This month the Harvard Business Review has an article titled Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek (subscription required). This article presents all the research to show that the destruction of the family comes faster in situations where both parents work long hours, but the authors, Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce, refuse to draw this conclusion. Instead they harp on what is now a baby-boomer fetish topic: Women getting equal treatment at work.
The research shows that full-time jobs are increasingly extreme jobs (more than 60 hours a week). The authors point out that most people who have extreme jobs have chosen them, and they tend to be very exciting jobs. Other reports show that some people are so smitten with their extreme jobs that they brag about how stressed and overworked they are. (Thanks, Ben.)
Hewlett and Luce write that “the extreme-work model is wreaking havoc on private lives.” However most of the reasons cited (e.g.kids watching too much TV and no one taking care of the house) would be alleviated if one parent were at home. So the extreme-work model is actaully fine, as long as women (it’s almost always women) are willing to drop out of the workforce to stay at home. And, in an article that enraged many of the readers of this blog, Lucy Kellaway writes in the Economist that yes, in fact women are more than willing to leave the office to take care of kids.
Hewlett and Luce try to make an issue out of gender: Extreme workers are mostly men, women in extreme jobs are most likely to say they want to leave the job in a year, and the people who thrive in extreme jobs either do not have kids or have someone at home taking care of their kids. But who cares? There are plenty of jobs people can take if they don’t want extreme jobs.
Hewlett and Luce try to get us alarmed that the trend toward extreme jobs is increasing, but most people who are in extreme jobs are baby boomers, and Sharon Jayson, wirting in USA Today, shows that most young people don’t want extreme jobs. And young people are adept at finding work that fits regardless of what companies are offering.
I am tired of the baby boomers thinking all their research about themselves applies to everyone. I am also tired of every researcher jumping on the battle-cry-for-women bandwagon. Hewlett and Luce spend a lot of time writing about how moms cannot do extreme jobs. But who cares? If people who don’t have kids want to work tons of hours, let them. If men want to marry stay-at-home moms to take care of their kids, let them. What is the big deal here? There is plenty of work in this world for people who don’t want extreme jobs. There are plenty of men to marry who will do their part with the kids.
The real problem here is that two parents with extreme jobs are neglecting their kids. What about that? Baby boomers have been doing it for decades, and it’s terrible for kids, and people need to start admitting that. For starters, Hewlett and Luce could come out and say this, since their research supports it.
For example, the most scary part of the article is the snowball effect of working long hours while leaving kids at home:
“As household and families are starved for time, they become progressively less appealing and both men and women begin to avoid going home…For many professionals ‘home and work’ have reversed roles. Home is the source of stress and guilt, while work has become the ‘haven in the heartless world’ — the place where successful professionals get strokes, admiration and respect.”
The research also highlights one of my pet peeves in career news: “It’s extremely rare for parents to admit having problems with their children.” I cringe every time I read an interview with a “Successful Mom” who works a 70 hour week and can miraculously balance her kids and husband’s 70-hour week as well. All of this womens magazine BS is self-reported, and what mom or dad is going to stand up and say they are destroying the kids by working long hours? The only one’s who pipe up, like Brenda Barnes, quit their job before they start talking.
Here’s what the Harvard Business Review article should have said: The long-standing practice of baby boomers to have dual-career families with no one home for the kids is bad for the kids, even if the parents are enjoying themselves. Fortunately, the post-boomer generations recognize the problem and plan to not repeat it.