The Culture of Extreme Work

Friend of mine Michael Maslanka has an excellent article this month in Texas Lawyer entitled "A Plea for Sanity: How GCs Can Help Stop the Culture of Extreme Work". I encourage everyone to read it. The dangers of overworking employees is an issue that I have spoken on and written about here before. Mike's article is an excellent description of the problem and a thoughtful look at some possible solutions.

From the article:

Employees work too hard, and that's not good for business. Tired accounting staff don't add columns A and B correctly. Exhausted executives make rash decisions. Sleep-deprived employees driving home from a late night at the office run off the road or worse. I'm not talking about work-life balance. I'm talking about working to extremes.

Simply put, there's no return on investment on exhausted employees. It's the general counsel, the adviser and counselor to the company, who's often in the best position to put the work lives of the executives, managers and employees into a context that makes sense and that creates the biggest ROI.

Don't believe that overtired employees and execs are a problem? The December 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review has an insightful article titled "Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Work Week." In it, authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Luce report that 62 percent of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours per week, 35 percent work more than 60 hours per week and 10 percent work more than 80 hours per week.

Michael goes on to discuss some possible solutions including:

  • Creating a Sleep Policy for Employees;
  • Create a Policy Requiring Employees to take Vacation;
  • Provide Training to Supervisors on Dealing with Exhausted Employees

This is one of those issues that is not discussed enough in HR circles because of American's sick affection for the hard-driving overworked lifestyle. Do your company a favor and email Michael's article around or, better yet, set up a meeting to consider implementing some of his excellent suggestions.