In the discussion that ensued on a post on his blog, "More With Les," the communication consultant and university lecturer Les Potter said something that threw me just a bit. (Or at least it stuck in my craw; the post was in September, and I'm only bringing it up now.) Potter wrote:
From those days I, too, learned patience as Marcia advises, because it was as Ron says, a time of having to develop a high tolerance for chaos.
Students need to realize that this is the way it is in the world of work in our profession. You must pay your dues. These hours are not optional. If you are serious about being successful in this profession, you must put in the hours our type of work demands.
What happened to the profession that journalists used to "sell out" to, for the fat paychecks and the nine-to-five hours? When (exactly) did "our type of work" begin to demand such slavish devotion? And if we're going to work 60-80 hours, shouldn't we be doing something that's a little more glamorous or lucrative or both?
But first: Do you agree with Potter's claim that, to succeed in communication, "these hours are not optional"?
Joan H. says
I don’t think it’s just in communications. We’re approaching three months now at my new job, which is not a pure communications job, though that’s certainly an important component of what I do. And yeah, I’m putting in at least 60 hours a week. I’m learning a whole new field, I took over from someone who’d held this position for many years, and I inherited some real problems (like poor IT support and some shaky systems). I don’t want to continue working these hours indefinitely, but I’m willing to put them in right now to get up to speed and master this job.
I’m not sure that it’s essential for someone starting out, but it seems to have held true in my life. Well, let me back up a little: if you want to move ahead, gain respect and reputation, and get the experience that’ll get you a better job (with luck, one that demands a little less from the personal life), then it’s probably a wise investment of time.
Maybe. On the other hand, I’m learning to stop for things I can’t replace. Recently I was invited to have lunch with a bunch of people I worked with at my very first job, when I was 18 years old. As you can imagine, many of these people are now in their 70s and 80s. I had to take time off work, as I was still working an hour’s drive from Anchorage, so I needed at least three hours, maybe longer, in the middle of the day, and we were just swamped at work. Initially I declined the invitation.
And then I thought: what will I remember best when I’m reflecting back on my life, that day I worked, or the time I took to experience these people one more time–probably one last time? And so I went,and I will never, ever regret that decision.
A successful career is challenging and rewarding in many ways. But at the end of the day, any one of dozens or hundreds or thousands of other people could step in and do what you do, and you’d just have been a minor ripple in the course of things. But when it comes to people you love, or who love you, or spending time to take advantage of something that will never come by again–even if it’s a walk at sunset–I think it’s easy to put the job ahead of those true pleasures that give life meaning.
Interesting you post this today, because I just commented on Ron Shewchuck’s blog http://ronshewchuk.blogs.com/ about a related topic.
Being the fence-sitter that I am, my answer to Les’s question is “it depends”.
It depends on:
-What industry you are doing communications in (if you work in the investment industry at the moment? Yeah, those hours are not optional!) There are some industries and some companies where this kind of insane work week is still required. As long as they tell you, honestly and up-front BEFORE you take on their job, I can live with that, because then its my choice to take the job or walk away.
-What stage of your career you are in. It is true that in the beginning of your communications career (as Joan notes) there is an awfully big learning curve and focusing hard on learning as much as you can as quickly as you can (which usually means working longer days) will offer you advancement opportunities. And communications is (in my 15 years of experience, at least) fundamentally not the kind of job where you can coast through easy-going, 9-5 days without much stress.
-What the work environment becomes as more of these “Gen Y-ers” flow into the workforce and become the largest worker group. Ron’s post quotes Penelope Trunk who posits that these younger people, because they will be the majority, will demand and get the “kinder, gentler” workplace. You know the kind of office where they can take 90 minutes in the middle of the day to workout at the on-site health club, and where they can take a paid 4-week sabbatical to build a school in Zimbabwe (or wherever they need schools at the moment).
As I said to Ron, personally, I have seen not one iota of evidence we are moving towards the world Trunk sees in her crystal ball. That said, I am at an age where I am regularly evaluating the benefits (to my overall quality of life) of working 60-80 hour work weeks, against spending more time doing things that make me happy but don’t pay me money, and being with people I care about more frequently.
Maybe I’m just kidding myself, but I haven’t yet given up on the idea that I can have a career I enjoy, and that fulfills my love of communications, without giving up EVERYTHING ELSE in my life. I’ll keep you posted on how things play out.
Steve Crescenzo says
I try not to work 60 to 80 hours a MONTH.
But I have to admit, it does come in spurts. I’m in a down period now, where I’m not doing seminars, have a few great consulting clients, and am building a new Web site.
I’m looking at about 45 hours a week. When I start up the seminars again, with all the travel and everything that comes with it, we’ll shoot back up to 65 or 70 hours a week.
I agree with Les that you will be faced with these kinds of hours. I would not agree that it’s necessary to work them all the time.
Work ebbs and flows. It comes and goes. Projects hit, deadlines get on top of you, then things ease off.
I would agree with Les on this: During those periods where the long hours ARE necessary, you need to be willing to step up.
But it’s no way to go through life on a regular basis.
Andrea S-R says
This is interesting. I’ve been in communicatios for 7+ years, and I’ve pretty much always worked a 40-hour week, with exceptions here and there as needed. (But I don’t think I’ve ever worked a 60 hour week.)
Maybe it’s because I’m not in management? Maybe it’s because I’ve always had management that values work/life balance? Maybe it’s because I’m an execellent time manager? (Trust me, it’s not that.)
With two small children, I really don’t think I could or would tolerate a job that required such long hours. Spending time with the kids is my priority. Fortunately, I have a job that allows decent hours – AND it’s a job I love doing, with people I love working with, at a great company, etc.
I’m surprised that everyone here is working so much. Is it because everyone here IS in management?
David Murray says
@ Joan: ” On the other hand, I’m learning to stop for things I can’t replace.” Great criteria.
@ Kristen: “I’ll keep you posted on how things play out.” Damn right you will.
@ Steve: You’re not a communicator, you’re a solar windstorm. I was asking about communicators.
@ Andrea: Yours is the satisfying-yet-sensible communications job most people picture when they move into this business: Good work but with time to be a Book Mom on the side.
Andrea: Where do you work? And, are they hiring??
Andrea S-R says
I work for a major book retailer. 🙂 And no, we’re not hiring – in fact, we lost a third of our department in June. Not sure how I managed to not get 60-80 hours out of that, but the CEO “charged” everyone at headquarters with reducing workload and eliminating “tasks that don’t make sense” as well, and we took that pretty seriously in my department.
Robert J Holland, ABC says
David, have you spent time — serious time, not just a visit over coffee — with many communication students lately? I hate to generalize, but based on my last three years of teaching PR students at my alma mater, many if not most students are eager to find the highest paying job that requires the least amount of work. I see this attitude reflected in the quality of their work and I hear them verbalize it in the kinds of questions they ask and the looks on their faces when the subject of long hours at possibly lower-than-expected wages comes up.
Now, there are many students out there with a strong work ethic — don’t get me wrong. I think my friend Les will back me up on that. But there are just as many who feel the world owes them a middle-management position the minute they graduate. And I don’t believe this is just a problem with communication students. It’s a societal problem — the same societal problem that led people to live beyond their means and that ultimately led to the economic crisis we’re experiencing today.
I’ve followed Les’s adventures in higher education and I believe his students are lucky to have a professor who shoots straight with them. They’d better be ready to put in however many hours the profession demands — especially in the “new” economy that will follow this recession.
David Murray says
Robert, points taken. (I always love hearing how bad the writers are coming out of school, and how lazy the kids; makes me worry less about the rug rats taking my livelihood. Good to know I can still work the buggers into the ground.)
But Les doesn’t need to tell them they have to work 60-80-hour weeks unless that’s actually true, does he? And if it is true, I really would advise the kids to pick another profession, because unless they are supremely talented, their total commitment won’t be sufficiently rewarded in this particular line of work. And they’ll die young, broke, and unfulfilled.
I mean that last point exactly half tongue-in-cheek.
David Murray says
No, I don’t mean it tongue-in-cheek at all.
Robert J Holland, ABC says
According to your readers, it’s true for many of us. Better that they know what they’re getting into before they actually get into it.
It’s true. There aren’t enough hours in a day to get everything done. I regularly take work home nights and weekends just to keep up. I’ve worked for a daily before, and this is more work in many ways. At least in corporate comms, there’s a ton of strategic comms planning, writing, publishing, budgets, staff management — and many people think we just swan around the office all day drinking coffee and typing every now and again. So not only do we have to put in crazy hours, we don’t even get credit for doing so from our non-comms colleagues. If you want to be in corporate comms nowadays, get used to being online/available/working all the time.
Allan Jenkins says
60-80 weeks, regularly? Your employer is insane and so are you.
I cut my teeth at McKinsey & Co, a pretty hardcore place; I have owned a communication agency, and have run an 125-employee agency.
Never have I found a 60-hour — much less an 80-hour — workweek conducive to anything other than burnout, resentment, poor work, poor thinking.
Yes, sometimes it’s necesary. But if 60+ hours is always necessary, the shop is being mismanaged. And you should find another agency that understands that the best employee is a “whole” person.