Don’t smirk at my generation for ‘streamlining’ our jobs – shorter hours are the key to success

·3-min read
 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

Hard work won’t kill you — unless, of course, you’re one of the 745,000 people a year identified by the World Health Organisation who die as a result of working 55 hours or more a week. Apparently, factors including stress, lack of exercise and not getting enough sleep significantly increase our risk of stroke and heart disease. It rather undermines self-satisfied Linkedin-ery like “I’ll sleep when I retire”, and adds substance to tales that have long been the stuff of corporate legend, of old-timers who segue from Canary Wharf straight into the coronary care unit.

Most jobs revered by London professionals involve long hours, from law firms to sought-after civil service posts. Start-ups were supposed to “disrupt” ways of working, but just evolved the old ones into highfalutin “hustle culture”. We all know that the number one regret palliative nurses hear from the dying is that they worked so much — but few are willing to act on it.

The problem in espousing “fewer hours” is that, to many, it sounds too castle-in-the-sky and Corbyn-esque — “yes the Dutch might be happier working less, but Van Leijenberghlaan is hardly the City, is it?” So perhaps the most interesting thing about overworking is that it doesn’t, well, work. One seminal study found that managers can’t tell the difference between those who work 80 hours a week, and those who pretend to, but actually work 30 hours less. We assume people succeed because of their long hours — but more likely they succeed in spite of them.

Older generations smirk at Gen Z — how they think they can have it all by working smart rather than hard, hacking good old-fashioned industriousness with their coding and remote working. But what if WD-40 gets you there quicker than elbow grease? One friend has streamlined his job to the extent he earns £30,000 for an hour’s work a week (his boss thinks he does three days).

Women forced to meld creche with career during the pandemic know all this of course — which is why a report from Deloitte yesterday showed that work-life balance is now the number one reason women throw in the towel, with 63 per cent saying that their bosses are guilty of presenteeism (caring about face-time more than output).

It reminds me of a former male boss who complained to me about a female colleague’s email signature, stating her working hours were (only) 9 to 6. It was so striking because he seemed to me profoundly unproductive — flitting task-to-task, pacing around pointlessly, and performatively ordering Deliveroo into the office for dinner, to show how late he was staying.

We need a cultural change valuing quality over quantity; over insane hours and inefficiency. How many women will have to walk out the door for it to happen?

We should have guessed Corden would host Friends reunion

The trailer for the Friends reunion has aired — it was all very tingly and nostalgic (if you assume we just missed The One Where They All Get Botox) until to the bewilderment of many fans, the booming tones of James Corden chimed in. Of course, we should have known Corden would be hosting the Friends reunion. Since heading stateside after Gavin & Stacey, he’s also interviewed Prince Harry on the top deck of a Big Bus Los Angeles, and even donned white face paint and a CGI tail to play a whiskered feline in CATS… It goes to show how much the Americans love a British accent.

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