Source: Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce, Harvard Business Review, December 2006, Vol. 84 no. 12
Today’s overachieving professionals labor longer, take on more responsibility, and earn more than the workaholics of yore. They hold what Hewlett and Luce call “extreme jobs,” which entail workweeks of 60 or more hours and have at least five of ten characteristics–such as tight deadlines and lots of travel–culled from the authors’ research on this work model. A project of the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, a private-sector initiative, this research consists of two large surveys (one of high earners across various professions in the United States and the other of high-earning managers in large multinational corporations) that map the shape and scope of such jobs, as well as focus groups and in-depth interviews that get at extreme workers’ attitudes and motivations. In this article, Hewlett and Luce consider their data in relation to increasing competitive pressures, vastly improved communication technology, cultural shifts, and other sweeping changes that have made high-stakes employment more prominent. What emerges is a complex picture of the all-consuming career–rewarding in many ways, but not without danger to individuals and to society. By and large, extreme professionals don’t feel exploited; they feel exalted. A strong majority of them in the United States–66%–say they love their jobs, and in the global companies survey, this figure rises to 76%. The authors’ research suggests, however, that women are at a disadvantage. Although they don’t shirk the pressure or responsibility of extreme work, they are not matching the hours logged by their male colleagues. This constitutes a barrier for ambitious women, but it also means that employers face a real opportunity: They can find better ways to tap the talents of women who will commit to hard work and responsibility but cannot put in overlong days.