Why Men Pretend to Be Workaholics

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

Have you ever bragged about how busy you are? What about how late you had to work last night? Well, if you’ve ever caught yourself bragging about your long work week, you’re not alone, says Erin Reid, a professor of organizational behavior at Boston University. Reid, who focuses on “gender inequality and identity dynamics in work settings,” according to her professional bio, has found that some men pretend to work longer hours than they actually do, all in the name of appearing more committed to their jobs.

In a report of her findings published by the Harvard Business Review, Reid said that while many people think of the struggle to balance one’s home and personal responsibilities with one’s work life as a primarily “women’s problems,” in actuality many men struggle with the same issue. In many cases men believe the expectation that they be completely “devoted to and available for the job,” as “difficult to fulfill,” or even “distasteful.”

She adds, “to be sure, some men seemed to happily comply with the firm’s expectations, working long hours and traveling constantly, but a majority were dissatisfied.”

In her research, Reid found that the same standards were not applied to women, who were expected to have struggles balancing personal responsibilities with work and who were “offered many types of formal accommodations such as part-time work or internal roles.” Meanwhile, Reid says, “the firm expected men were willing and able to comply with the demands that they be ideal workers.”

So how do you deal with the expectation that in order to succeed you need to work an 80-hour week, take client calls on Saturday mornings, and miss your kid’s championship soccer game? According to Reid, men generally fit into two categories: those who found ways to pretend they were working longer hours when they actually weren’t, and those who took the more direct route, asking for accommodations. You can imagine which group was more successful.

Of the men Reid surveyed, 42% were actually were putting in 60- to 80- hour workweeks, while 31% (more than a third!) were logging only 50 to 60 hours a week but had discovered ways to convince their bosses they were working more.

A central, recurring motivation among the men Reid surveyed was that they were expected to commit fully to their work; in essence to be on call at a moment’s notice every day while sacrificing time for their personal responsibilities to their children, wives, extended families, and friends.

A junior manager within the consulting firm Reid studied told her about a particular instance in which he attempted to take a full three-month paternity leave from the company. “When my daughter was born, one of the things I wanted to do was take off three months and do the full FMLA and be a stay-at-home Dad…I felt like this was the one time in my careers I would be able to do this…But the original reaction I actually got inside the firm was ‘oh no, you can’t take three months off,” he said.

Michael, the junior manager (whose name has been changed), ended up taking six weeks off instead of the full three months, but was later denied a promotion, and was chastised about his absence later during his annual review. His performance evaluation also took a hit. He later noted that “no one questioned my commitment [to my job] until I had a family.”

Ironically, Reid found that the way the firm treated family time and vacation time were radically different. Time off for family matters was always chastised, whereas the firm actually encouraged expensive vacations to “unplug” and “recharge.” Reid notes that “taking on mundane responsibilities in one’s family life can threaten one’s devotion to work, while affording an expensive vacation may instead be contingent upon devotion to and success at work.”

Work-life balance needed for both genders

Unlike the dynamic for men, Reid found that women were less likely to pad their hours, as just 11% of women interviewed admitted to faking longer work days. She has a few different theories about this discrepancy. First, women are expected to struggle with work-life balance, so female employees are often made offers of part-time work and less travel, whereas their male counterparts are left to find other coping strategies. Further, because of the expectation that women are more distracted by their personal responsibilities, they often find that their time is policed more often than that of their male counterparts, meaning it is easier to fake working longer hours if you’re male.

Reid’s work establishes that the need for better balance in work and personal life is one that transcends gender boundaries. The men interviewed in Reid’s research all demonstrated that their work was not only stressful, but interfering with their relationships with their families, yet the firm in question seemed to see paternity leave as a joke, and a child’s championship soccer game as a distraction.

Reid says these agonizingly long work days aren’t making the company any more productive. “Expecting people to work all the time is not necessary for high-quality work and is problematic for most of the work force,” says Reid, per Business Insider. Let’s aim for a better balance for the sake of all workers in the office, not just women.
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