“Are gym-man’s broad shoulders, bulging biceps, and ripped torso appropriate objects of envy by couch-potato man? Is this envy a social problem demanding government action? … Should government force gym-man to share his beautiful babes with couch-potato man?”
This was the analogy used on the 90th anniversary of Women’s Suffrage by Brad Peck, blogger for the US Chamber of Commerce, in his post entitled Equality, Suffrage, and a Fetish for Money. It was used to defend his position against the fight for equal pay for women. Much of his content was offensive, demeaning and, frankly, patently ridiculous. Under the duress of a large public outcry, Peck and the US Chamber apologized and claimed they were misunderstood. Whatever.
By and large I’m ignoring Peck’s content because I don’t find it worthy of discussion. However, I am challenging the underlying assumptions of the portion that states men SHOULD get more money/muscles than couch potatoes/women because they work longer hours. This is a standard argument used by many decent folk and not just gender-biased Peck-erheads bloggers.
Men work longer hours than women because females go home earlier to tend to their family. Therefore, men are more productive than “mom-workers” (my expression, intending no offense) and warrant earning more money.
For the sake of this discussion, I’m accepting the premise that men, although not all men, work longer hours than many women because of childcare issues.
The assumption inherent in Peck’s and others’ reasoning is that working longer hours ipso facto means a person is more productive. This is a deeply held belief and hard to counter because it sounds logical. But it’s wrong.
#1 Parkinson’s Law – Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there’s truth to this, which is often the reason employer’s will provide tight deadline dates for projects. Therefore, there’s a strong possibility that men working longer hours are simply taking longer to complete the work assignments they could have finished in 8 hours.
#2 There is no scientific evidence that proves that longer work hours increase productivity. In fact, “more than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks.” Yet there are many businesses where the expectation of a 60-hour work week is the norm.
Since there isn’t a direct correlation between number of hours worked and productivity, men who stay on the job longer than a “mom-worker” are not providing more value to the company and should not get paid more.
In a time of recession, when companies are feeling pressured in many areas, it seems like the smart, and only, thing to do for managers to ask more and more of their employees. I get it – that need to try to control SOMETHING when things feel out-of-control – do more with less – longer hours, have employees on-call 24/7, monitor lunch and coffee breaks. These are the kind of actions that are done to make us feel like we’re doing something to stop the flow of blood but it’s not really helping the problem. In fact it’s causing a whole slew of other ones. Sorry, I stepped on my soapbox and am digressing. Back to the issue.
#3 Men may be working longer hours but they’re making more mistakes during those longer hours. We know from studies done on medical interns that mistakes increase as they work longer hours.
Two research studies conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston demonstrate that extended work hours and sleep deprivation increase the number of serious medical errors made by interns, while limiting continuous work schedules decreases the rate of errors significantly.
Errors in the field of medicine affect people’s health so we pay more attention to studies in this field, but mental acuity is necessary in all jobs. Think of the software programmer who is working long hours and his mental alertness is down so defects/bugs are written into the software. An article in Crosstalk, the Journal of Defense Software Engineering, reports that “finding and fixing bugs is the most expensive cost element for large systems and takes more time than any other activity.”
Big law firms are notorious for expecting new attorneys to work hellaciously long hours. New attorneys won’t make partner or even last at the firm otherwise. Yet, the attorney’s mental acuity is progressively lowering after eight hours of work.
What’s the cost of making a mistake on a criminal case, in divorce proceedings, or a will? Even if that mistake is corrected before it reaches the client do you want to be paying hundreds of dollars an hour for an attorney to fix a mistake when in fact the error was a function of working too many hours? Why should you pay for that unless you’ve asked them to work overtime on your case.
So you choose – do you want to hire a “mom-worker” who is fresh and therefore making fewer mistakes or a man who is bragging that he stayed at the office until midnight, had 4-5 hours sleep and was back on the job at 7am? I know my answer.