Managers used to be the object of envy for their leisurely workday. Maybe it included showing up half an hour later than the norm. Maybe it was that mid-day session of golf. Maybe it was skipping out early on a Friday.
In an age of back-breaking manual labor, it’s understandable how such disparity was cause for contempt. But for much of the economy, those days are over.
And yet it seems that far too many managers have internalized a deep sense of guilt from that era, so they desperately try to convince themselves and others just how hard they’re working! How worthy they are of their perched position on the hierarchy. How important their constant gaze and vigilant action is for both their company and the economy as a whole.
Thus is the sign of insecurity. When you deep down know that your 24/7 efforts just aren’t as important — or even desired! — as you’d like to believe, the quickest way to quell those nagging thoughts is to doubling down on the bravado. You don’t think I work? Oh, let me show you!!
Overcompensating like that may or may not be a conscious process. It’s probably easier when it’s not, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy in any psychological sense of the word. It’s hard work to dance with dissonance, cognitive or otherwise.
But to keep dancing like this, you need someone to provide the music, and the media has been all too willing for all too long. Fawning article after adoring hagiography. Look at this marvel of a monster manager! Up before anyone, to bed later than all! No vacation for 20 years! Bathroom breaks strategically picked to squeeze out 120-hour weeks! You should all be in awe of these super humans!
It’s time for the music to come to a halt. Stop lionizing toxic work habits as inspiration for new entrepreneurs and managers. Masochistic managers can continue their self-immolation for The Mission and The Company, but the rest of us and the media do not need to bang the tambourine while they do it. Because that shit already trickles down enough as it is. We don’t need to help it.
Instead we should look with pity on such a narrow existence. And frequently with the appropriate level of ridicule and scorn when the performative aspects of exhaustion get too over the top.
Let’s return to a time where being a harried mess of a human wasn’t the high managerial calling it is today. But let’s spread that luxury wider. Instead of turning everyone into the overworked peon of the early 20th century, we should be striving for everyone to be able to take off early on Friday for golf. Or enjoy that long lunch. Or pick when they come into the office.
Jason and I have have sought to become calm managers in a calm company for the better part of twenty years. It was our continued frustration with the endless exhaustion bravado that lead us to pen our latest book: It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. It’s coming out October 2nd in the US.
Managers who brag about their stress and exhaustion don’t need our applauds was originally published in Signal v. Noise on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.