No surprise that law is one of the professions mentioned in "'Extreme' jobs on the rise," an article in today's Christian Science Monitor. We are warned by experts that "workers who choose 80-hour workweeks and no vacations put life balance at risk." I did not see any attempt in the article to define this elusive, yet ubiquitous phrase "life balance." Good old work-life balance appears once again unaccompanied by definition.
Are we supposed to assume what it means? WLB is different for each one of us but perhaps a workable definition that includes room for wide variation could be provided. I think there is an underlying assumption in this article that the people about whom it is written are not WL-balanced. I don't think we are given enough information to say. And maybe we should not be doing that balancing for others. Who best makes that assessment? Who has the responsibility to make that call? Who has the right to determine?
Eleven hours a day, seven days a week, Cynthia McKay maintains a clockwork schedule. From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., she is in her office as CEO of LeGourmet Gift Basket in Castle Rock, Colo. That adds up to a 77-hour workweek, not counting her time at home on 24-hour call for clients around the world.
But don't feel sorry for Ms. McKay. Her long hours are "absolutely my choice," she says, adding, "I love being at work. It becomes a lifestyle as opposed to a job."
That kind of schedule puts McKay in the rarefied company of a growing group of highly paid professionals who hold "extreme" jobs. One-fifth of high earners surveyed in the United States have such jobs, according to new research. In addition to logging 60 or more hours a week, many travel regularly, maintain fast-paced, unpredictable schedules, and respond to clients' demands around the clock.
(Responds around the clock? Sounds like a service professional to me, one with satisfied clients.)
McKay is happy, She loves her job. We know the positive effect happiness has on health, income, social relationships, likeability, physical well-being and coping, altruism, creativity, and problem-solving. Seems that most of these extremists have extreme feelings about their jobs. Those feelings, that attitude, probably brings them many, many rewards.
What distinguishes these overachievers [another word that is waltzing around gaily sans definition] is their passion for their work. Two-thirds of high earners in a range of professions in the US and three-quarters of top managers in multinational corporations say they love their jobs.
So what's the problem? Sylvia Ann Hewlett stands ready with the warnings. Her article "Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek" was just published by Harvard Business Review. First the positive:
The big surprise of the data was just how much these extreme professionals love their work," Hewlett says. "It is a knowledge economy. Millions of people are amazingly challenged and stimulated by their work. That is good news."
Yet despite their impressive financial rewards, those burning this midnight oil face challenges. Warning that their pace is not sustainable, Dr. Hewlett says, "There's a lot of risk attached. The fallout in private lives is huge."
What's "sustainable"? Might many of these challenged, stimulated midnight people be able to monitor their levels of risk and make choices about what's important to them? Each person has his or her own constellation of values and priorities which guide their decisions. As I have said before on idealawg, these choices are individual and not one-size-fits-all. Could it possibly be that they are making the right choices for themselves?
"There's something deep in our culture right now which really admires over-the-top pressure, over-the-top performance, over-the-top pay packages," Hewlett says.
What's "over-the-top"? What's the top over which they have gone? This is getting more and more confusing.
Michael Bernstein, a physician in New York, sometimes works 80 hours a week. During those periods, he says, "There's no time for cooking and preparing food in a healthy way. We eat out or order in."
No healthy food is available outside the home? Healthy food cannot be ordered in?
Some of the experts say extreming can hurt family relationships. Choices made and values held can hurt relationships but the problem is not the job.
Laura Stack, author of "Leave the Office Earlier," notes that the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers identifies a preoccupation with work as one of the top four causes of divorce.
Correlation is not the same as causation, especially in such a complicated, multiple-factor event as the dissolution of a marriage.
McKay from the example above speaks with her husband frequently during the day and spends time with him during the evening. He remains in her circle of priorities. She makes the choices that suit her. She has given up golf; for entertainment they built an in-home movie theater. Choices, accommodations, priorities.
Many of the extreme workers do not take vacations. Others find that they need to take some time off. Choices, accommodations, priorities.
Ms. Stack argues for attitudinal shifts as well. "We overindulge in work to the exclusion of life. What will happen to these people if they get a pink slip? They have gotten to the point that they don't know what life is, because work is their life.
Is not work a part of life? Yes, for many work may be a big part of life. Choices, accommodations, priorities.
This value-laden article is riddled with assumptions. Also a bit insulting to the people about whom it is written. They are not in indentured servitude. They are adults with free will and the capacity to choose. They are free and capable to choose their own paths. Let's congratulate them on choosing a path they love. After all, not everyone can report that they love how they are making a life and a living.
For more on this topic: Hot Worms and Workaholics: Let the Workers Be!
Note (added December 5, 2006, 10:15 AM Mountain): Here's more from the one-size-fits-all camp. Laura Stack (quoted above) wrote about this Christian Science Monitor article in her blog and diagnoses Cynthia McKay.
She essentially says she works those long hours because she has passion for her work. So what? I have passion for my work, too, and you don't find me working that long. This is workaholism, pure and simple. I feel sorry for her husband. She doesn't go outside the house, gave up golf, and installed a home theater in her house to make up for the lack of time to see movies in regular theaters. If she's the CEO of a company, that tells me she doesn't trust anyone in her company enough to run thing for her. Or she's not delegating properly. Or she hasn't hired enough people. Or she's a perfectionist or has horrible time management skills. Or her business model is broken if she has to regularly work 77 hours a week to keep it afloat.
Note (added December 7, 2006, 2:35 PM Mountain): What was Cynthia McKay doing before founding her company? The answer to that question is in a recent Chicage-Sun Times article "For me? You shouldn't have--here's why." McKay was practicing law and one day . . .
As a new lawyer at a firm, Cynthia McKay shuddered when she opened a holiday gift from one of the attorneys: A set of Pyrex cookware and red lingerie, onto which he'd tied a little bell.
''No. 1, I didn't cook. No. 2, the lingerie was two sizes too big,'' McKay said. She's since left the firm, and not coincidentally, now runs her own gourmet gift basket business.