Working in a Long Hours Culture (Part 1): What Lies Beneath?


In 2007 the founder of The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington, collapsed and woke up in a pool of blood, with a cut over her eye and a broken cheek bone. Fearing a brain tumour or heart problem, the diagnosis was a bit of a surprise: exhaustion and sleep deprivation from overwork.

You may not experience these extreme effects of working long hours although if you are putting in 50+ hours a week, it is taking its toll. But you probably know that, so the last thing you need is some smart alec using science and emotional arguments to convince you to stop it. We’ll come to those later.

In this series of posts I want to suggest that long hours and being ‘busy’ do not equate with being productive or effective. I need to point out that this heart-felt treatise may be more the product of getting it wrong rather than right, although in more recent senior roles, I learnt some lessons that made for a sensible length to the working day, a habit of not allowing work to follow me home, whilst still hitting performance goals, and being part of a successful team and organisation.

So, I want to explore what drives these long hours. I will offer some suggestions that will give you headroom to do the work that you really care about, and help you develop some habits and rituals that will minimise disruptions and distractions, providing you with a different way of looking at your work routines.

Even if we are spending more time working from home, the pressures are still there; one study suggested that employees were converting commuting time into working hours and were likely to chalk up an extra month’s work over the course of a year, so much of what we will look at here is relevant wherever we are working.

If long hours working is not an issue for you, you may coach someone for whom it is, so hopefully there will be something here for everyone.

What drives us?