universities (I only have experience with Physics and Math - so my sample is skewed), but the smartest person I know holds to the ~40 hour rule. Not only does he have a Nobel, but one of the good ones..

Lynn said...

Hmmm... I agree on time-wasting being a real concern, but I'm a little worried about dismissing all chit-chat as that; it's pretty important for people to be able to talk like real people informally, in order to make the social networking and goodwill side of things work smoothly in an office. OTOH, I am a firm believer in going out for drinks at lunch or after hours, to set that up, and think it's more effective than the watercooler talk.

Anonymous said...

I agree that chit chat is very important (the best ideas I've had seem to have sparked during chance conversations), but the Danes draw a line.

I guess the point I should have tried to make is they may be working the same number of hours depending on how you measure work.

Much of the socializing that went on in Denmark was with, but not restricted to, co-workers ... perhaps the boundary of what work is may be fuzzy.

Anonymous said...

If someone told me--especially at work--that I was working sixty-plus a week in the season because I wasn't efficient, I'd consider cold-blooded murder. I'm more efficient now than I've ever been, I'm not a water-cooler chatter (indeed, I've taken to keeping my door closed to discourage friendly visits), and it still isn't enough to supervise ten interns, teach three classes, run a program, keep that program accredited, and do any research. The workload has to be sane, and there have to be enough workers to share it (social work, anyone? or any kind of regulatory work? or teaching public high school, where some teachers are told they can teach their favorite class if they'll just give up their planning period to do it because no new teachers will be hired?) and everyone has to be sharing it more or less equally (ha, ha), before efficiency will allow you to get things done efficiently; it really does. And while I wouldn't know personally, having a Nobel must be a big help in convincing bosses and co-workers that you've got too much status to be given three people's jobs to do.

I very much blame the kind of CEO's we're talking about for encouraging this, and I blame our past decades of congressmen for being so union-unfriendly as to pull many white-collar unions' teeth. And I do blame myself for not quitting and living a more subsistence-level life, though I doubt I could stand being my husband's financial dependent. My hope is that eventually my university will hire tenure-track help for what I'm doing, which should make a big difference; but until then I'm pretty stuck. And I'm still among the lucky--not coal-mining, gold-refining, or working unpaid overtime at Wal-Mart for way less than I get now. It's all very well to say that it's the worker's fault she works too much, but for that to be true, we'd need a rather more just culture, and one which actually values the worker's labor and expertise. Maybe Denmark has that culture, but if we do, I don't see it.

Lynn said...

Amen and hooray, Frog. I remember when I was in grad school, a wonderful woman at Xerox PARC (Lucy Suchman) was concerned about the rights of computer workers and the failure of white-collar unions... I have become increasingly interested in workers rights myself, after having seen so many abusive employment situations since then. The dot com era produced burnouts who were only 25 years old, for goodness sake.

I was once myself accused of being inefficient for having to work 12 hour days... by a man who himself did nothing, as far as I could tell, except gossip and cause flame wars. Yes, you're entirely right -- for efficiency to be at all effective, there needs to be a better distribution of labor and a better understanding of what constitutes labor and what is too much for one person.