There was an interesting study published recently by Erin Reid, at the Boston University School of Management. The author analyzed 115 interviews, performance evaluations and turnover data of a global consulting firm and found that there is meaningful difference between people who say they work 80+ hours a week, and people who actually do. And men are more likely to be guilty of faking it than women.
For anyone who has worked in a large corporation, this is not a big surprise. So many organizations, especially client services organizations like banks, consulting firms, and law firms have created cultural cues for people to take pride in working long hours and sacrificing family, friends and personal priorities. Its the age old tricks — leaving your jacket on your chair, your computer screen on (or sometimes even online tricks like logging in from home and showing up as available on your corporate instant messenger). As firms create incentives, monetary and non-monetary for people to work late, people fake it. Whether its comped dinner and cabs after a certain hour, or discussing “how hard” someone worked during promotion time, firms create incentives for people to excessively prioritize work, and by projecting an image of relentless work schedules, create the peer pressure and expectations that hours worked is a metric people are measured on.
So how do you react to such a corporate culture? Even the big financial and consulting firms are taking steps to correct these issues, especially in light of losing talent to the tech world. But changing deeply entrenched culture and practices takes time. In the mean-time, as an employee its important to demarcate boundaries. It is not sustainable for anyone to continuously work 80-90 hours a week relentlessly and one way or the other, productivity dips and things slip both at work and at home. If face time is key, potentially take time for yourself in the day to hit the gym or take a longer lunch. Show flexibility at work during really busy periods, but show a willingness to take a day off from time to time, or leave early when things slow down. And if doing any of that seems really difficult within the culture of your team or firm, you might be best served looking for something different. Everyone should put their best foot forward in their career, but a career is just one thread of a richly textured life, and there are plenty of firms that will reward you for work well done in a reasonable work week.
This study was also well covered by the New York Times here