Men and women in extreme jobs

Successful professionals are working harder than ever before, leading you to coin the term ‘extreme jobs’. Extreme jobs are jobs involving performance pressures. There may be 10 types of performance pressures or pressure related jobs that are typical of extreme jobs. They range from 24/7 client demands, to working in multiple time zones, to increased mentoring responsibilities. If one is experiencing at least five of these pressures and work more than 60 hours per week, then it is an extreme job. It is not routine long hours here; it’s the intensity of these jobs that makes them extreme. The fact that ones boss can get to him at 8 am on a Sunday morning or 10 pm on a Friday night means that there’s now a kind of continual nature to the work pressure people are feeling.

One might imagine that extreme jobs would lead to burned-out, bitter professionals; but that is not the case always.

One of the biggest surprises in my research was that, in a survey of large global companies 76% of extreme workers said that they absolutely love their jobs: they adore the challenges. They feel that they’re making a difference and stretching their minds. So there is a thread of really good news: despite the pressures, there is a marked exhilaration to these extreme professional lives.

These are knowledge workers who find a large measure of self actualization in their work, who feel really stimulated by being ‘global players’. However, that doesn’t mean they know how to strike a balance: among the extreme-jobs crowd, some take 10 or fewer vacation days per year, and others claim they have had to cancel vacation plans regularly. But they are clear that no one is forcing them to do this: the long hours and months without breaks are discretionary. One reason for this is that the workplace has become the social centre for many people. Best friends and most stimulating encounters are at the office, the prospect of working late into the night becomes much less onerous.

Families are starved of time, they become progressively less appealing, and both men and women begin to avoid going home. As a result, for many professionals, ‘home’ and ‘work’ now have reversed roles, with the former becoming a source of stress and guilt, and the latter a haven of sorts. If an executive is spending 73 hours a week at work, it’s obviously where a lot of his prime energy and attention is going. When he comes in late at night, all that’s there to greet him is an empty refrigerator and a resentful teenager, so the odds are that he will start avoiding home even more. Suddenly, fine tuning that power point presentation for tomorrow’s meeting or having one last round of negotiations might be what you choose to do, because at least there’s something self-fulfilling about those activities. Work becomes a comfort zone of sorts, while the truly challenging stuff is happening at home.

The impact on employers is also very real. For instance, the flight risk amongst these professionals is quite high: over 50% of the men and 80% of these women have foot out the door, because they just don’t feel that they can sustain these jobs. So we have a sort of revolving door of over burdened workers.

Research shows that 80% of extreme job holders are men. It’s because women tend to see themselves as the ‘keeper’ of relationships, so they are reluctant to jump into jobs that require 73 hours a week. They are also more readily opting out of these jobs because they see that the costs in terms of family life and private life are significant, and they won’t tolerate these costs as readily as men. The story with regard to children is particularly powerful: 30-40% of extreme workers find that their kids are under performing in school, eating lots of junk food, in school, eating lots of junk food, and watching too much television. Men don’t blame themselves for this while women, on the other hand, tend to draw a straight line between anything that is going wrong in their child’s life and their own work schedule, so they blame themselves. In most cases, it’s the impact on children that is a main driver of women opting out of these jobs.

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