Cry me a river, you might say. But what happened on Wall Street is just an extreme version of what’s happened to so-called knowledge workers in general. Thirty years ago, the best-paid workers in the U.S. were much less likely to work long days than low-paid workers were. By 2006, the best paid were twice as likely to work long hours as the poorly paid, and the trend seems to be accelerating. A 2008 Harvard Business School survey of a thousand professionals found that ninety-four per cent worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost half worked in excess of sixty-five hours a week. Overwork has become a credential of prosperity.
The perplexing thing about the cult of overwork is that, as we’ve known for a while, long hours diminish both productivity and quality.
I always struggled to understand the drive to overwork. It destroys relationships and families, and doesn’t provide any added benefit – it can actually make you less productive.
Clay Christensen has a great explanation though: the fact that work provides instant validation and gratification. I get a sale, ship a product, or a promotion, and feel validated, while something like building a relationship with your children and spouse can take decades or your entire life to be validated (if it even is).