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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