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How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters

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Truly fascinating study of overwork, expectation-setting, and gender. BU professor found three groups of professionals in a global consulting firm. One group, the workaholics, were putting in 80 hours a week and getting high performance reviews. Another group -- disproportionately women -- explicitly asked for lighter or more flexible work hours... and were punished with lesser performance reviews. But a third group -- disproportionately men! -- were faking long hours without explicitly asking for flexibility!! And they still got top performance reviews!!! You might call it lying, you might call it gaming the system, or you might call it asking for forgiveness not permission... but it's a clear example of how women are punished in corporate America for trying to be transparent and set clear expectations, behaviors which the system claims to reward.

The faker mens' dishonesty elevates themselves at the expense of the honest people. 

Asking for forgiveness instead of permission is passive aggressive.

There's no good excuse for bad behavior. 

One of the lessons is not to reward the appearance of effort over actual productivity.

It would be dangerous to extrapolate too much from a study at one firm, but Ms. Reid said in an interview that since publishing a summary of her research in Harvard Business Review she has heard from people in a variety of industries describing the same dynamic.

High-octane professional service firms are that way for a reason, and no one would doubt that insane hours and lots of travel can be necessary if you’re a lawyer on the verge of a big trial, an accountant right before tax day or an investment banker advising on a huge merger.

But the fact that the consultants who quietly lightened their workload did just as well in their performance reviews as those who were truly working 80 or more hours a week suggests that in normal times, heavy workloads may be more about signaling devotion to a firm than really being more productive. The person working 80 hours isn’t necessarily serving clients any better than the person working 50.

In other words, maybe the real problem isn’t men faking greater devotion to their jobs. Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.

A few quick thoughts:1)  I don't know how consultants bill, though I think it's by project. If so, that would make it much easier for them to use less productive face time to get ahead than it is for attorneys, who bill only for hours actually worked for clients (efficiency is another matter entirely).2) I'd like to see what the performance reviews were actually reviewing. At law firms, they are kind of a joke - you are reviewed based on hours billed as an associate, and as long as you didn't have a major screw up or do anything to upset or offend any clients, you get a good review. I don't know how they work for partners, but for partners what matters most is client relationships (generating billable hours and collecting those amounts due).3) The specific behavior the author described didn't sound like faking or cheating to me - lining up local clients (one assumes that they had to pitch the business or get staffed on them, just as with any other clients); or team members agreeing amongst themselves to cover client needs for one another to allow everyone to have more flexible schedules (this sounds like a positive innovation the whole firm should adapt, actually). This might be affected by what the performance reviews were actually supposed to review, though.

CJ, good points. I don't have more information than is in the article itself.

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