Monday, July 28, 2008

How Many Days in Row Have You Worn that Shirt?

How did the culture of “I work a massive amount of hours, so I am successful” enter the mainstream of the American Professional? Just to clarify, for the purposes of this posting, I am talking specifically about people that work for a professional services company with a background in either accounting or finance (e.g. PricewaterhouseCoopers, JP Morgan).

I know many professionals, including myself, that have met this 80 hour threshold on numerous occasions. EIGHTY HOURS. For those of you not adept at arithmetic, that is TWO traditional workweeks in ONE. Many people have blown away the 80 hour week with 90 and even 100 hour weeks. I’ve even heard of 40 hour WEEKENDS. Why on earth did we do that and why do people continue to do it?

Believe it or not, some people work these hours as a badge of honor. People actually boast about the amount hours they worked yesterday, last week or last busy season. This is puzzling to me.

99.9% of people working in accounting and finance are not being paid hourly, so there is no incentive for overtime. Unless you are truly psychotic, this would not likely be a personal goal (e.g. “I’m going to work 14 hour days all week this week!”). See? Read that aloud and that just sounds nuts.

Some possible motivations might include people that want to impress their boss in order to get ahead. This makes sense because a large portion of the professionals in financial services works for a boss. 

The problem is good bosses would never ask their subordinates to work unnecessary hours.  And as we all know, there are very few good bosses but plenty of bad bosses. One trait of bad bosses is bad communication. 

If the expectation of hours to be worked isn’t clear and only an ultimate goal is known, the effort to achieve said goal is the unknown variable. Put another way using an old cliché, "the end justifies the means".  These "means" are often not elaborated on and the terrible interpretation is often made that "means" involve slowly killing yourself by sleeping three hours a night (two of which is your commute) and eating copious amounts of pizza, hot wings, and various Asian foods on a daily basis. 

Huge pressure on a big, seemingly important projects have to be completed by a certain date.  These dates are not, in any situation flexible.  "If this audit is not completed by the third Wednesday of the third month following the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, there will be HELL TO PAY."  

Take your pick: IPO, a financial statement audit, tax filing deadline, a merger or acquisition.  They're all basically the same.  Just different people wearing the same wrinkled clothes day after day, after agonizing day.

Oh, and did I mention money? The large investments banks are given business by rich people. These investment banks have to arrange for audits, filing of tax returns, due diligence (fancy business talk for making sure people aren't complete idiots), and retain other financial services in order to keep the rich people rich.

Ultimately, the people in these professions are going to continue to work the hours phantomly mandated by the project at hand. And as long as there incentives to working these crappy hours, people will continue to take the positions.

I invite anyone to share horror stories that they may have.
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