I hate it when the press worships workaholism.
The latest example is this Business Insider piece titled, “16 People Who Worked Incredibly Hard To Succeed.”:
The article is filled with glowing praise for people who seem to spend
all their waking hours working. Here are just a few of the headlines:
“Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz continues to work from home even after putting in 13 hour days.”
“GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt spent 24 years putting in hundred hour weeks.”
“Apple CEO Tim Cook routinely begins emailing employees at 4:30 in the
morning…He used to hold staff meetings on Sunday night in order to
prepare for Monday.”
The message seems to be that the rich and successful got that way by working insanely long hours.
In a nutshell, this is insane. I used to believe this. In fact, I even wrote a blog post about this in 2006:
I’d had dinner with Ray Lane of KPCB, who acknowledged that he’d been a
bad husband and father…and said he do it all over, because it helped
Yet all the science now suggests that these insane levels of overwork are counterproductive.
Effort alone doesn’t produce greatness; deliberate practice does, and it can only be practiced for about 4 hours per day:
Meanwhile, studies have shown for decades that sleeping less than 8
hours per night produces sleep deprivation, which is the equivalent of being legally drunk:
Meanwhile, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s work on full engagement
suggests that alternating brief bursts of intense work and recovery time better manages your energy levels and drives better results:
So why do we still worship workaholics? I think it boils down to our ambiguous relationship with success.
Attributing success to a punishing work schedule supports several beliefs:
1) It helps justify the disproportionate wealth that accrues to the
successful–after all, they worked hard for that money, right? (Never
mind that we never see pieces about immigrants working 2 jobs to support
2) It gives us a built-in excuse to explain our own
lack of success. We could be successful–if we were willing to work
like a maniac. But it’s just not worth it.
I appreciate hard
work; I wrote the first draft of this post at 11:15 on a Friday night! But we’d be better off
if the press focused on people who are successful at their career and in
their broader life.