On Monday, we posted a quick look at how many people can simply work better at improve their work-life balance. The Entrepreneur article we quoted was pushing for firms to create a culture than engenders work-life balance. A crucial part of their argument is that a good number of people don’t just feel like they have to work long hours, but that, on some level, they actually want to.
Talk to anyone in their twenties who has come out of university. Chances are, they’ll know someone who doesn’t just work long hours, they actually want to do so. Working long hours and looking stressed in a corporate office has adopted a meme status among Generation Z-ers. For them, it’s not the exception, it’s the rule. If they’re not frantically typing at their desk at 7.30pm, they don’t feel like they’re making progress or doing what ‘should’ be done. They need to fulfil the archetype of the ambitious young professional. It’s possible to even hear debates between some of them arguing over who has worked the most hours, as if it’s a source of pride, with no reference to whether what they actually did in those hours was of any real value to themselves or to the firm. It’s almost come to be accepted that it’s just what young professionals in their twenties do, in a similar way to the belief that they move to London because that’s where the opportunities are. Our review of Disrupted noted Dan Lyons’ recognition that some workers are so captivated by their career prospects, their personal narrative or that of the company they work for, that they don’t realise they’re being exploited.
It could be argued, and it often is, that this is because the jobs market is so competitive. There is certainly a perception for Generation Z-ers that the relentless struggle to get a graduate job is only the first battle of a long campaign. They then have to keep their job, and distinguish themselves. A private life, family, and balance are casualties. There is a story among trainee solicitors word of one of their number at a Magic Circle law firm who received an email requesting a near-immediate report whilst she was sat on a beach in Thailand.
However, we have been told for many years that demand, not supply, is the issue. The phrase ‘War for Talent’ came about to describe the need for firms to compete for a shrinking talent pool of highly skilled employees. It was used as a rationale for top firms in sectors such as law and professional services to promise development and work-life balance to their potential recruits, as well as generous salary packages. However, this just doesn’t seem to chime with the practice of firms who ruthlessly sift through thousands of applicants, and are more than happy to cut even those who are successful if they suffer a lull in performance in their training period. It also doesn’t chime with the perceptions among Generation Z-ers that they need to work long hours in order to succeed. Perhaps the War for Talent simply became moot once the financial crisis took hold. There seems to be confusion on both sides about the general balance of supply and demand.
Objectively, we may see long hours and overwork as a problem. To many of those actually doing it, it’s seen as a rite of passage and a modern requirement. As Narayanaswamy makes clear, it’s not right for business and it’s not right for people’s health, and some reflection is needed across the board.