Executives admit the strain of long hours

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 31 March, 2007, 12:00am

Most executives working more than 60 hours a week admit they won't be able to sustain their 'extreme jobs' for more than a year if it cost them a quality family life and their personal well-being, according to a study published in the Harvard Business Review.

Long working hours are becoming increasingly common in director-level posts and above, with new communications technology blurring the line between work and private life, say the authors of the report.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Centre for Work-Life Policy in New York and Carolyn Buck Luce, of the consulting firm

Ernst& Young, found that almost two thirds of the professionals surveyed said they did not get enough sleep, half did not get enough exercise and a significant number over-ate, consumed too much alcohol, or relied on medication to relieve insomnia or anxiety, the study found.

Almost two-thirds of the family men surveyed reported that their work interfered with their ability to have strong relationships with their children, as did a third of women. These extreme workers also tended to neglect their intimate relationships.

More than half of the male executives and 80 per cent of the women said they would not be able to keep up with the demands of a 60-plus hour working week for more than a year.

But the study, entitled 'Extreme Jobs; The Dangerous Allure of the 70-hour Workweek', found that 76 per cent of respondents professed that they loved their jobs, with the authors saying certain executives felt stimulated by working such long hours, which often demanded 24-hour attention to projects and tight deadlines.

While the 40-hour work week was considered standard previously, the study found that a total of 62 per cent of high-earning individuals reported that they worked more than 50 hours a week, 35 per cent worked more than 60 hours a week, and 10 per cent worked more than 80 hours a week.

Of these, 48 per cent said they were working an average of 16.6 more hours per week than they did five years ago, 42 per cent took 10 or fewer vacation days per year and 55 per cent claimed they had to cancel their leave on a regular basis.

Stronger competitive pressures had emerged for fewer corporate officer positions as a result of mergers and an influx of talent, the study found.

Women were also found to be unafraid of the pressure at work and were less likely to log in some of the longer hours. Of those holding high-earning jobs with reasonable hours of less than 60 hours per week, 39 per cent were women. But this declined to 30 per cent for jobs with longer hours.

The report concluded that women were likely to be less tolerant of long hours because they were more aware of the opportunity costs, particularly the effect on their children.

Women, the report said, were worried about the implications for their children not because of a mother's caring role, but because more men in extreme jobs had the support of their spouse or partner at home.

Researchers surveyed 652 men and 323 women aged between 25 and 60 employed at a director level or above in 2005. The report was published in the Harvard Business Review last December.