Culture of Long Hours

I have always wondered if the culture of spending long hours at workplace is good or bad, is it really as harmful as the media projects it to be (Economic Times carried a long series on the life of people in technology companies), or people outside the industry perceive it to be, is it really required, is it forced upon or is it by choice.

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 same age group. The joining is usually followed by a training schedule before these groups get split across various projects. So to begin with life of a typical fresher in the 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 setup at 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 watching TV? So, in this case, I want to stay longer in office by choice, as my whole social circle and my eco-system exists within the office premises

The stress and pressure associated with deadlines is always there, but my opinion is that on a regular basis, 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 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 in 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, and after I reach office around 11:00 AM, I go for lunch, followed by 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 office around 9:00 PM. My net effective working hours 6-7 hours, same as the person who does a 9 to 5 routine job, its 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 an 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 and rest of the time spend clearing my personal mail boxes, doing my banking, tracking my investment portfolio and paying my bills and if all this is done, browsing the newspapers and other stuff on the net.

3. I genuinely believe that I must be in office before my boss walks into office and after he/she leaves, what I do and do not do is immaterial.

4. Since everyone else stays in office for long hours, I must stay or 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 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 of the people are pretty well organized and have no issues about 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 am a party to creating this culture?
  • Is it really required for me to be sitting long hours in office, or I am there because I just enjoy being there?
  • Do I really work long hours or I just give a perception of working long hours, by staying longer at office?

Anuradha Goyal