Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek.
By: Hewlett, Sylvia Ann, Luce, Carolyn Buck,
Harvard Business Review,
Dec 2006, Vol. 84, Issue 12
Our research on extreme jobs is a project of the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, which we launched in February 2004 and now head up. In late 2005, four of the task force's member companies – American Express, BP, ProLogis, and UBS – sponsored two large surveys with the intent of "mapping" the shape and scope of high-level, high-impact jobs these days. We also conducted indepth qualitative research–focus groups and interviews – to get at the attitudes and motivations that lie behind the extreme-work model.We then considered the data in relation to the large-scale structural shifts that have made high-stakes employment a more prominent feature of the U.S. economy and culture. What emerges from this inquiry is a complex picture of the all-consuming career – rewarding in many ways, but not without danger to individuals and society.
The first thing that becomes clear is that successful professionals are working harder than ever. The 40-hour workweek, it seems, is a thing of the past. Even the 60-hour workweek, once the path to the top, is now practically considered part-time, as a recent Fortune magazine article put it. Our data reveal that 62% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours a week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week, and 10% work more than 80 hours a week. Add in a typical one-hour commute, and a 60-hour workweek translates into leaving the house at 7 am and getting home at 9 pm five days a week. If we focus on the subset of those workers who hold what we consider extreme jobs (a designation based on responsibilities and other attributes beyond pay), the hours are even more punishing. The majority of them (56%) work 70 hours or more a week, and 9% work 100 hours or more.
We identified ten common characteristics of extreme jobs and decided to classify a respondent as an extreme jobholder if he or she is confronted by at least five of them, on top of working 60 hours or more per week By this standard, 21% of the high earners in the U.S. whom we surveyed have extreme jobs. (In our separate survey of professionals working in global companies, this figure rises to 45%.)
Senior leadership of organizations should take note: The attributes that give a workplace an advantage in recruiting and retention can change dramatically over time. The culture that celebrates the extreme ethos today may tire of it–quite literally–tomorrow. At a minimum, senior executives should think carefully about the work behaviors they are rewarding, encouraging, or requiring. More than anything, the signals they send will determine whether jobs become extreme–and if so, whether those jobs remain exhilarating or simply become exhausting.
Why people are doing extreme work?
The reasons given are
Stimulating/challenging/gives me an adrenaline rush
Receive recognition for work
Sylvia Ann Hewlett is the president of the Center for Work-Life Policy, a New York–based nonprofit organization. She also heads the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, in New York. Carolyn Buck Luce is the chair of the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force and the global pharmaceutical sector leader at Ernst & Young, in New York.