Balancing act: Banks move away from the 'cult of overwork'

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 11 2014 8:00 a.m. MST

Although my work-time sleepiness was due to a bad choice, and not to overwork, the lesson I learned still applies. When I don't get enough sleep, my productivity at work takes a serious nosedive. No matter how many hours I spend at the office on such a day, I'm not likely to get much real work done.

I've seen the same scenario play out with co-workers over the years, especially when they come to work sick or pull an all-nighter to complete a big project. Lack of rest leads to trouble concentrating and a significant dip in productivity.

The problem is that, whether you're an investment banker, a journalist or some other knowledge worker, our culture seems to glorify those who sacrifice sleep and their own physical well-being to work longer hours.

As Surowiecki puts it in the New Yorker article, "Grinding out hundred-hour weeks for years helps bankers think of themselves as tougher and more dedicated than everyone else. And working 15 hours a day doesn’t just demonstrate your commitment to a company; it also reinforces that commitment.

"Over time, the simple fact that you work so much becomes proof that the job is worthwhile, and being in the office day and night becomes a kind of permanent initiation ritual. The challenge for Wall Street is: can it still get bankers to run with the pack if it stops treating them like dogs?"

That same question applies to our society. Can we accept a cultural change in which we value people who work hard and are productive, even if they put in a more reasonable number of hours at the office and try to build meaningful lives outside of work?

I'm glad to see any progress in that direction. If investment banks can do it, I hope we'll also see other companies place more emphasis on work-life balance.

If they do, I believe we'll be able to build a workforce that is healthier and happier and as productive as it always has been.

In fact, we might even find we're more productive when we're not falling asleep in our cubicles all the time.

Email your comments to kratzbalancingact@gmail.com or post them online at deseretnews.com. Follow me on Twitter at gkratzbalancing or on Facebook on my journalist page.

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