Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Is it wiser to work long hours or to have balance?

The older we get, the more we realize we only have a limited amount of time to do the things we believe are important. Conventional wisdom is--especially among women--that rather than work more hours, it's wiser to spend the time on relationships and pleasures. I believe that is wrong if your work will do more good overall than the additional time spent on relationships, and especially if you work would not be done or done as well by others. So, I believe that working "crazy" hours and being dubbed a workaholic (while being sure you don't unduly exhaust yourself) is, for many people, key to a life well-led.


Anonymous said...

Many people are already spending time on what they believe is important. For some, work is more important for a variety of reasons, not necessarily for a better life or world. For others, family is more important. Raising children in the best way they see fit may be more important. And for others, pleasure is more important, which serves no one when all is said and done.

Also keep in mind, Mr. Nemko, that most people have not done as much as you have listed in your profile. Some people don't have work lives that fulfills them as much as yours appears to. Maybe their work will not do the world more good if more of it was done, even if they did it well.

Personally, I don't know which one, work or balance, is the better choice. Recently I've been wondering: when we come to the end of our lives, what will matter? We all do and worry about so many things that will not matter in the end. What will count?

Since you believe that working more than average is more important, I sincerely hope that when you come to the end of your life, you still believe you did the right thing.

Bruce Charlton said...

I think it is correct that hard word should be socially-valued, and those who work harder should be awarded higher status for doing so.

After all, they are sacrificing their own comfort and pleasure for other peoples' benefit - which is exactly what altruistic behaviour entails.

Those who work less-hard obtain an immediate and personal reward for 'slacking-off'; because not-working is more pleasurable than working (for most people, most of the time).

If this is the situation, each individual can balance the rewards of social approval against the rewards of idleness - different people will have a different balance point.

Unknown said...

We have to agree with Anonymous. At the end of our lives, we most likely will not be wishing that we would have spent more time working. It's everyone's choice to spend their time how they want to spend it, but we hope that people don't regret their choices on their deathbeds.

Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson
Creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)
Authors of the forthcoming book "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It"

Marty Nemko said...


I've found that the statement, "No one died wishing they spent more time at the office" is not true. People who had unrewarding jobs or who were not good at what they did would feel that way, but I've been fortunate to know many very competent people, and the vast majority hope to be working until the day--no, the moment--they die.

Chris said...

The optimal mix of work and play varies based on the nature of both.

As Marty points out, meaningful work and meaningless play argue for more of the former and less of the latter.

The converse is also true.

I believe that devising a mix of work and play is like asset allocation--a portfolio that mixes in some fixed income actually delivers a better return than a 100% equity portfolio.

Serge said...

I guess anyone who contemplates to work more than 40 hours at his workplace should ask themselves, if they would stay at their job had they won a multi-million jock-pot, if the answer is yes, by all means they should, however if they'd have given their two-week notice and retire the moment they were declared the lucky winner, they should reconsider whether it's smart for them to work more at a job they would not do for free.

Of course they might chose to work extra if pressed by family obligations, however if given the choice, wouldn't they rather immerse themselves more into a hobby they enjoy. Unless of course they are those few people who are genuinely not interested in any hobby, or whose hobby is their work.