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April 22nd, 2012
08:07 AM ET

Letters to the President #1189: 'More on family values'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama even on my off days.

Dear Mr. President,

Continuing with my thoughts from yesterday, here is a notion of which I am absolutely convinced: If I had a choice of a team that would be with me for eight hours a day to accomplish a given task, or one that I could keep on the job as long as I wanted, I’d take the eight hour team in a heartbeat. You know why? I think I would get more hours of true productivity out of them, because they would see a clear beginning, middle, and end to their chores and pace themselves accordingly.

It is easy for employers in our current 24-7 work environment, where everyone can be contacted by cell or email all the time, to imagine that somehow we are operating at the very peak of productivity. After all, if I’m a boss and I just crack the whip from 6 am until 10 pm every day, how can I fail to get the most out of my team?

I, however, am utterly convinced that this is fallacious thinking. Workers who spend too much time on the job, or are always reachable, get tired. Mentally and physically. They slow down. They too pace themselves, but their pace is driven by the philosophy of “never speed up, never try to get a job done, because they’ll just pile on more.”

Years ago, I knew a woman who was famous for having her staff spend whole nights at the office during crunch times. In this fashion, she developed a powerful reputation in the corporate circles as a hard charging, completely dedicated employee. So much so that one time when I was pointing out some basic, sloppy mistakes in a project she’d lead, a boss said to me “Well, you have to admit she’s a hard worker.” I think he was stunned when I said, “No. I don’t admit that at all. Frankly, I think anyone who can’t get the job done within a reasonable number of hours is incompetent.” The boss looked at me as if he’d never before considered that interpretation. And yet, I could also see a light bulb go off in his head.

I think that is a light bulb that the whole nation needs to see. Many of us are truly working stupidly hard; we’re spending far too many hours grinding away on the job without necessarily achieving what we are after…as businesses, as individuals, or as a nation. We are sacrificing time with our families, our pets, our friends, and our communities simply to stay at our desks engaging in what a friend of mine used to call “false hustle.” We’re afraid to stop for lunch, or go home on time, for fear of being pushed off the promotion track or seen as a slacker. In many offices, it doesn’t matter if you can get all your work done in half the time of someone else, you dare not call it a day…because you’ll be measured more by your time “appearing” to work rather than by the actual results you produce.

It may seem counterintuitive, but rescuing our economy, I suspect, involves not more hours at work, but less. Here, however, is the stipulation: They need to be energetic, productive hours fueled by proper rest, family time, and a sense of balance that lead our nation to greatness in the first place.

Hope all is well.

Regards,
Tom