It may or may not come as a great surprise but your colleagues who receive high ratings aren’t always the same colleagues busting their butts daily. You often hear of peers barely doing anything at the client yet they receive higher ratings than you. Erin Reid conducted 115 interviews at a top-tier management consulting firm (likely: BCG, Bain, or McKinsey) on how to appear as the “ideal worker” and the difficulties associated with it. Erin was able to uncover ways men flew “under-the-radar” at work to spend more time with families without letting their superiors know. Those who did request more time family were often punished and deemed uncommitted to their work and the company as whole.
Many consultants understand the need to always be online. Whether or not they’re working or just shaking the mouse every few minutes while watching a kung-fu movie on Netflix, they’ve learned techniques to creating their own work-life balance. The expectation to work 60-70 hours a week is unrealistic but accommodations are given differently between men and women.
While women, particularly mothers, were expected to have trouble with these expectations, and the firm offered women many types of formal accommodations such as part-time work or internal roles, generally, the firm expected that men were willing and able to comply with its demands that they be ideal workers.
I often advocate in my personal relationships that you should let you supervisor know if you’re being overwhelmed at work or need additional support. According to the research, women are most likely the group to request such support and be accommodated for it while men who pass the dedication test tend to structure their work in ways to avoid those situations. One senior manager, in the article, snuck away during office hours 5 days in a row to ski and still got promoted to partner later that year with reviews saying he was a rising star and worked harder than his colleagues. He was able control the information on his whereabouts and chose to work local clients to avoid needing to be on site. Not all of us have this luxury but it shows a good point: even senior level colleagues want balance in their lives. They don’t want to work Mad Men hours and never see their children.
For those men that requested the support, they weren’t treated favorably:
But not all men who resisted the firm’s mode of working did so in ways that permitted passing: some men asked for the firm’s help in reducing their work hours, including requesting access to the same accommodations typically proffered to women. These men were treated very differently from the men who managed to pass: they were marginalized and penalized, in the same ways that women who reveal work-family conflict have long been.
There also seems to be a double standard about taking time off. If it’s for family then it’s looked down upon but if it’s for pleasure then it’s applauded.
Intriguingly, the pushback men received for asking for time away from work seemed limited to time for family: one man who had since left the firm told me that, when his daughter was born he had been harassed for taking two weeks of paternity leave, despite spending some of that leave working. But when, later that year, he and his family took a three-week vacation to an exotic locale, the vacation was permitted, and his team encouraged him to “unplug” and take a real vacation.
The article discusses how men and women are treated differently when it comes to accommodating family
Men who passed for high performers either had no balance or structured their work to accommodate their personal lives. Those who requested the firm make the accommodation rarely received favorable reviews and were deemed uncommitted to their work.
My takeaways: Don’t work yourself to death, find ways to structure your work and pick favorable projects. Be frank with your team on how long everyone expects to work and balance the load throughout; we can help each other live balanced lives. Position yourself for success, when possible. Edit: As long as you deliver, I don’t think it should matter where/how you spend your time.
Side note: I have yet to face the pressures listed in the article but I am either too junior or my current company is structured differently.