What life would look if we said no to work-life balance (and a nod to Amazon, of course)

What life would look if we said no to work-life balance (and a nod to Amazon, of course)

This is a picture from when my oldest son was five years old. I have very few pictures of him at this age. Maybe twenty. Because I was never home. I worked almost 100% of my waking hours. And often I slept only four hours a night.

I did not walk him to school. I did not make dinner. I did not put him to bed. My (now-ex) husband did all of that. In exchange for giving up all my family time, I launched a startup (with two, twenty-year-old guys, of course).

Do you want to launch a startup and have kids? That’s what it looks like. And you know what? It’s fair. Because I had someone else’s money, and they made an investment expecting that I’d move as fast and work as hard as I possibly could to increase the value of that investment.

Do you want to know how I got funded the next time? The investors remembered that I was willing to do absolutely anything to keep the company alive.

The first time I launched a startup, years before I had kids, the investor had already worked with me. He knew I worked long hours and every weekend and I was able to do three or four times the amount of work regular employees would do.

What I’m telling you is that I have been one of those people who worked insane hours and put my company before my life. And I’m here to tell you that there are people who really do want to do that. We should let them.

I know you know people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg who want to work all the time. But the article in the New York Times last weekend about Amazon shows us that it’s a much more widespread phenomenon than just a few famous billionaires. Amazon has 150,000 employees, and they fire anyone who cannot devote their life to their work. So there are a lot of people willing to devote their life to their work.

To get a sense of how extreme Amazon is, just know that basically people have to be on email at all hours, there are no vacations, and there are no weekends. You are expected to work all the time.

There is a ranking system and if you are ranked low, you are out. Which means you are competing against your peers, but you are also ranked on how well you can get along with them.

There are lots of people talking about how bad this environment is. But I have to say, I like it. I like the honesty. Amazon lays bare some truths about the workplace that other companies try to cover up. But if we could all be honest about work, we could all make better decisions about what we want for our lives.

1. People should pay a premium for a regular paycheck.
If you have ever tried working for yourself, you know that having a reliable paycheck, no matter what happens each week, is a great feeling. The stability of that paycheck ripples into the rest of your life, enabling stability in many other places. Additionally, you get paid without taking on any risk. There are very few situations where we can make money without taking risk. Working for someone else’s company is one of them.

In this way, it makes sense to me that you get paid well, and you get paid reliably, so you need to put the company before your personal life. If you want to give up getting paid well, or you want to give up getting paid reliably, then you can have some of your personal life back. That seems fair.

2. People should stop searching for the holy grail of balance. It’s not there.
We have known for years that there’s no such thing as work-life balance. You can do both at a mediocre level. You can do one poorly and one well. Or you can do an outstanding job at one and not do the other at all. (Please, I’m sure someone will say in the comments it’s possible to do both well. This is not true, because it’s relative since you don’t live in a black hole, and if you’re trying to do both well there is someone who is giving up doing one of those things well in order to focus.)

Since there is no balance, what about doing work and life sequentially? This is what many all-0r-nothing types do. They train for the Olympics and then they go to college after they compete. Or they work long hours for a decade and then they quit to have kids. Or they travel for five years and then start a career.

A sequential life means that you don’t give everything up, but you work for a while, then you take a break, then you work. When you work, you work very long hours. When you are not working you are really not working. How much you like to work will dictate how much time of your life you are working versus how much you are doing non-work.

3. Companies that have A players should be clear about their expectations.
Yahoo won’t let you work from home. Facebook expects you to work through dinner. Amazon requires weekend hours every weekend. The reason these companies can make such demands is that A players don’t mind doing these things. And if you want to work with A players, you have to comply with those demands, too. It’s simply not fair for some people at the company to put the company first and some people to put their home life first.

Which was, by the way, the biggest problem I had when I was doing a startup and I was the only one with young kids. For example, the company paid for two full-time nannies so I could travel with no notice. But it felt unfair to the employees who didn’t have kids. I felt like I gave up all my time for the company, but when I went to one, single, soccer lesson my co-workers thought that I divided my attention between family and work while they did not.

Of course people who want to take care of their family and work at the same time should be able to work. But they should not feel entitled to work with people who will give everything of themselves to the company.

4. Companies should replace caring about being nice with caring about being fair.
Even though I’d die before I’d work at Amazon right now, I think their policies are fair. I don’t see senior management asking anything of people that they are not doing themselves. And of course, anyone who doesn’t like the deal that Amazon offers should just quit.

I also think Yahoo is fair to say you have to work in the office. After all, Jacquelien Reses, head of Yahoo’s human resources, commutes from NYC to California and leaves three kids behind. If you are not that devoted to work, don’t work at Yahoo.

What I really don’t like is companies that function like Amazon and Yahoo but pretend they don’t. Netflix giving unlimited maternity leave? Please. No one who cares about their career trajectory will be taking that leave. We already know that because few high-performers take the paltry six weeks they get now.

Being nice is something that’s important if you have slaves. Or indentured servants. Being fair is a much more reasonable goal when the person has the option to work elsewhere.

5. More people should quit more of the time.
Instead of complaining that companies are not family friendly, how about just quitting? Work to make enough money, then take a break from work. Then work again when you need money.

Many entrepreneurs do this. They pretend to want a corporate job, but they really just need money for their next big idea. More people could do this if they were willing to handle a more erratic salary. Just live off less money and then you will need to be involved in the workforce less of the time. Be better at your job and you would make more money faster when you are in the workforce.

Today people don’t get penalized for quitting to take a break. They get penalized for not making a difference when they are working. Your resume can show job-hopping and gaps and all the other things that used to be death to a resume. But your resume absolutely needs to show that you had significant accomplishments when you were working.

Part of managing a career like this is hiring someone to write your resume to focus on accomplishments. (Nearly everyone who hires me starts out by saying they didn’t really have significant accomplishments in all their jobs. But I’m telling you, it’s never true.)

The other part of managing a career like this is accepting more risk. You quit a job when you’re exhausted, which feels risky. And you also put your personal life on the back burner for a short while, which feels risky.

But I’m not sure there is a better way for us to approach work. And I’m sure there’s not a more honest way.

If I did my life over again, I’d still put work first. It was fun and rewarding to do that. And I’d still stop when I had kids. And when I got bored, I ramped up work and, to be honest, sort of ignored my kids. I think I needed to do that to see that I didn’t like it. I’m not sure how else I’d be able to put work on the back burner now.

I’m not an A player today. And I’m not a top-flight mom. I’m probably mediocre at both. And I think that’s the way I like it. But when my kids are grown, maybe I’ll apply to Amazon.



99 replies
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  1. Kaitlyn Kramer
    Kaitlyn Kramer says:

    YES YES YES YES I LOVE THIS POST SO MUCH! I would tattoo it on my body if I could, that’s how much I love this post.

    • Steve
      Steve says:

      I just turned down a job at Amazon because they have way too many assholes. The Unabomber justified his killings. A rapist will tell you it was her fault because she wore a skirt. An Amazon asshole will justify terrorizing you at the workplace because it is for the good of the company. The Amazon way will fail, please join me and shop with another retailer.

  2. amby
    amby says:

    may be that is why we are urged to work for a company who does what we are passionate about. so it will not feel like “work” .

  3. Cedric
    Cedric says:

    Thank you for this article. I have always felt terrible for not always being at home with the kids , but trying to balance the two made me average at both. I now work hard for 2.5 months and take .5 month light work and that has been a lot better.
    Sidenote: Thanks to business insider for leading me to your blog. Lots of gems on here.

  4. Nick
    Nick says:

    As long as all of this is upfront with these companies and not hidden behind a screen that you can’t see past before working there, I’m all for it. Let them set whatever policies they want, but let everyone know about these policies too.

    Then, if their policies are reasonable and the compensation is adequate, people will go work for them. If not, they’ll have trouble attracting talent. It’s really as simple as that. It’s all perfectly fair this way too, everyone knows what they’re getting into.

  5. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Great post.

    I feel just as you do. If you don’t like Amazon, work somewhere else. It will be much fairer to the A players who like it that way. And I hate the term “work-life balance.” Too imprecise. I am a strong proponent of culturally championed parental leave, modeled by the leadership, but I don’t see why anyone getting compensated in part by stock options would complain about doing some work on the weekends. In fact, I’d suspect they’d be unable to stop themselves. I am also a strong proponent of high-performance expectations without jerky behavior, but, I have less hope that that will ever prevail.

  6. Rowdy
    Rowdy says:

    Penelope, I have read almost all of your articles and this one is hands down one of your best. Thank you for giving me some much needed reassurance that I’m not wasting my 20s by choosing to work non-stop.

  7. Jeff P.
    Jeff P. says:

    As is often the case, you assume that your perspective is easily applied to all people. Your second point is completely wrong. I’ve managed to keep a good balance for my entire adult life, and I’m pretty happy for it.

    Your first point isn’t right either. Compensation is not an intrinsic motivator, and more of it, earned or otherwise, does not make people more happy or fulfilled. The psychology around that is pretty well defined.

    Do some people want to work all of the time? Sure. If it works for them, super. I doubt very much that’s the case for most people.

    Oh, and I doubt in your startup life you’ve ever been exposed to stack ranking in giant corporations. It’s a toxic, destructive thing that draws focus far away from the product.

  8. Wow
    Wow says:

    Women like this are the reason why America produces the most serial killers, criminals and headcases. If you want to be an Amazon, feminist-type. Please do us all a favor and get your tubes tied.

  9. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    The only problem is that when one company gets away with working employees 24/7, then others adopt the same policy until it gets harder and harder to find an employer that doesn’t. Remember the days when people worked 9 to 5 with a paid hour for lunch? Some company decided why pay for that hour? and everyone else followed.

    • Jack
      Jack says:

      In the history of civilization, the 9-5 job with a paid lunch only existed for only about 10 to 20 year period. Even then it did not apply to most people.

  10. Clint Whute
    Clint Whute says:

    After reading your article it was hard not to be angry. You tell the world that it is “fair” to devote 100 percent of your time to your job,but was it fair to your son, your husband? If work was your life, wouldn’t have been better to be single?

    You are entitled to work as hard as you want but your article lacks any empathy to the others around you that your obession with success effected. I think you may ,in your relentless pursuit of business,lost what makes us human outside of work, caring for others.

    Enjoy your success and your life, but I would rather live with a lifetime of memories of family and friends in my last moments then die alone in a pile of money.

    • Nur
      Nur says:

      That’s the whole point of the post: you decide if your professional career is what drives your happiness.
      People have different methods to deal with it. She writes that it’s as legitimate to work 100 hours a week (among other people who are also committed with that) as staying at home homeschooling kids or being a housewife. Every choice is fine as long as the person who decides it is aware that this is driving her/his happiness at this stage of their lives.

      I don’t get why you could possibly be angry at that. Just don’t work for Amazon.

    • Danielle
      Danielle says:

      Clint, your anger confuses me. Are you mad that PT doesn’t demonstrate the appropriate level of guilt for your comfort? Would a man in PT situation have to show this empathy for those around them for you to accept it?

  11. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    As you often do, you’ve again surmised that since you are unable or unwilling to balance your professional and personal life, others cannot possibly do so either. As a full time professional with two children and a husband who works full time, we make it work. Perfect? By no means. Relatively successful in our careers while raising children? Yes. Your “advice” implies it can’t be done yet I work daily with men and women who are able to have interesting, rewarding professions AND home lives they enjoy. It doesn’t have to be, as you regularly preach, all or nothing. Many of us have found a way to balance both, living lives that are both challenging and rewarding.

    • Danielle
      Danielle says:


      For her and her personality and for startups it does sometimes have to be all or nothing. Her doing it her way does not take away from us doing it our way. We had our second child 17 months ago, and about 2 years ago my husband started a business, and we both work full time.

      I have not been able to be “killing it” at work the last year, but we are making it work. I’ll have a year in the future where I will kill it and I won’t have as much time for my kids during that time and that will be just fine. I appreciate her idea of cycles, hers are just more rigid and self imposed by both her personality and her chosen line of work.

  12. Joe Fecarotta
    Joe Fecarotta says:

    I’m afraid I have to largely disagree with most of this post. We’ve gone nuts in this country if folks are going to use their childbearing years raising iPads and Amazon Fire phones. The sacrifice outweighs the gain. It might work for the very young right out of college, but I sure hope they get out in time to raise a family. And what of the aging US population? What to do with them? Will Amazon take you back , Penelope? Not sure, since this seems more like a modern day Logan’s Run than decent management practices. Its Taylorism all over again.

    Amazon was upfront about how bad it is there, generally. I question the premise. Do we have to treat people like this? Is this the world we want? I’m just not sure we do. Wasn’t our tech supposed to free us from work? Its seems to have done the exact opposite! (more words on my blog :) )

  13. Susan
    Susan says:

    I love this.

    And this is why I freelance. To me, it is work-life balance. It just doesn’t happen simultaneously. I work a lot when we need money or I need a creative outlet or refine a new skillset. I don’t work when there are things going on at home, we want to travel or the kids need more attention.

    Traditional work culture is overrated. There are other ways to support yourself.

  14. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I struggle with your concept. Being a perfectionist myself, I also tend to want to work 24/7. I like your idea of quitting to look after the kids, but I also wonder about the toll on your body in the whole deal. Sure, you’re not neglecting your family, but by working such long hours when you are at the job, you’re severely neglecting your body. Just a thought. Sleep, exercise, relaxation, and decent nutrition aren’t things to be taken for granted. And really, do you want to neglect your family and human relationships during that whole long season of work? As much as I’d love to carry on working through the weekend, I force myself to take a break. I find I perform better that way.

  15. Geoffrey James
    Geoffrey James says:

    I have a slightly different perspective. When I see people working long hours on a consistent basis, I usually see a fairly large percentage of that time spent redoing things that would have taken less time if done correctly the first time. Tired, burntout people make dumb mistakes and aren’t very creative; they’re too tired to see the shortcuts or know when more effort is counterproductive.

    That’s true in any organization or situation. But Amazon has an even bigger problem. Stack-ranking and “secretly rat out your coworkers” creates a hyper political environment. A certain amount of office politics is normal, but when it’s as pervasive as it appears to be at Amazon, its “Darwinian” effect is to favor those who are good at playing politics.

    While a certain amount of corporate politics is inevitable, it consumes time and energy that could be more effectively applied building products or helping customers. Furthermore, many highly creative people (especiallly those with asbergers) are not good at office politics and thus more likely to get “culled” in a stack ranking exercise, regardless of their level of contribution.

    I don’t think that Amazon’s success is the result of these practices and, in fact, I see the company making huge strategic mistakes: 1) treating its blue-collar workers like crap which could easily result in the formation of a union, 2) alienating the book publishers who supply their primary product and the writers who provide value to those products and 3) blowing off a Times reporter rather than buttering the reporter up, which would have resulted in a more positive story.

    This last is so egregiously stupid that it makes me wonder if anybody at Amazon understands even the basics of public and press relations. Amazon is rapidly gaining the reputation as a collection of assholes. This is never, ever a good thing because there will come a time when Amazon needs friends and all it’s got now are enemies.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Geoffrey, I love that you brought up the dual-class system at Amazon. I do think the blue-collar workers are treated poorly. And it’s one thing to be treated poorly when you’re making good money and another thing to be treated poorly when you’re stuck.

      Jim Grey, in his comment, brings up that people do have choices about which blue-collar job they take. But making those choices becomes more and more difficult the lower your economic status is. So I feel compelled, at some point, to start protecting workers at the bottom end of the pay scale.

      So, yes. Unions seem like a good bet for Amazon. In many cases I think unions are on their way out (teachers unions, for example — making school reform nearly impossible.) But if Amazon had more fear of the potential power of a union I think they would behave better toward blue-collar workers. In this case, there is sort of a checks and balance system; for white-collar jobs Amazon has the fear that knowledgeable employees will leave when they are still very valuable. But there is no fear for Amazon about blue-collar workers leaving. A union would do that.


      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I have to disagree with this ‘one thing to be treated poorly making money another when you are not making a lot’ because no one should be treated poorly regardless.

        I think we can go ahead and call the class system what it is at Amazon: The Execs and Everyone else. The income disparity when you look at that is enormous.
        I know a lot of people within these Orgs. A few are definitely NOT type A. They aren’t getting fired. The companies need them. A lot are along for the ride, hoping they work their way up management. Management is really closed off in these companies. I.e. slow process.
        The issue is a LOT of the type A’s are leaving because they are being underpaid and the process to an increase is brutal and unnecessary. Being type A’s, they are more creative in the ways they make income (they have options). They have other things going on besides their gigs at the Tech shops and then they leave when it becomes too much and they have figured out their ‘out’. This is like a wide open convo within the tech community. It’s easier to do today than 5-10 years ago. So either Amazon will have to compensate more, hire more HB1s, or restructure. Probably not anytime soon, but eventually if they really want to retain the class A talent.

  16. Gil
    Gil says:

    Which Amazon do you salute, Penelope? The one in the NYT article? That puts you at odds with Jeff Bezos himself.
    Quote: “I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.”

    You’re willing to protect a company whose policies are explicitly wrong even the eyes of its own CEO? Wow, just wow.

    Moreover you’re assuming that every employee has the option to choose, as if these policies are not a surefire slippery slope, exploiting those who are looking for an honest pay (if that’s the case at all). If you’re unsure, just pay a visit to Wall st.

    You’re also assuming that the more hours you put in, the more and better output will be. This goes against most, if not all research.

    And last, but not least, women in the States started to join the workforce, not because of feminism, but because a single working parent could not cut it anymore. True there is no objective definition of work-life balance, but the expression on your son’s face indicates that back then you seemed to heave lost yours.

  17. Evelien
    Evelien says:

    So happy not to be in the USA, I love Amsterdam so much better. I would love it even more if we start giving everyone a basic income and then people can work 2 or 3 days for extra income. Studies (four year experiment in Canada) show that an basic income allows people to educate themselves, help others, relax, make and bake things together.

    Sounding like a 60ies hippy, and proud of it. Money is an means to an end. The goal in life is not to gather as much money as possible (which can only be done if you have al lot already, read on Kapitalism by Pikkety) Ha, working your ass of in a psychopath environment such as Amazon is just sad, not fair. (read Robert Hare – Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R).

    Moddeling your society around consumerism and status makes people unhappy, off balance and anxious. You should be looking to solve that problem, the concept of a society based on ever growing want, not call it fair and advise people to hop on and off.

    Must say I love your posts. It is the only email I always read. You are insane in a good way ;-)

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      The society isn’t modeled after consumerism and status.

      The COL in major cities is insane compared to years prior due to the growing separation of wealth between classes.

      The average joes at Amazon are having to work harder and longer to make ends meet.

      This will eventually happen in Amsterdam as Europe’s structure won’t be able to sustain the intense competition from China and India…..so it might be America’s issue right now, but it will eventually spread (see London).

      Time to go about things in a new way.

  18. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    This is one of the most interesting things you’ve written this year.

    For those of us with options, sure, Amazon and other high-driving, high-flying, high-time-commitment companies are fair. Because we really can just get a different job if we want a different amount of work in our life.

    Those jobs probably don’t pay as well. But as you say all the time, you really can’t have it all. Choose what you want, do that, live with the lifestyle it gives you.

    I can’t figure out how to fit into this comment the abuses that companies can perpetrate on employees with few options. I think about turn-of-the-2oth-century stories about six day, sixty hour weeks, and about child labor, and about poverty-level wages. What options did those people have? It took federal labor law and unions to solve those problems.

    But then I think about my dad’s family back in West Virginia. Coal mining and things related to coal mining provided most of the employment. “I owe my soul to the company store” was a known thing there. Yet my great grandmother pivoted, opening a tavern and roominghouse in a little town where the railroad loaded the coal. And many of my family moved to northern Indiana in the 1950s to get work in construction and manufacturing — far, far less dangerous than coal mining. That was hard — there’s a fierce dedication to family togetherness in that part of WV. Leaving that behind was not done lightly. About half of my family still lives within a short radius of that little WV railroad town; the rest live in Indiana. These did not look like people with options, but they created some anyway. It just took courage and risk to find the life they wanted.

  19. Amy Jo Lauber
    Amy Jo Lauber says:

    What most people struggle with, in my professional opinion as a financial planner, is not knowing how much money they need to live their version of “The Good Life.”

    They don’t know how to design a financially sustainable lifestyle and, therefore, tangle their time and money into a untenable knot.

    Getting clear on what you both value and need to live will provide abundant confidence in making decisions about work (both time and money).

    • Diane
      Diane says:

      I love this point! I think it’s all about figuring out what your “run rate” is, working until you have enough money to sustain that, and then heading off to do other things. Financial Independence, Early Retirement, Mustachianism – call it what you want, I feel like that’s the fundamental challenge of our modern lives.

      I already have my speech all planned out, when, in 5-7 years when I am in my early 40s, I will walk into my boss’s office and say – “hey, I don’t have to work any more. let’s talk about our options.”

    • mysticaltyger
      mysticaltyger says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with what you’re saying. I would also say that Mr. Money Mustache does a darn good job of untangling this knot:


      It’s also something Penelope alluded to here and in other blog posts: Live on less than you make. You don’t need nearly as much as you think to make you happy.

      It’s just that Mr. Money Mustache drives the point home in great detail and shows that most folks in the top 1/2 of the income distribution have a lot more options than they realize.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        That doesn’t make sense to me at all. He calls himself retired. I mean, he does not want to devote himself to work, so the people who succeed at Amazon would have no interest in working with him. For that matter, most startup founders would not want to work with him either. Which is exactly my point — people who feel “balanced” would not be superstars at either work life or home life. Superstars devote themselves to being great at something.

        Beware: Just because he is able to live on a low budget and make enough money to do that doesn’t mean he’s cracked some magical code. He gives up a lot. He does not have the money to give his kid opportunities that other kids have, he does not have flexibility to outsource household things he does not want to deal with. There are tradeoffs to everything. No one gets a free ride. When we only see the parts of someone’s life that they choose to show, it’s easy to conclude that they have cracked a magic code.

        This reminds me of the guy who founded getrichslowly.com. I can’t remember his name. But anyway, he got all his money in order, and his blog was probably bigger than mr. money, and then it turned out he was leaving his wife. But up til the minute he said that you could have concluded that he had figured out the magic equation for work-life balance.


        • Loretta
          Loretta says:

          I agree that there is always a trade-off and a hidden side to those who promote any lifestyle philosophy. For instance we are yet to see the end product of Mr Money Mustache’s approach on his son. However I think Mr Money Mustache actually promotes quite a healthy attitude to money and makes a fun game out of living without a dependence on debt and unnecessary spending. Like yourself he questions accepted wisdom which makes his and your blog my top favourites!

        • Isela
          Isela says:

          The name of the writer of GetRichSlowly was J.D. Roth.
          As you said, he wrote like he had cracked the code of having everything and then everything fell apart.

    • Elizabeth
      Elizabeth says:

      Agree that financial management, and keeping a tight ship on expenses, increases our options.

      Speaking of numbers, this woman interviewed a thousand working moms and tallied up their working hours. What she discovered is that women with full-time jobs (earning ~6 figures) were often better-positioned to handle the demands on their lives (financially, and time-wise) than women who worked part-time or flex-time and made less (~40K):


      She recommends that women:
      * learn ‘to slack’ 20% of the time
      * stop ‘asking for permission’ re. their schedules and just do it (as their male colleagues do)

      Penelope’s examples typically feature extremes of high-income, superstar jobs vs. not working at all. The women in this podcast were more likely to hold the kinds of middle-management, non-C level positions jobs that your readers do.

  20. Erica
    Erica says:

    I read your blog because I find that you are incisive and able to make interesting observations that generally demonstrate out-of-the-box thinking.
    With one exception — your perspectives are the product of American culture. This opinion piece is one of an American who doesn’t see beyond that or how she is the product of it.

    Is this abusive environment justifiable in the pursuit of something on the level of ending
    poverty or a cure for cancer? No. Will Jeff
    Bezos be remembered for making people’s lives
    better? No. Will he be remembered at all?
    History is full of men who sacrificed other’s
    lives to feed their ego, at the root of the

    Will the children, spouses of his employees be
    healthier, happier, more secure individuals?
    Doubtful. Will any of these people look back
    at the end of their life and say “That
    experience enriched me?” Not if they’ve gained
    any perspective along the way.

    Can Amazon NOT have an effect on its
    ecosystem? ( a la “If you don’t like it, don’t
    work there?”) I don’t believe so.

    In my opinion, this is a sick corporation only able to be justified by those in the same ailing
    culture. Once you’re out of the US bubble,
    self-reinforced by the all-pervasive media and
    the mindset of people brought up on it — what
    you call a A level people or winners — it looks pretty sad…along with the mass shootings,
    isolation, unhappiness, homelessness, etc.

    Bezos and Amazon are part of the problem, not
    part of the solution.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Are you serious?

      Yes, Jeff Bezos will be remembered for making peoples’ lives better. Do you know how often I go to the store? Approximately never. Amazon has revolutionized the getting-of-stuff-I-need. I live in a medium-sized city, and I don’t have to go shopping, waste my time driving around. Parking. Looking. Comparing. Looking elsewhere.

      If I buy from amazon, it’s on my doorstep tomorrow. Jeans, office supplies, vitamins, hard-to-find baking ingredients, car detailing supplies, custom stationery, gifts, a watch strap to replace the one I broke.

      Yes, that makes my life better.

      I spent two months away from home after a death in the family this year. In an unfamiliar place with a lot on my mind, could I get what I needed with no stress? Yes. Thanks to amazon.

      You can belittle this as “consumerist.” Amazon gives me time, and time is life.

      • Sunny
        Sunny says:

        Too funny …. I never even remember his name now!

        I don’t think of him the same way I do Steve Jobs and Bill Gates – who I’m sure will be remembered 100 years from now. Maybe. Who do we hail from the early 1900s? Ford, Bell, Edison?

      • laura
        laura says:

        YOUR time is someone else’s. Is it right to take time/life from someone else so that you get more time in your life?

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      You really missed the mark with this one.

      The people working at Amazon are not mindless idiots that cannot separate work and life. A small percentage maybe (as the rest of the world). I know some people that do throw away life for work. That’s because they can’t function without clinging to work. It’s easy to hide behind. A lot of them don’t get far.

  21. Mike
    Mike says:

    So to what end are we talking about? I can understand sacrifice for future security and prosperity but judging by your posts on money, debt, and retirement; your long hours did not translate into this. So if the ends are small why say the means are justified?

    I can understand dedicating ones life to a passion but if sacrifice is only rewarded by experence, that is a hobby not a job.

  22. San Diego, Ca
    San Diego, Ca says:

    I am trying to understand the point of this article. If you want to work 24/7 that’s your choice and if you want do that and simultaneously have a family also a choice you are free to make. Although I can’t say it’s the route I would take, I can completely see the merit in choosing to excel in financially supporting your family at the expense of emotionally and physically being there. What seems odd is that you either can’t seem to acknowledge the fact that there are tons of people who are able achieve work like balance and be successful in both. Success is measured relatively by each individual. I would agree that there are certain positions where you have to dedicate yourself to the company, but if I look at the last CFO I worked under, did he dedicate himself to work, absolutely. Did he expect everyone who worked under him to do the same, no. Everyone was expected to work hard but if he had the 60 or so people under him all gunning for his job he’d have issues. I also don’t feel like he’d ever write an article like this expressing the need for everyone who works for a company to completely dedicate their lives to the company because I don’t think he needed any type of validation that he made the right choice. Just like I would never fault work a holics for working more hours than me, I’m completely comfortable and happy with the work life balance I’ve created for myself and respect the diverse range of choices others make in trying to strike their appropriate “work life balance”

  23. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I pretty much agree, when things have become unbearable at a company, I have quit, even without another job lined up. My co-workers have always been shocked, but when enough is enough I leave. I am not a slave.

    Since I am good at saving money, I make do, the only scary part is health insurance. I would love it if that could be completely separate from work, like your car insurance, then it does not get all messed up when you quit your job. when I quit my job my car insurance company has no idea, as long as I keep paying them!! I wish health insurance was like that.

    • Amy Jo Lauber
      Amy Jo Lauber says:

      Good point about the health insurance and it’s something I see regularly in my practice. I’m hopeful that the health insurance exchange will solve many of these issues so people are “free” to work where they desire (including for themselves) without health insurance being the trump card.

      • Colleen
        Colleen says:

        Health insurance is like that – you can get an independent health insurance plan, pay the premium each month and take it with you when you leave. I worked part time for four years with a single plan that cost me $67 per month.

  24. Carin
    Carin says:

    You say that companies should be honest in terms of expectations, but don’t you think the same applies to people. If you want to devote your life to your job then so be it. However, please don’t bring children into the world in order to have someone else raise them in your complete absence. If you choose to marry then you have to fit spousal responsibilities into your life. Ditto for choosing parenthood. However, if you are concious of the fact that being a spouse and/ or parent is not in your scope of priorities then why would you ever make these choices. Spouses and kids are human beings that require a bit more attention then your average pet or ipad. If you are married or a parent the commitment and responsibility does not have a sell by date. These relationships are lifelong commitments which must be contemplated into everyone’s work/ life balance. Going back to a 24/7 job means you have chosen to abandon these responsibilities. Please don’t make pretend you were a good parent because you tried to go to a soccer practice. It’s clear you love your job and kudos to you. Perhaps it would have been more honest to accept that you should not have chosen parenthood along with an all encompasding career. You are right, you can’t have it all at 100%, but do your kids deserve to pay the price for your selfishness?

  25. Tina
    Tina says:

    How is putting work first, before your kids who did not choose to be born, okay? Fine, make work your life. You argue not devoting your life to work is unfair to the company…what about your family? Do they not deserve devotion and time and investment? Yes, I absolutely do think it’s possible to do both and work for an amazing woman who has five children and a successful career. I’m sure, at times, one part of her life was not perfect but she tried. Her family has never been a second priority. No one should suffer for their choices between work and family and, just as companies need ethnic and gender diversity, they also need diversity of employees who are coming from different walks of life — single, married, parents, etc. etc.

  26. Tina
    Tina says:

    It also just sounds as if the author is a poor multi-tasker. I would not want an employer that didn’t have a life outside of work. People will full lives have more to contribute – with fresh ideas and perspective. I make very good money and have a happy family. My employer has never doubted my devotion and I manage my time well. Being a parent has a way of helping improve that skillset. Is my hectic, yes? Am I happy and fulfilled? Absolutely.

  27. harris497
    harris497 says:

    I hate this post because it is so true. I feel inadequate at work because my attention is divided between home and work tasks (while I’m at work) This is probably one of the main reasons for Imposter Syndrome…

  28. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I really love this post.

    My husband and I both really like work a lot, and do not think we want to worry about scaling back to balance kids. My husband’s father recently told him that he would be missing out on a “critical life stage” if he chose not to be a dad. My husband’s father was a high-level executive at multiple major software corporations. He traveled constantly, regularly internationally, and worked round the clock. There was absolutely no room for two careers in their family without constant help, so his mom stayed home. She would never say it bothered her, but it’s clear there is some lasting bitterness/insecurity there. His dad loved being a dad because he got to do whatever fun parts he could do with his extremely limited family time, and now he has an adult son who he can have a great relationship with because he is retired and has all the time in the world for family. It is somehow not clear to him that the only reason this worked is because he was 100% about work, and his wife was 100% about holding their family together.

    And thank you for saying the Netflix year of parental leave is bs. I am surprised this is not obvious to more people.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      well – the maternity leave policies are only b.s. because people do not accept them. A maternity leave is only going to work if a company (and your colleagues) accepts that this is a good thing. The commonly held idea that you are only a good employee if you give up your self at the door and work 100 hours/ week is incompatible with maternity leave policies.
      It is not physically possible even without any family responsibilities to be reasonably healthy, and highly productive with these type of workweek hours. Everybody who believes the always-on 100 hour work week increases productivity is dead wrong. The burnout will happen sooner or later. And stack rankings have been discredited as a method to improve productivity (ok, they might improve outcome for someone who does mindless repetitive tasks for a while) – it is a toxic environment, and stops any collaborations in its tracks.

  29. Steve
    Steve says:

    I feel bad for your son and husband. You clearly have found no meaning in life and are happy with just being a drone being put to work. It was irresponsible of you to get married and have a child and then to ignore them with you “work”.

    Chances are your work was also probably meaningless and no one will remember you for it unlike Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerburg. So, do you really think it was worth it?

  30. Honestly Laura
    Honestly Laura says:

    #2 resonates with me. I took a work-family balance college course and all I learned about was how other countries are doing it way better than we are. Mostly because they believe in siestas and 6 month maternity leave.
    I was a career woman turned stay-at-home mom turned stay-at-home mom & work-from-home. People say I’m lucky working from home. My two small kids don’t understand why I’m sitting at the computer instead of playing with them. sometimes…I don’t understand it either. I’m neither a good employee or a top-notch mom.

    • maria
      maria says:

      Dear Laura, I completely understand you as I have the sam situation. trying to juggle working from home (supposedly a full time job, but honestly I can only get max 4 hour of work per day) and taking care of my son who is in daycare only 4hours a day. Am very happy to be with him but I feel like I am not being really good at either. Could we email sometimes :0) ?

  31. jessica
    jessica says:

    I don’t know. Aren’t there 2 supportive dad’s around?!
    When you talk about family you talk about the sacrifice between spouses to make it all work. One works, one nurtures the kids. I don’t understand how this works in your family when you are working and watching the kids. It sounds like no one else is filling the family gap- youre a struggling single mom trying to make ends meet and be there for everything. Where is the support?

  32. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    I think it is hard for Penelope to believe in work-life balance because her idea of success has a very high bar. Not everyone needs to be a CEO or have a start up company. Not everyone needs to homeschool there kids and give them perfect life advice. I suppose this is the “mediocre-mediocre” option that Penelope was talking about but it can be quite pleasant.

  33. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Of course companies will hire you to work 24/7. You give precious hours of your life, and in exchange they get rich.

  34. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    I live in a paid-off home, own a paid-off rental property, and only have to work for other people four months a year. Sooner or later you people are going to have to stop slaving away in corporate offices and throwing all your money into a financial system that is soon to go belly-up. I can’t believe that after 2008 people are still following this model.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Until our (US) system is no longer a consumer-driven system I don’t see the majority of sheeple trying to do anything different. Whatever is easiest/most popular/mainstream will win. A few of us, like myself, are raising non-conformists, but it will take time…. long after you and I are in the ground.

      How are you able to work four months/year?

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        Here is how.

        Instead of pouring my money into the “financial system,” which is riddled with fraud and only makes money for the people selling financial “products,” I spent all my extra money paying off the condo that I lived in. So I had it paid off five years after I bought it, and then I lived in it for another five years, which allowed me to save a lot of money.

        I make around $35 an hour doing contract work in financial analysis, business analysis, and all these other silly “analyst” jobs in the corporate sector. Rather meaningless work, but it does pay well. I live in a small Midwestern city where $35 an hour is really good pay.

        Then I saved up enough money to buy a new place. That wasn’t my original plan, but I had decided I am not a big fan of condo living. Did you know there are a lot of people who are too stupid to get their trash tied up in a bag and put into a dumpster? Well, it’s true. I had made the condo REALLY nice. I replaced all the carpet with hardwood floors and the appliances were already gorgeous to begin with. I took good care of the place and updated it while I lived there.

        So I bought a townhouse, so I don’t have anyone living above me. There are no shared hallways or shared trash areas, and I got my own driveway and an attached garage. Other than that, it isn’t THAT much nicer than the condo I’d been living in before – the main point in moving was just to avoid some annoyances. I paid it off in three years.

        So my condo brings in $1,100 per month rent. The taxes, dues, insurance and management fees (because I’d rather pay someone to deal with tenants than have the phone ringing) run $375 per month, so that’s a net of $725 per month, or a 7.2% return on what I spent buying the condo (including the updates).

        Now that my new home is paid off, the only cost I have with the townhouse is (again) taxes, dues, and insurance. The dues are a little less, the taxes are a little more, insurance is about the same.

        So I’m netting $8,700 a year in rental income from the condo, $4,000 per month X 4 = $16,000 per year from working, and that $24,700 is actually more than I need to make in order to keep the lights on and food in the fridge. I even manage to stick a couple grand into Lending Club every year.

        I’m only 46. I spend the majority of my time doing things I enjoy, and I am happy. Also, note that I do not have to cough up payroll taxes for the rental income. I have to claim it as income, because the IRS will nail you no matter what you do to earn money, but at least I don’t have to pay SSI taxes or Medicare/Medicaid on it.

        Now, I do not have children. But I am also not married, because I never wanted to get married or have children. For you married people out there, you could do this same thing and expect your spouse to cover the cost of children, and I’ll bet it would be six of one, half dozen of the other. You’d come out about the same, because even though you had the cost of children, you’d have an extra wage-earner.

        The point is, you should stop throwing your money into the financial system and put it to work getting out of debt and buying cash-generating assets.

  35. Milson
    Milson says:

    Yes, choice of how you want to work, and honesty on the part of the companies. I hadn’t a clue a 18 and was enrolled on a secretarial course by my despairing mother who thought I would marry the boss and have a nice house and children to look after. Well that never happened, of course, but I have worked forever as a beleaguered legal secretary with low pay and a bad back, and at 52 and losing the will to get up each morning, I have a spectacular resume of mediocrity, no savings and no children, husband or home. Is it too late for someone who is so not ENTJ, but seems to be something in between INFJ, INFP, ISFJ and ISFP – I’m any one of these depending on my mood. Yes, we are all a product of our choices, and at least some of us have the freedom to make them, even if we make the wrong ones.

  36. Maria
    Maria says:

    Ohh my God! Is Germany (where I live) another world? if what Penelope writes here is the way my fellow Americans are thinking, I need to give it a second thought to the promotion my boss is offering me back in the US. A lot of what is written in this article is so so screw up, superficial and contradictory. For instance, Penelope writes “No one who cares about their career trajectory will be taking that leave”, referring to maternity leave. A few paragraphs below she writes “Today people don’t get penalized for quitting to take a break.”. Isn´t maternity leave a break from corporate work? So contradictory… I will not even go into more details. But just to let you, I dont know of a f***g German who gives up family for work… not even the CFO, the CEO… family comes first and that is so well understood in this society. Most Germans go home at 6pm at the latest, my colleagues in the US work way more hours, but some how they are less efficient and effective. I think it is because a lot people in the US think alone the lines of this article… so superficial! We need to work for a better America… I have two kids and I have taken 1 year off with each of them. It is great! and yes I get frowns at board meetings or other meetings with Senior guys in the US. Bottom line, I dont care. I know they need my work and I need my time. After 4 weeks of been back from maternity leave, live goes on as usual. I have missed promotions, but that is OK. It is my choice, and I have my job and my kids. I am happy.

    • jessica
      jessica says:


      She is spot on. You will get fired or have a hard time finding employment if you think about a year off for baby. Most women go back after 6 weeks and drop child into care.

      This is a very real reality for women in the U.S.
      Should you take the promotion considering the strong but understandable EU views on life? It is opposite here and the expectations would have to be extremely adjusted in terms of most things (holiday/being there for the kids at all with a big position/ any sort of paid leave). For example my husbands company is one of the few with unlimited leave. One of his assistants is leaving for 3 week holiday. Management has had the rounds of chats about if this person should stay employed because it is showing an extreme lack of commitment. Anyone in the upper rings of the org has not taken more than 5 days off in 5 years.
      My husband wouldn’t ever take holiday because he has too much to do. That’s typical. It was a lot for him to get used to years ago when he moved from the UK, but it’s the way it is…

      • jessica
        jessica says:

        I think it says a lot that you don’t care when they have their opinions. This is because you have a society that supports that attitude. You would care if they were chatting about you losing your job do it, I’d think.

        My husband was just chatting about the EU branches. I asked him what they think of their counter parts. He said they are just looked down on for lack of willingness at every turn to get the job done when it needs to be done. But they can’t do anything about it because it’s cultural. As someone that goes between these countries, he sees the issue at hand and they actually make things harder for his job because of this mentality. This of course is one case but it’s the cultural differences sort of contributing to the environmental clashes.

        • redrock
          redrock says:

          … and yet the German and many other European countries are doing quite well economically. No, Greece is not representative, and every country is different, but on average the economies in Europe are not off worse then in the US. In some respects they are doing better – less extreme poverty, higher infant survival rates, longer life expectancy. There are numerous studies which clearly show that never taking a break is not conducive to productivity – although it might feel much more productive to be always “on”.

          • jessica
            jessica says:

            I’m pointing out that her reality as an exec mom will change drastically with a move here, with those expectations.

            Greece is a subsidized vacation destination. They will never be solvent and they haven’t been in what, centuries?

            I’m watching the markets with all the middle classes getting pushed out of the big EU cities. I’m wondering what the effect will be for them in 10-20 years…

            I think it’s a great time to live in Europe as a smart worker, if you work a bit harder than the rest but that’s a cultural thing to overcome ..probably easier said than done, but possible. They have a lot of advantages especially when it comes to working women and support.

  37. CdrJameson
    CdrJameson says:

    Of course, working mad hours is actually less productive than simply going home on time. (Negative productivity kicks in somewhere between 40 and 50 hours a week).

    The eight-hour working day was first instituted en mass by notably profit-focussed Henry Ford. He cut the working day to 8 hours, the working week from 6 to 5 days and doubled his workers pay (called Efficiency Wages). Productivity and profit went through the roof.

    Companies expecting people to work longer hours are only shooting themselves and their employees in the foot.


    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      I answered this question above, but what I do for four months a year is keep going back to the same client ever year, at year-end, and helping them with their audit work.

  38. Milson
    Milson says:

    If you work 24/7 for a company then you have no time for your kids, your partner, your parents, your friends, your learning of anything else about life and what other people do or think, you have no time for art, literature, philosophy, science or any other subject. You will not know how to grow beans and tomatoes, or make healthy meals, or look after a dog, or yourself, or your elderly mother, nor help anyone else. In order to work 24/7 you have to become a massive consumer of services to support your frenetic artificial existence – so much money going out requires vast sums of money coming in, perpetuating the senseless cycle.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      It’s not an endless cycle.

      At some point they scale back due to the investment of work and time, retire early, or sell their company or cash in shares. I know quite a few people who could financially be finished, but choose to keep working and sometimes it is still demanding, but they do it knowing they have the option to step back.
      I mean, it’s not wasted output unless you’re going down the wrong path/ choosing the wrong position/ or not saving in the form of equity or investments.. over and over. Then, yeah, you’ve reached a point where you have to work 24/7 to play catch up and then it’s not really your choice anymore due to necessity and time.

  39. Pmr
    Pmr says:

    I’m suspicious that instead of the word fair, a better term may be transparent.

    During the hiring and interviewing process many companies will sell a high priority life balance, but deliver high priority work atmosphere. I have been put into the position of needing to leave a job because the work environment that I had planned for, and been invited into, did not exist.

    I strongly agree that more people should quit their jobs , but golden handcuffs like strategies employed by many companies enforce this form of dishonesty.

    When I was in this situation I was able to escape, but only by luck that I had not adjusted my lifestyle to be similarly expensive as my coworkers.

    It also scares me that someone could believe that there is no such thing as a work life balance, only because they haven’t experienced it.

  40. anonymous
    anonymous says:

    You are sick. Seriously. This sort of attitude is destroying humanity, and your children deserved better.

  41. Hubert Lamontagne
    Hubert Lamontagne says:

    There’s a reason for the standard 40 hour work week. Put in more hours than that and your productivity goes down. Work 2 months at 60 hours a week and you’ve actually wiped out any gain from the extra hours just out of tiredness and diminishing focus.

    This is especially true for programming: most real work gets done when you’re “in the zone”, and the fact is, that’s something like 1/3rd of the time. Adding more hours doesn’t add more hours “in the zone”.

    See Joel Spolsky’s article about this:

  42. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    I think a lot of the dissatisfaction from the work place comes from the company not being fair. Someone may be working A-player, someone could leave work early to pick up kids, some seem to be always browsing the Internet etc.

    I like how Amazon is being open and honest. It won’t set the wrong expectations in people. Unlike many corporations, openly advocating “work-life balance”, but in fact, penalize you for having “family emergencies”.

    If more companies are like Amazon, open and honest about their expectations, people can make better choices about where they want to work.

  43. jessica
    jessica says:

    Since we do not have a social system that supports working women and the need to have children within the prime years, the responsibility shifts from the public to the private. Right now, the private cos can get away with not having universal coverage of women’s rights (leave/pay/etc) due to the never ending supply of male workers. This can only be solved by making it a public issue (like most other nations), which it already is in a very real way, we just choose to ignore it. Making fun of it really blasts our shared responsibility (again, whether we want to admit that exists or not is another reason our country can’t get past the first step to a solution). Some people just aren’t fit to be accountable for every choice they make, and our society does not support that idea nor equality on a fundamental level.

    As for the 100+ hour work weeks for middle managers. Well, either the workers will correct it (through unionization), the market will correct it (through higher wages or competition), or social laws with correct it (required min. holidays/mat leave/ tougher at-will worker’s laws regarding firings) or simply more HB-1s (which they are all lobbying for anyway, you know people that come here for 2 years then take their $$ go back to india/china/ etc and come back again to another co).
    Right now it is this way because the market is at a cross hairs of highly skilled workers competing for relatively low paying jobs (compared to time spent elsewhere) in a demanding sector. It won’t stay this way, and it will correct before P can jump in again.
    Actually after thinking it over, (i.e. Amazon) it’s really a non issue that will correct with time. I’m surprised it’s getting so much attention, but I guess that’s what happens with all fad/shock articles.

    As for the extremely depressing photo up top and lack of family time. That just comes down to priorities. If you want to be there for them, be there. That doesn’t mean you have to be there every second of every hour. It means you need to re-focus and/or learn to focus on what matters to you and reshape life, accordingly. Which is exactly what P is doing in the present (farm life, unschooling, work from home, etc). Though, it also looks like there is some anxiety for not being either 100% kids or 100% work, but as we all know, it’s not like that for anyone anyway. Best to you.

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