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MARSHALL LOEB The rise of the 'extreme worker' Even 70-hour weeks are no sweat for this new breed of executive
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Climbing within America's companies now is a new type of executive, dedicated to the proposition that no amount of work is too much, that there's always more effort that could -- and should -- be made by the employee for the sake of the employer, if not in the office then at one's own computer, copier and fax machine at home.
There's a name for such world-class workaholics and it was coined by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founding president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, an independent research organization that advises companies. She calls them "extreme workers."
And she exposes some of their foibles in an article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review, titled "Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek."
Studying a lengthy list of surveys from a pool of 2 million high-salaried employees in the U.S., she concludes that many of them can easily be labeled "extreme." Some signs:
- Long work weeks. Counting commuting time, more than 50% of these extremists put in over 70 hours a week on the job.
- Unending work days. Two-thirds of the people with extreme jobs say that they have to be available to serve clients and deal with their emergencies at any time of the day or night.
- Little time off. Vacations seems to be shrinking. Among the extreme-jobs crowd, 42% take 10 or fewer vacation days per year, far fewer than they are entitled to.
But wait a minute. Don't the extreme executives themselves think there is something wrong with this picture? Of course, they do.
Hewlett says that more than two-thirds of them believe that they would be physically healthier if they worked less extremely. Fifty-eight percent think that the intensity of their work and the absence of leisure gets in the way of strong relationships with their children; 46% think it gets in the way of good relationships with their spouses and 50% say it makes it impossible to have satisfying sex.
Moreover, the next generations of managers, the so-called Gen X and Gen Y cohorts, seem less enamored of their jobs, and less willing to pay any price for them than do the baby boomers. Inevitably, they will start to desert their jobs in large numbers and seek other opportunities.
"Half of our extreme workers have one foot out the door," says Hewlett. "The flight risk (for the younger generation) is high. They are twice as likely to quit as are 45-year-olds."
She notes also that men and women in extreme jobs see bad things happening to their children, such as the kids eating too much junk food. The men threaten to quit but don't. Women threaten to quit and do. Men don't blame themselves for the extremists' problems. Women see it and feel it's all their fault. Women feel there is a direct line between the kids' underachieving in school and the oppressive hours that Mother puts in on the job.
"If we want to hang on to our key female talent," says Hewlett, "we've got to figure out a way of designing high-impact jobs that demand, say, 45 hours a week and not 70 hours a week."
So far, corporations have not been able to do that.
But some are trying. For example, 34 major companies including American Express, Lehman Brothers, BP, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Time Warner and others have joined the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force to figure out ways to reduce the pressures on managers to perform and produce.
Either they will succeed or they will face rising problems of talent flight and executive burnout.
MarketWatch reporter Ismat Sarah Mangla contributed to this article. Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and The Columbia Journalism Review, writes "Your Dollars" exclusively for MarketWatch.
(Score:0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 22, @08:51PM (#16960406) but I must do whatever I'm told at work. And that is not going to change. And that has been so since the creation or the evolution from monkeys.
NO IT HASN'T. The modern workplace and 'work ethic' originated in the mid nineteenth century, and is a historical aberration. Prior to that, most people (outside of those who worked on farms with a large number of animals to tend) worked a few hours a week and were able to earn enough during those hours to maintain their preferred standard of living, and they were generally their own boss.
This changed due to a confluence of crazy religious beliefs that idleness lead to wickedness (our current society shows that theory to be false -- little room for idleness, plenty wickedness left) with the needs of politicians to keep the populace under control and the needs of the new industrialists to force people to work for them. In England, this led to the 'enclosure of the commons', which took land away from people and regulated the maximum legal size of gardens (so the poor would have to buy food from a market instead of grow, or barter with their neighbors), all to deprive people of self-sufficiency and force them into signing over their lives to their new owners.
You hear from certain corners (those usually defending sweatshops) about how people "couldn't wait" to get the new factory jobs in the city, but at the time, industrialist bemoaned the fact that they couldn't get people to work for them -- and demanding that laws be passed to benifit them; after all, it's probably bad for poor people to be so damned lazy, isn't it? It gives them time to think, and that's dangerous for the country! Something must be done!
(Forbes.com - MSNBC.com) Do the names Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Bernie Ebbers ring a bell? Each of them produced results. But getting there wasn't easy ó for their employees.
The key to dealing with these types: thick skin. "A narcissist won't show very much emotional intelligence," says Michael Maccoby, author of The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Peril of Visionary Leadership. "While he is very sensitive about his ego, he's not sensitive about yours. You've got to be willing to accept that if the reward is great enough. People who hung on at Microsoft got very rich." That means you can't criticize him or her, but expect a lot of it from the CEO.Make sure you have something solid to contribute. Check and double check your work. A mistake means you're likely to get berated. Maccoby says that when Bill Gates doesn't like an idea he's prone to say something like: "That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard." When you do have a good idea, don't expect to get any credit.
(MSNBC.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal News.)
You also have to accept that it's all about him or her. That means there will be phone calls no matter what time of day and on the weekends. "That doesn't mean you can't sometimes disagree, but you better be sure you know what you're talking about," says Maccoby. Still, narcissists tend to discard people when they don't need them anymore.
At the heart of narcissism is a lack of self-esteem. That's why narcissists require so much praise. If you're having a hard time dealing with one, use that to your advantage. "The most powerful way to influence them is to appeal to their irrational self-interest," says Terry Dockery, founder of the Business Psychology Co. in Marietta, Ga. Make it worth their while. Since this is driven by fear, tap into that. For instance, if you're suggesting an idea, you can phrase your pitch by explaining why the idea will make him or her look good.
Hambrick won't reveal who made the top of the narcissistic CEO study until it's published, but he did reveal that while their companies did see more extreme losses and gains, "on average their bottom lines were not higher or lower than non-narcissistic CEOs." That begs the question: Is it worth putting yourself through the hassle? Maybe it's time to find another job.
Re:Information overload a diagnosed problem? (Score:5, Insightful) by anagama (611277) <[email protected][ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Saturday December 31, @09:14PM (#14372839)
(http://www.anagama-west.com/)I was blessed with a terribly short memory from a very young age, but along with it came the ability to assimilate and aggregate seemingly different items together, and do so quickly. My bad memory led to VERY low grades but very high aptitude testing -- quite a conundrum. I took to BBSes and other forms of "instant variable information" quickly at a very young age, and when the Internet hit (mostly gopher at that time, from what I recall), I absorbed it immediately.I was talking with someone just yesterday about knowledge. It seems to me that what is far more important than storing a bunch of facts in the brain, is storing the methods and means by which one can find those facts. For example -- if you memorized the population of Angola in high school 20 years ago, that's a useless waste of brain space because the answer changes from year to year and more importantly, because that data can be retrieved from various sources without taxing your personal resources (brain).
Now, before the internet, you would have to be familiar with librarys and card catalogs -- learning how to use those efficiently would have been of much greater value than memorizing a bunch of discrete facts. Today, the internet can provide a great deal of information in the same way, and learning how to navigate it through search tools is far more valuable than the individual bits of information a search turns up.
I think the whole "information overload" thing boils down to a lot of people who didn't learn "how to learn". If you learned how to discover new information in the most general sense, and on your own, the internet is not a source of frustration or overload -- it's a repository of all those things it doesn't make sense to store in your head. For people who need to be spoon fed every fact -- heck yeah, they'll be overloaded, but so what?
As to the parent poster -- don't chide yourself for being smart. It's smart to store only that information which you need immediately locally (and by locally I mean in your brain). Everything else belongs in an external but accessible database.
Case Study (160 pp.) Communication, Disability, Doctor-Patient Relationship, Memory, Psychosomatic Medicine,
Summary One day in the 1920's, a newspaper reporter walked into the laboratory of Russian psychologist A. R. Luria and asked him to test his memory, which he recently had been told was unusual. It was not unusual. It was uniquely and astoundingly retentive. Luria gave him very long strings of numbers, words, nonsense syllables and could not detect any limit to his ability to recall them, generally without mistake, even years later. (Luria studied S., as he identifies him, for thirty years.)
Luria discovers that the man had some interesting characteristics to his memory. He experienced synesthesia, i.e., the blending of sensations: a voice was a "crumbly, yellow voice." (p.24) S.'s memory was highly eidetic, i.e., visual, a characteristic not unique to him but which he used as a technique to memorize lists and details. (He had become a performing mnemonist.) It was also auditory. He had trouble remembering a word if its sound did not fit its meaning. The remainder of the section on his memory involves fascinating aspects of his having to learn how to forget and his methods of problem solving.
The remainder of the book is equally interesting since it relates the epiphenomena of S.'s prodigious memory: how he mentally saw everything in his past memory; how he was virtually paralyzed when it came to understanding poetry since metaphorical thinking was almost impossible for him, a mnemonist who lived in a world of unique particulars! As Luria wrote, "S. found that when he tried to read poetry the obstacles to his understanding were overwhelming: each expression gave rise to an image; this, in turn, would conflict with another image that had been evoked." (p. 120)
S. could control his vital signs by his memory and, last but not least, this human experiment of nature had such a vivid imagination that, probably more than the most creative of us, he engaged in "magical thinking": "To me there's no great difference between the things I imagine and what exists in reality. Often, if I imagine something is going to happen, it does. Take the time I began arguing with a friend that the cashier in the store was sure to give me too much change. I imagined it to myself in detail, and she actually did give me too much--change of 20 rubles instead of 10. Of course I realize it's just chance, coincidence, but deep down I also think it's because I saw it that way." (p. 146)
Commentary An international giant in clinical neuropsychology and an inspiration for Oliver Sacks's narratives, Luria helped pioneer the study of the individual patient as interesting bridge between normal and abnormal psychological processes rather than studying animals in a maze, or groups of humans in an experimental setting. His "N of 1" close readings remain fascinating reading today, including The Man with a Shattered World (see this database).
S.'s incredible memory and all its attendant advantages and detriments recall Borges's short story, "Funes the Memorious (Funes el Memorioso)".
Publisher Basic Books (New York) Edition 1968 Miscellaneous Translated from the Russian by Lynn Solotaroff. Alternate Editors Foreword by Jerome Bruner Alternate Publisher Harvard Univ. Press (Cambridge, Mass.) Alternate Edition 1987 Annotated by Ratzan, Richard M. Date of Entry 6/30/04 Last Modified 10/12/04
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