Are We Working too Hard?


“If you work too much you make yourself and your boss look bad.” That is certain not the American way! Recently I spoke with a friend whom works for an European-owned publishing company. It has taken him a while to acclimate to their working environment where more work hours doesn’t mean more credit from your supervisors.

My friend was gently reminded that he was working too much, and, therefore, making his boss look bad. What?! Yes. According to the company’s thinking, if you’re working past 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m., you’re not being effective and not managing your time well. If you work too much your productivity drops and your work quality suffers. According to the French, you make yourself and your supervisor look bad–effectiveness before busy work.

And, by the way, they close their offices from December 23 until January 2nd and that’s doesn’t count toward the month’s vacation you must take during the summer. Oh, yes, I almost forgot this one: in the next few weeks they’ll be closing the offices at noon on Fridays. I’m thinking about applying for a job there. The Immigrant I work for is definitely not French.

All right, I think I’ve said enough. What’s your take on the American work ethic? I’ve subscribed to being the first in and the last out because that’s the way you get ahead, right?

  • Steve Wells

    I think we need balance in life. But you mention that this publishing company is owned by the French. What great innovation/contribution to the world have the French made lately? I'm just saying.

  • For the past 8 weeks I've been working 80 hrs + and I'm tired! I know the quality of my work is sucking it up, but right now it's about how MUCH I produce, now how GOOD I produce.As a culture, I think we definitely have some work/life balance issues, but right now, it's not a conversation I can afford to have with my boss….gotta keep the job.

  • Over a year ago, I found a book called "Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It" and thought I'd dig into it. It's based on the alliteration: ROWE (Results Only Work Environment). Based on this principle, it's not about your time, but results. This practice/theory came out of Best Buy corporate and has radically changed their work culture. In fact, their turnover went from 15% a year (think hundreds of people) to almost nothing. This very concept has been an ongoing fight in my head. It's not what I was trained to do or think. However, it is helping to change my paradigm. So in response to your post, yes, we work too much because we put our value on time, not results. I say we take Friday off. What do you think?

  • Anonymous

    I have mixed emotions about this post. On one hand I can see the need to be effective but also there's no substitute for hard work and the good "can do" attitude that propelled America into a super power. Look at China and India where people are willing to work long and hard and see what's happening to their standard of living. We are getting an entitlement mindset in America and we're on our way to become like the has-been leading nations of Europe if we adopt their way of thinking.

  • Matthew,That's a great point you make. In this economy we're all working way more hours in order just to make it. Interestingly, it's always about your immediate boss. It doesn't matter that you're more productive in 35 hours per week. What matters is how your boss manages and what he's expectations are. I heard once that people don't quit their company; people quit their immediate supervisor.

  • It's interesting for me. I was my own boss for 14 years. The past year I've been working for a great company… not one that gives a month long vacation but great nevertheless.I've found for me, working from home or off-site is the key to being productive. I can work for 3 hours and do what would have taken me 8 in the office. In the summers our office also does the 1/2 day Friday thing… I find myself incredibly busy that day as well.All that to say, I think it's a product of your environment and the fact that your boss cares enough for you that he doesn't want to "overwork" you. Playing into that mentality results in workers (usually) willing to work harder and get more done. I think at some point this all points back to transparency (internal transparency are important too!) in companies… if you trust your boss and feel like he's looking out for you then the relationship is much better and you are (usually) willing to march that extra mile.

  • Kyle,I like that model. That's how I hire independent contractors: here's the job, give me a price and a delivery date. I'm paying for results and not just for hours. There are huge repercussions for church staff as well. When I was an Executive Pastor I was always dealing with people who put a lot of hours in their jobs, but they were not producing results. The conversation was always something like, "but I'm already working 60+ hours a week," but often it was because the person was not doing what he or she had been hired to do or they were not effective in managing people and time.

  • Anonymous

    Great question – What we tend to lose sight of is that most of us get paid for what we know, not what we do. What I mean is that the most valuable employee is the one who uses his/her knowledge and experience to find better solutions – to be innovative and creative. So if our workday becomes jammed with too many tasks, our value to our company declines. I understand companies are trying to do more with less, but if can't find smarter ways to do that work, then the company loses too.Bottom line – Leave time for creativity.

  • Good post! A wake up call for all of us who are workaholics!

  • Mark Jeffress

    I think we need balance in life. But you mention that this publishing
    company is owned by the French. What great innovation/contribution to
    the world have the French made lately? I’m just saying. 

  • I think the key is to realize that our work is an area where we’re stewards. We can bring glory to God and serve others through our w0rk, and it’s not a good thing to try to consciously scale this back as much as possible. We don’t view work as our sole source of value and importance, but we can’t view works as the enemy that keeps us from what we love.

  • Steven Shantz

    I lived in Europe 18 years, 12 of them in Southern France. What I appreciated about the French was that they really know how to enjoy life. They enjoy food, fashion, culture, family and lesure time. I knew many hard working French, but they did not let the office or running a personal business interfere with the enjoyment of life.  

    I think that society supports the work ethic.   The American work ethic isn’t bad.  Americans really get a lot done, but you have to work hard to survive. In America, customers would get really angry if a shop is closed for 2 hours over lunch and never come back. In France, it’s expected and you simply go back later.

    • Steve, you know I had issues with the French work ethic. I tried to buy something at a deli in a grocery store that closed at 7 p.m. It was 6:30 and the guy behind the counter would not help me. The bread behind him was going to be thrown away. He didn’t care.

      I’m sure there’s a balance somewhere. I’d like to find it.

  • I’ve always gone above and beyond in my jobs, staying later than necessary (except in my current role, as it’s part time and I have a max amount of hours I can’t go over) to get stuff done. At the same time, I know myself, and if I’m consistently working more than should be needed, my work quality drops, I get burned out and frustrated too easily. It helps my creativity and productivity not to be a workhorse.

    • That’s the tough balance: being productive but not burning out. I struggle with that myself. Sometimes I’ll push hard until I hit a wall. Then, I’m no good for a couple of days until I get my groove back.

      • I tend to be that way in other areas, like with Ignite or my freelance branding work. It’s too easy for me to overbook myself or spend a free night tweaking a web site, working on a postcard or putting together a discipleship resource. I’m trying to learn the art of resting.

  • I think this is all about priorities. For me, my number one priority is my husband. I work hard during the normal work hours, but don’t ask me to work after that. I have enjoyed and worked harder at the organizations that understand we do not need to be working 24/7.

    • That’s a good perspective. We don’t ask our employees to work after hours on a regular basis; however, from time to time we have critical issues that require some of team members to work late. We value family and balance to make sure our team members do well in the long term. 

      • Completely agree. Critical issues don’t tend to follow any set work day hours. I think some of the American companies are not willing to realize that finding the balance between work and family is actually more profitable then working employees too much. Time is not always money.

  • Emily

    so is the A Group going to have these new hours? 🙂

    • Unfortunately for the “Groupers,” the company is not owned by the French but by a workaholic Brazilian. 🙂

  • Mark Clark

    In years past I fought the battle of balancing family,
    ministry, and self.  Then I “tripped”
    over Ecclesiastes 7: 18b, “The man who fears God will avoid all
    extremes.” It helped me to back up, get perspective, and follow a more
    prudent lifestyle for which I have not had to apologize to God, my wife, my
    children (now adults), or my ministries. 

    I have found great comfort in working for a Jewish Carpenter who found
    time to talk with children, walked where he needed to go, and, occasionally, found
    time to go fishing with His staff/friends/disciples. 

  • We work way too much here in America. I’m all for working hard and making sacrifices when need be, but in my opinion there’s definitely a point of diminishing return.

  • WantingToPrevail

    I could use some advice…

    For the last 15 months, I’ve been living in a city that highly values achievement and success, but has a very low value of margin in life. This cultural quality is also highly prevalent at the church where I work & serve. And thus, I’m having to vigorously fight against this every week to keep myself healthy and just survive. But, I want to overcome and prevail.

    Is it possible to change a church culture… or, succeed within it by leading differently and avoiding this trap?  Can you point me to any resources? I’ve read a lot of books and talked to people, but what I’ve learned is not giving me a lot of hope that things can change.

    Thanks so much. I want the church to prevail, but I want my family to prevail even more.


    • Not sure how to direct you – but I read the 4 hour work week and it helped me tremendously!

      • WantingToPrevail

        Thank you, I’ll check it out.

  • Yes we are!   I wanna move and work there, too… and enjoy fine wine and cheese the other hours of the day – ha!

  • (with tactical advice)

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