I have always wondered if the culture of spending long hours working at the workplace is good or bad. Is it really as harmful as the media projects it to be (the Economic Times carried a long series on the life of people in technology companies), or do people outside the industry perceive it to be? Is it really required, is it forced upon or is it by choice?
Culture of Long Hours Working
Let us try and look at one aspect of the culture in a typical technology company. Most of the people join the company straight out of college and in batches of 100 to 200, all with similar backgrounds and the same age group. The joining is usually followed by a training schedule before these groups get split across various projects. So to begin with the life of a typical fresher in a technology company is an extension of college life. The profile is usually a bachelor, sharing a flat with 3-5 other people, traveling together to the office.
This is where they develop their social circles within their batch. The infrastructure and set up at the office is much better than the one available back at home and all the friends are there at work, add to it the aspirational facilities like playing various games, gymnasiums, swimming pools, cafeterias…What is my motivation to go back home, where I might have nothing to do other than watch TV? So, in this case, I want to stay longer in the office by choice, as my whole social circle and my eco-system exists within the office premises.
Regular Long Hours Working
The stress and pressure associated with deadlines are always there. But my opinion is that on a regular basis, the human brain can work actively for 6-7 hours and not more than that. There are exceptional times or crisis times when you have to work longer. But on a regular basis is it sustainable, or is it required, I do not think so.
If you look at the typical behavior of late sitters, they fall into one or the other of these categories:
1. I go home late every day, I am never home before 10:00 PM. But what I do not tell you is that I also start my day at 10:00 AM. After I reach the office around 11:00 AM, I go for lunch, followed by a few coffee breaks, which easily take away around two to three hours of my time. It is already late afternoon by the time I effectively start working, and then I leave the office around 9:00 PM. My net effective working hours are 6-7 hours, the same as the person who does a 9 to 5 routine job, it’s just that I work in a different cycle, but since I reach home late, I give everyone a perception that I work very hard and my company takes the hell out of me.
2. When I walk into the office in the morning, I plan to leave late, as I want to clock more hours. Sometimes for work and sometimes to give the impression that I am working too much. Sometimes I want to impress my boss and sometimes my family and friends. So I walk in at 9 and then decide to work now and then. The rest of the time is spent clearing my personal mailboxes. Doing my banking, tracking my investment portfolio, and paying my bills. If all of this is done, browsing the newspapers and other stuff on the net.
3. I genuinely believe that I must be in the office before my boss walks into the office and after he/she leaves. What I do and do not do is immaterial.
4. Since everyone else stays in the office for long hours, I must stay. If I leave at 5 someone or the other will remark that I am leaving at half day. This is the most contagious one when I stay back in the office only because of peer pressure. Not realizing that by staying back I am propagating the same pressure to others.
There are popular arguments about efficiency at work, or time management issues for long working hours. But in my experience, most people are pretty well organized and have no issues with either their efficiency to manage work or to manage their time. The questions that we need to answer honestly for ourselves are:
- Is the culture forced upon me or am I a party to creating this culture?
- Is it really required for me to be sitting long hours in the office? Or I am there because I just enjoy being there?
- Do I really work long hours? Or do I just give a perception of working long hours, by staying longer at the office?