Tuesday, May 5, 2015

You Can Work Hard, or You Can Fake It

Interesting new study of a consulting firm where top performers were expected to clock 80 hours a week. There were three kinds of employees: those who really work 80 hours a week, those who get explicit permission to work less but suffer for that in terms of pay and promotions, and then the others:
Some 31 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women whose records Ms. Reid examined managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it. . . .

What is fascinating about the firm Ms. Reid studied is that these people, who in her terminology were “passing” as workaholics, received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.
So long as nobody knows you're blowing off work, you don't suffer for it.

But I think what this study really shows is that in many lines of work bosses have no idea how to measure their employees' productivity, so they fall back on silly measures like how many hours they think people are putting in. What do consultants do, anyway?

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

This stratification starts in the education system. You have the kids who perform poorly, the kids who break their backs to overachieve, and the kids who do the bare minimum to make it seem like they're breaking their backs to overachieve.

When I was a kid, I fell somewhere between the first and third categories - I spent as little effort as possible to make it seem like I was spending an ordinary amount of effort and unremarkable grades. The system didn't challenge or engage me in meaningful ways - I saw it as a waste of my time and and insult to my intelligence, and in a depressingly high number of ways that was actually true, and not just my own skewed perceptions.

I think the difference between myself and the kind of person who pretends to work 80s a week is that I lack the ambition that drives someone to want to behave that way. If I'm going to underperform in something, I'd like to think I do it honestly. And since I don't have a driving need to amass wealth beyond my needs or obtain some sort of status to lord over others, I can comfortably undershoot my own personal maximum potential and still be quite happy with more modest returns. Working from the assumption that I'm not going to be truly excellent, then I'd rather honestly be relatively mediocre than dishonestly seem excellent.