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Work vs. Life Needs

Topic: Entrepreneur Evangelist | Comments (2)

Posted on February 24, 2010 by admin

Answers OnStartups has an article posted on VentureBeat which is a subject of eternal debate in my life: how many hours per week is it reasonable to ask of your team?

Admittedly, this is a challenge in my life: I am, at my core, a workaholic. I am a product of an entrepreneurial family with a career in tech startups, where working 60+ hours per week (at least) was a badge of honor; I am compulsive enough by nature that it plays directly into both my work style and my ego; and I am a volunteer junkie who is the first in line to take on difficult new challenges that no one knows how to accomplish.

My husband and business partner is the opposite. While he can and has worked insane hours during various points of his professional life, it is not what he enjoys and it is not what he wants. And, for him, my over-and-above hours of work detract from our time together, which is not the trade-off he signed up for.

The VentureBeat article, titled “You work 60-hour weeks. Should your employees?” is probably made even more noteworthy by the comments left by readers. As is often the case, comments fall heavily into two camps:

The What Kind of Slacker Only Works 60 Hour Weeks? Camp — which is the modern equivelant to your grandfather’s old saying, “Back in my days, we had to walk to school a mile in the snow both ways…” It’s a sign of geek and/or entrepreneurial bravado to be the Michael Jordan of work hours, and demonstrate that you can push yourself longer and harder than those around you.

The Work Is Never Going to Love You Back Camp — who are the advocates of “work-life balance” and who are acutely aware of the fact that no one lies on their deathbed saying, “I wish I’d had just one more meeting…” It’s a sign of idiocy to this group that one would ever do anything as foolish as risk their health or personal relationships by refusing simply turn off the computer and leave work at a decent hour.

The thing that is most interesting, though, is that — as always happens in this debate — people over-look a simple, basic fact: different people need different things for different reasons.

In all the politically correct talk about “work-life balance,” there is something important that is often missed: some of us need to work long hours for reasons that have little or nothing to do with anything or anyone else. And, when we find ourselves in a work environment that does not place that demand on us, we will find a way to create it. Consider this:

Work People

  • Get their energy from work.
  • Derive their motivation from work-based accomplishment.
  • Experience their strongest social connections to other people through work.
  • Use the inertia of long hours to build momentum for accomplishing their goals.
  • Find an intellectual stimulation and satisfaction in work that they don’t find anywhere else.

Life People

  • Get their energy from social or personal activities.
  • Derive their motivation from hobbies and social interactions.
  • Seek social connections that are based on non-work interests, often as part of the respite from work.
  • Require the break from work in order to recharge and return productively.
  • Experience a wider array of sources that can lead to satisfying intellectual, emotional or psychological stimulation.

And while debates can wage about which side of the coin is “healthier,” it really doesn’t change the fact that my husband is unlikely to ever be an 80-hour-per-week-maniac and I am unlikely to ever be happy trying to keep my work week limited to 40 hours. We’ll each do what we need to do as circumstances demand, but what is native to each of us is different and meaningful for our own reasons.

The VentureBeat article recommends focusing on great results, not the means by which specific individuals arrive at those results. I’d agree with this approach, but take it a step further: it’s not enough to have this expectation of your staff. You have to find staff who want and thrive with high expectations.  Only hire people who like that kind of pressure and motivation.

A “life person” who is asked to work 60+ hours per week by their boss may technically put in the hours, but they are likely to trading in quantity at the expense of quality. For people who need off-hours to recharge their batteries, the point of diminishing returns comes sooner, and time put in working after that threshold is always less productive (sometimes to a costly degree).

Yes, there are always going to be times when the realities of a business require additional time and work, but I think the focus of a boss should be on finding staff whose workstyles fit what you need, rather than trying to turn who you have into someone they are not. In the end, that approach is just asking for trouble, because not only will you always be frustrated — frustrated at having to ask, frustrated by feelings of disappointment and frustrated by the results you get out of people — but you’ll also be setting your team up for failure by creating a situation that runs counter to their individual needs.

Ultimately, you can’t change a person. And asking someone to behave in a way that is fundamentally counter to their nature is never a long-term solution. So my advice is to focus on the fit first. Jim Collins refers to this as ‘getting the right people on the bus.’ If you are a workaholic who likes achieving the impossible at the drop of a hat, then an employee who rolls into the office at 10:00 and rolls out right at 6:00 is probably going to drive you crazy — no matter how much amazing work he gets accomplished in that eight hours.

Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, blogger, strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade.  She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a web strategy firm in Austin, Texas

  • Taji Marie

    You’ve hit the nail square on the head! I love that you are talking about this familiar work-life issue as to how it relates to building an effective team — instead of if it’s healthier to be a “work” or a “life” person (the jury is out still on that question). As an entrepreneur for the last six years and as a manager of staff prior to that, I’ve found the most fundamental part of putting a great team together is finding people that are a “natural fit” for the positions you need filled. It’s impossible to change someone — a square peg never fit in a round hole without a lot of pain and suffering on everyone involved. You need to find circles so they fit in naturally. Sure, you can train almost anyone to do a job (and even a “natural fit” will require training), but to have your staff truly excel and (as a result) feel personally fulfilled while fulfill your business, you need to have staff who are actually HAPPY doing their job. And being truly happy with your job means more than being productive during work hours — it means finding satisfaction with how your work integrates with your life. A truth that all entrepreneurs should be intimately aware of and incorporate into their hiring practices.

  • Alora Chistiakoff

    Taji – I couldn’t agree more. I find the “work-life balance” preaching tiresome (at best) and completely short-sighted. Yes, of course people need time off and you can only push a team so hard and so far, but different industries place different requirements on a staff. As a chef, part of what you do for a living is spending hours and hours per day standing on your feet in a buzzing kitchen. While I love the idea of being a chef, the reality is that I’m a computer geek for a reason. Sure, I can put in 16 hours per day without batting an eye. But I do it sitting. If someone tried to get me to do it while standing, I’d be useless in about an hour. Part of finding a profession that you can love is understanding what success in a field requires and then being ok with making those trade-offs.

    Ecommerce (like its offline counterpart, retail) meant that I never had holidays; that made moving into the travel industry easy for me, because they never get holidays, either. The people I worked with there, however, who’d come from academia or finance were miserable, because they were used to having 10-15 holidays per year and thought only getting 4 was unreasonable. That professional requirement did not fit with their life requirement, causing endless frustration and unhappiness.

    You couldn’t be more right: you have to find the combination that compliment each other, first and foremost. I don’t care if you want to work 4 hours per day, or 20. Just make sure you are seeking out the right role that matches, so you can be successful and you don’t drive everyone around you crazy.