Are workaholics getting a bum rap? You bet, says a professor of business psychology at University College London. Not only is working like a maniac not hazardous to your physical or emotional health, but it benefits society, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, an authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing.
Here's how he frames the issue in the Harvard Business Review blog :
According to one urban legend, based on 1950s pop psychology, workaholics are greedy and selfish people who are bound to die from a heart attack.
Not really. As the great David Ogilvy once said: "Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work."
I don't know if Chamorro-Premuzic is just being a contrarian, but he takes aim at the presumed virtue of work/life balance, while advocating the benefits of overworking. Among his arguments:
1. Workaholics have better careers. It's the best way to break out of the pack, he says. "Workaholics tend to have higher social status in every society, including laid-back cultures like those found in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, or South America."
2. Workaholics contribute more to society. "Every significant achievement in civilization (from arts to science to sports) is the result of people who worked a lot harder than everyone else, and also happened to be utterly unconcerned about maintaining work/life balance."
3. Work/life balance whiners are self-indulgent. "The belief that our ultimate aim in life is to feel good makes no evolutionary sense." The "narcissistic" tendency of the "industrialized Western world" to complain about poor work/life balance is why Asia is overtaking the West, says Chamorro-Premuzic: "You will not see many people in Japan, China, or Singapore complain about their poor work/life [balance], even though they often work a lot harder."
All you crazy, maniacal lawyers who are billing over 3,000 hours a year are probably patting yourselves on the back now. Yeah, down with those wimps who complain about that measly 2,000 hours billing requirement! They don't deserve a bonus, a piece of the equity pie. Cart them off to the slaughterhouse!
But before you high billers get too self-righteous, I think Chamorro-Premuzic is actually making a much more important point: Workaholism, if it involves a job you truly love, is not a bad thing. In fact, it would be a remarkable stroke of luck. He writes:
If you are lucky enough to have a career—as opposed to a job—then you should embrace the work/life imbalance. A career provides a higher sense of purpose; a job provides an income. A job pays for what you do; a career pays for what you love. . . . If you are having fun working, you will almost certainly keep working. Your career success depends on eliminating the division between work and play. Who cares about work/life balance when you can have work/life fusion?
I think there's a lot of truth to what Chamorro-Premuzic is saying here. Many of us feel that we are missing out on life, that work impinges on our personal lives, because we really don't derive much satisfaction from what we do at the office. We raise our fist at the system, we bemoan the lack of balance in the profession, but at the end of the day, many of us have to admit we just don't like our jobs. I think that's particularly true for big-firm lawyers.
Which brings me back to some of those crazy 3,000-hours-a-year billers. For reasons that's beyond my personal comprehension, some of those nuts really do like being a lawyer.
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