For the Elite, Being “Too Busy” Is Now a Status Symbol

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For the Elite, Being “Too Busy” Is Now a Status Symbol

For the past two decades, organizations and executives have talked about the importance of work-life balance:  the perfect harmony between one’s professional and personal lives, the ability to leave the office in time to sit down to dinner with one’s family, and plenty of time off to pursue hobbies, volunteer at charities, take leisurely vacations, and fulfill every physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual need. 

Forbes, Fast Company, Glassdoor, and Business Insider frequently publish lists of the best companies for work-life balance, and the companies that top those lists—such as Colgate- Palmolive and Southwest Airlines—proudly trumpet the achievement on their websites and in press releases.

But if work-life balance is so important, why are so many people at the senior levels of corporations and professional service firms actually working more hours, not fewer?

A recent survey by EY, the international consulting firm, reveals that executives are now working longer hours than they did just five years ago, with 64 percent working two to four more hours per week, and 36 percent putting in five or more additional hours.1

And it’s not just happening at the top.  At all levels of the organization, “work-life balance” is tilting in favor of “work.” 


The EY survey also found that for one-third of full-time employees, managing the tradeoffs between personal and professional lives has become harder over the past five years, because of the following challenges:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Handling more responsibility
  • “Finding time for me”
  • “Finding time for family and friends”
  • Additional hours worked

For similar reasons, Glassdoor’s annual survey of employee feedback from roughly 60,000 company reviews revealed that work-life balance ratings have slipped from 3.5, on a scale of 1 to 5, in 2009 to 3.2 today.


Undoubtedly, the demand for higher productivity from leaner workforces in the aftermath of the Great Recession is a driving force behind the expansion of the workweek.

So, while companies’ recruiters hype their enthusiastic support for flex time and generous family leave policies for both parents when a new baby is born, the reality is that when deadlines need to be met, and when candidates are being considered for a promotion, the people who put in the most hours are considered the most valuable.

According to Fast Company, an earlier EY study underscores this point.2  About one in ten American workers report that they “suffered a negative consequence as a result of having a flexible work schedule...

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