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The Case Against Work/Life Balance

By Marty Nemko

How dare I assert that balance is overrated? After all, since the days of Aristotle, the golden mean has been revered. Today's women's movement deifies work/play balance. We ridicule people who work 60+ hours a week as "workaholics," people whose lives are out of balance.

Yet I believe balance is overrated. Take, for example, the many genetics researchers that choose to work 60+ hours a week. They find that working those extra hours is more pleasurable and does more good for society than if they had spent the hours on recreation: watching TV, playing golf, etc. Shouldn’t such researchers be honored or at least respected rather than dubbing them “workaholics?”

But let's say your job is more routine--no superimpactful genetics job. Can trading some of your recreation hours for work hours truly benefit society? Absolutely.

As a group, employees who are asked to work long hours are the above-average workers; that is, they produce higher-quality work. If you were a manager with extra work that needed to be done, aren't you likely to ask your better workers to do it? If we discourage people from working long hours, the quality and quantity of the goods and services we receive would decline.

For example, if, when you're in the hospital, the chief of staff wasn’t able to convince the best doctors to work overtime, you may have to settle for second best. If managers at a retail store can't convince their best clerks to work long hours, you may have to endure the ones that are so slow they drive us crazy. If the manager at the car repair shop can't convince the best mechanic to work long hours, you may have to settle for a grease monkey more likely to screw up your car repair.

There are, alas, efforts are afoot to require a short workweek. Activist Jeremy Rifkin is spearheading legislation that would mandate that all workers be limited to a 30-hour workweek. Never happen? It’s happening. France has a 35-hour maximum workweek.

The implications are frightening. Let say you have a heart condition and really like your cardiologist. Many other patients like her too, so despite her working 60 hours a week, it usually takes weeks to see her. Now imagine that a law mandates that she can only work 30 hours a week. Now you’ll have to wait months to see her.

Not only can long work hours benefit society, there's the money. If you have a fixed-salary job, work long hours and you're more likely to be considered for salary increases and promotions. If you're paid by the hour, work 60 hours rather than 40 and you'll make at least 50% more, and maybe get time and a half for the overtime.

Some argue that working long hours is stressful, bad for one’s health. But I’ve found, again and again, that it’s not whether you’re working or playing, it’s how you’re working or playing. A person peacefully working will be far less stressed than a golfer who gets upset at every bad shot.

I am not advocating that everyone work long hours. Many people, because of their boring job, personal limitations, after-work responsibilities, or simply because they value balance, fun, and family time, would be unwise to work long hours.

I'm simply saying that many people can be effective and not unduly stressed in their 50th, 60th and even 70th work hour, and shouldn't be guilt-tripped into working less by calling them workaholic or imbalanced. Rather, these people should be revered as our unrecognized heroes, the people who toil long hours in anonymity to iiprove the quality of our lives.

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