Get A Life

Lars Poulsen - 1995-12-

My wife and many others will think it odd that I should have written this ... they think I'm already exhibiting unhealthy workaholic behaviour, in so much as the Internet is both my work and my hobby. But I do intend to take some time off ... real soon now, if my boss will let me !!

The Work Ethic of the 1990's

A few days ago, I was discussing a vacancy at the company where I work with one of my colleagues, who said "I really want to make sure we hire someone who is willing and able to work at least 50 hours a week, so we can catch up on all the work that has been piling up while the job was vacant, and so we can get ahead of the curve in the future."

I was actually quite upset at this suggestion, and said something like "If you have to work 50 hours a week on an ongoing basis, you are obviously not doing it right", and "Working overtime cannot possibly be productive for more than a couple of weeks ... after that you get no more accomplished in your 50 hours than you would in 40."

My colleague was as upset at my ideas as I was at his, and said "What's so magic abour 40 hours a week, anyway; you could make the same claim about 20 hours a week, and it would be just as silly. Look at who we have to compete with in the world market today: The Japanese are working much more than 40 hours a week, and look at the results they have been getting!"

I had to run off to lunch with my wife, so we did not get any further, but I have been thinking a lot about the exchange since then. The pressure is building in the workplace, and we need to understand what it is doing to us.

The 1950's and the Japanese

As my colleague said, there are indeed precedents for long working hours, and not all of them are spinning their wheels as I tend to do when I try:

So why am I saying that I can't do the same ? Am I less capable than those examples ? Or am I such a snob that I feel I have a right to get off easy and let the others do my work for me ?

I have had some thinking to do.

A critical look

Well, apart from the fact that the turn-of-the-century sweatshops looked more like an underdeveloped country (Pakistan ?) than like my image of what America should be like, and we have long believed that we were making progress when we abolished them, I think there's something else afoot.

The people I see, who are able to work those long hours, are all either single (and are likely to stay that way so long as they work so hard) or have a non-working spouse. Remember that old saying: Behind every successful man stands a hardworking woman. When Mr Executive puts so many hours into his job, that he is unable to fulfill his obligations to his family and to his community, there is a wife to cook dinner, attend PTA meetings and work on the Church Pledge drive.

But my wife has a demanding job of her own, with pressures to work longer hours, so that she can produce as much as the men working in similar jobs. She needs a "wife" as much as I do. And some dual-professional families have taken the consequences and hired a live-in housekeeper (usually a woman!) to take care of the kids while both parents stay late at the office.

While I can cast wistful glances back to the 1950's, I do believe in my heart that we made progress when we started sharing the chores more equally.


So, it seems that we have to decide for our society which model we prefer:

Pretending that we all can work 50 hours a week without destroying our community will not work for very long.


Date: Fri, 16 Feb 96 12:22:54 -0800
From: Xxx Xxxxx 
Organization: Information Systems


I just read your "Get a Life" article, which brought up some points very near and dear to me. It was really quite a shock to my husband, the amount of time and effort that he was required to put in on childcare and home care when we had our child. However, even with this increased effort on his part I would say that he participates in only 10% of the chores to maintain the household and keep the family going. That leaves 90% for me. I really need a wife! I had a wonderful housekeeper/nanny for the first two years of my son's life. She did childcare, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. But it cost much more than we could affort to keep longer than absolutely necessary. I miss her very much.

My biggest concern right now is finding a way to spend enough time with my child so that he learns the values that I want to teach him. I have had to forego a lot of my own interests in order to give him more of my time and attention.

My solution to the working long hours problem is to return to work later in the evening after my son is asleep. My husband and I trade off nights, where one of us stays home with the sleeper, while the other can go out to pursue independent interests such as work or hobbies during the week. This allows us to stretch our time a bit, but brings the consequence that we hardly ever spend time together as husband and wife. I think this could have a negative long term effect on the marriage.

I regularly put in 50 hours per week while I was at [my previous job], but this was during the NANNY years. It would be much more difficult for me to do it now. I think more women are beginning to see the value in being June Cleaver, and are giving up either half or all of their career positions in order to pursue a homemaker career. I must admit, that it is starting to look more and more attractive.


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