Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks

Source: Erin Reid, Harvard Business Review, April 28, 2015

In many professional jobs, expectations that one be an “ideal worker”—fully devoted to and available for the job, with no personal responsibilities or interests that interfere with this commitment to work—are widespread. We often think of problems with these expectations as women’s problems. But men too may struggle with them: my research at a top strategy consulting firm, first published in Organization Science, revealed that many men experienced these expectations as difficult to fulfill or even distasteful. …. Many of these men acted on their feelings, finding different ways to resist the firm’s expectations that they be ideal workers. How they resisted shaped their futures at the firm in important ways: some men made small, under-the-radar changes to their work that allowed them to pull back, while still “passing” as the work-devoted superheroes the firm valued. Others were more transparent about their difficulties, and asked the firm for help in pulling back. Their efforts resulted in harsh penalties and marginalization. …. My research revealed that men were just as likely as women to have trouble with these “always on” expectations. However, men often coped with these demands in ways that differed strikingly. Women who had trouble with the work hours tended to simply to take formal accommodations, reducing their work hours, but also revealing their inability to be true ideal workers, and they were consequently marginalized within the firm. In contrast, many men found unobtrusive, under-the-radar ways to alter the structure of their work (such as cultivating mostly local clients, or building alliances with other colleagues), such that they could work predictable schedules in the 50 to 60 hour range. In doing so, they were able to work far less than those who fully devoted themselves to work, and had greater control over when and where those hours were worked, yet were able to “pass” as ideal workers, evading penalties for their noncompliance…..

Embracing, Passing, Revealing, and the Ideal Worker Image: How People Navigate Expected and Experienced Professional Identities
Source: Erin Reid, Organization Science, Articles in Advance, Published Online: April 20, 2015
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From the abstract:
This paper examines how people navigate organizational pressures to embrace a professional identity that—like the ideal worker image—centers on devotion to work. My field study of a consulting firm demonstrated that although some people easily embrace this expected identity, for others, it conflicts with their experienced professional identity. I found that people cope with this conflict by straying from the expected identity while passing as having embraced it or revealing their deviance. Analyzing 115 interviews, performance evaluations, and turnover data, I trace how and why people manage their deviance differently across audiences within the organization, show the interdependence of these efforts, and illuminate consequences for how they are perceived and evaluated. In the firm I studied, although both men and women strayed, men were more likely than women to pass. Together, these findings highlight the importance of deviance and its management to people’s professional identities, offer new insights regarding the ideal worker image’s relationship to gender inequality, and enrich theory on passing and revealing.

How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters
Source: New York Times, The Upshot, May 4, 2015