Measuring job success in a contemporary workplace does not necessarily mean working 70 hours per week. Putting in long hours is most common in white-collar, managerial positions in accounting, law and consulting firms. Discover some of the reasons why this overwork mentality exists among these highly competitive professions.
Insecurity Reigns Supreme
Laura Empson, a professor at Cass Business School at the University of London, interviewed more than 500 people for her study and book about leadership in professional organizations. She found that working overtime as a way to measure job success comes from a sense of insecurity among white-collar workers. This insecurity comes from fear, a fear of not landing a high-profile client, fear of not living up to a client's expectations or fear of losing a contract to the competition.
Professional companies that don't bring in new clients fail to increase revenue and cannot grow. This fear drives many people in an organization, even top-level partners, to put in long hours to achieve job success.
Examples Set by Senior Staff
The example set by senior-level partners trickles down to entry-level employees and mid-tier managers. Everyone else sees the company's executives working 70 hours per week or more, so that sets the tone for everyone else and people may conform to what others are doing. Companies are not required to pay overtime or compensate salaried employees who make more than $23,660. That means anyone who volunteers to work weekends or late nights may not receive pay for doing so with a salaried position. Making the same amount of money for doing more work could lead to burnout, exhaustion and competition among workers, even though employees try to show they have value in intangible ways.
Empson identified a third major factor wherein employees felt working overtime leads to job success. Intangibility of job knowledge drives many people to extend extra effort to land clients. Firms must prove to clients that they have the job knowledge that justifies higher fees than competing firms. That's how top firms stay ahead of the smaller fish. This leads to a culture of competition up and down the chain of command.
Firms intentionally recruit insecure overachievers to get more out of workers. These ambitious people readily work as many hours as possible to stay ahead. Their insecurities and fears of loss drive their efforts to win out against the competition, whether the competition is another firm or a fellow co-worker. This competition breeds an entire culture where everyone works long hours to measure job success. Once these overachievers obtain a high-level job at a firm, they set the example for lower-level employees, and the cycle of competition continues.
Fixing What's Broken
Take a hard look at your organization, your attitudes and the insecurities of the people around you to fix what's broken. Speak openly and honestly about your concerns, and have conversations with your supervisor, co-workers and colleagues. It's okay to work hard, but try not to work overtime all of the time. Teach people that it's okay to step back and take a break to avoid burnout, stress and anxiety.
Business leaders have a responsibility to create job success, but also to avoid building a toxic work culture. Examine your company to see what you can improve and make your corporate culture better.
Photo courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net