Get A Life!
Fortune, November 28, 2005
A cover story Jody and I wrote together on how to restructure senior jobs so that people don't need to work 24/7 if they don't want to. Jody is the most interesting thinker in the country on these issues, and the force behind this piece.
Original (and printable) version of article
regg Slager saw the clock nearing midnight, sighed, and
reached for the next file. All along the 25th floor of Ernst & Young's headquarters
at 5 Times Square, lights were ablaze. It was another 80-hour week
for the M&A department, where Slager, a senior partner, had been in the
trenches for a decade. Slager doesn't do garden-variety accounting; his unit
handles due diligence on major deals in which billions of dollars (and thousands
of jobs) hang in the balance. On viselike deadlines, they plow through vast piles of financial and operational data to get a
fix on a business and look for danger signs. With the
boom in private-equity investing, the pace only
seemed to be getting more intense.
Top partners like Slager can pull down sevenfigure
incomes for shepherding such high-pressure
deals. Yet last year, at age 45, with 4- and 6-year-old
boys at home, he often found himself wondering
whether the sacrifices were worth it. Vacations, he
recalls, had become merely "a change of work
venue." Some nights his wife, Sue, would bring the
kids to his office in their pajamas so that they could
spend some quality romping-around time with
their dad. The young professionals Slager was trying
to hold on to in his department said they wouldn't
put up with the pace year after year.
Something had to give.
So this year Slager did something
taboo for a top performer in a
world-class firm: He declared this
wasn't the kind of life he and his
team wanted and reached out to
colleagues to change the way M&A
due diligence works. Over six months,
the unit rethought every job, reallocated
tasksand won better lives for
the due-diligence teams while providing
better service for clients. Including
the boss. Not that M&A
will ever be a breeze, but Slager's vacations are
now real. Weekend work is no longer the norm.
And a manager who works for Slager says his
family has stopped threatening to throw away his
This isn't another tale of a conflicted working
momSlager is a hard-driving man at the peak of
his profession waking up to what women have
shouted about for decades. "Men are willing to talk
about these things in ways that were inconceivable
less than ten years ago," says Howard Schultz, chairman
of Starbucks (yes, he's also the world's top purveyor
of corporate go-juice). The problem won't be
solved just by working smarter or tinkering at the
margins to add flexibility. Instead, as the E&Y team
discovered, delivering better business performance
while improving their lives meant rethinking
the way work gets done and how consuming senior
jobs need to be.
It's a lesson corporate America needs to learn before
an entire generation of senior talent melts down
or decides to stay home. The 60-hour weeks once
thought to be the path to glory are now practically
considered part-time. Spouses, kids, friends, prayer,
sleeptime for things critical to human flourishing
is being squeezed by longer hours at the top. Says
Bill George, a self-described 60-hour man who ran
medical-device leader Medtronic for a decade and
who now serves on the boards of Goldman Sachs,
ExxonMobil, and Novartis: "It didn't use to be this
intense. It got much worse starting 15 years ago,
when we went to this 80-hour week." Top executives
are increasingly strung out, he and others say. Service
firms in consulting, law, and investment banking
have built 80-hour weeks into their businesses.
If it keeps up, the toll could make itself felt not
only on companies but on the nation, eroding productivity
growth in an era when global competition
has never been more intense.
Not everyone thinks there is cause for concern
or room to maneuver. Costco CEO Jim Sinegal
runs a fast-paced company with an enviably low
turnover rate among senior employees. He says his
top managers no longer work seven days a week the
way people did when he was young, which is progress enough. Retailing
is too competitive to shrink senior
time-on-task further, he adds (and
wisecracks, "I would love to sell that
concept to our competitors").
But while some CEOs assert that
every time a top job opens up, a
phalanx of "24/7" people is waiting
in line to take it, most companies
cite a shortage of talented leaders
as one of their biggest constraints.
Rethinking senior jobs and careers
can help solve that, says Jeanie
Duck of the Boston Consulting Group, who specializes
in organizational change. "It's a myth that
companies are filled with highly capable people
who are willing to work 24/7," she says. "It's not
true. The companies that crack this will have their
pick of talented people."
Indeed, dozens of interviews with top executives,
consultants, and researchers suggest that a revolt of
talent is brewing, and that it's time to reenergize the
stale "work-life" debate by starting at the top.
What will it take to make headway on this
agenda? Business leaders need to do four things.
First, quit defining the desire for doable jobs as a
"women's issue." Men want this too. Second,
start viewing efforts to humanize senior jobs as a
competitive advantage and business necessity,
not as one-time accommodations for the CEOs'
pets. Third, realize that progress is actually possible;
there are examples to show that work at the
top can be retooled. Finally, make it safe within
companies and firms to talk about these things.
"Businesses need to be 24/7," says Xerox CEO
Anne Mulcahy. "Individuals don't."
What Do Men Really Want?
It's hardly news that accomplished women are desperate
for a new deal at work. But anyone who understands
America knows that unless men want something, too, not much will change. So what do
men really want?
Our new survey of senior FORTUNE 500 male executives
offers surprising answers. Fully 84% say
they'd like job options that let them realize their professional
aspirations while having more time for
things outside work; 55% say they're willing to sacrifice
income. Half say they wonder if the sacrifices
they've made for their careers are worth it. In addition,
73% believe it's possible to restructure senior
management jobs in ways that would both increase
productivity and make more time available for life
outside the office. And 87% believe that companies
that enable such changes will have a competitive advantage
in attracting talent. Other interviews suggest
that the younger a male executive is, the more
likely he is to say he cares about all of this.
Of course there's a roadblock to reform: fear.
FORTUNE's survey found that even though most
senior-level men want better options, nearly half
believe that for an executive to take up the matter
with his boss will hurt his career.
Still, two things seem clear. First, men and women
are far more alike in their desires than the debate
over these issues has assumed. Second, as talented
men raise their voices with women who have been
irate about this for decades, the 24/7 ethic is pretty
clearly on borrowed time. Consider the provocative
case made by Lowell Bryan, a top partner at Mc-
Kinsey & Co., who maintains that many senior
managers have undoable jobs. "We don't know how to work given the reality of the 21st century," he
says. "We're in a world where the marginal cost of
interaction [via e-mail and the like] is falling toward
zero. The volume of interactions is headed toward
infinity, and infinity's winning."
How did business get to this point? For starters,
Bryan says, the scope and complexity of business
have grown enormously. In 1970 the world's 50
biggest companies averaged $29 billion in revenue
(in 2003 dollars); now it's around $100 billion. The
number of consumer products introduced each year
has increased 16-fold over the same period. Firms
now compete across different industries and geographies.
The overload is compounded by inefficiency:
A 2003 study by Marakon Associates and
the Economist Intelligence Unit, for
example, found that up to 80% of
top management time is devoted to
issues that account for less than 20%
of the company's long-term value.
As a result, decisions take too long
and end up botched.
And here's the clincher. When
McKinsey asks top managers, "If
you had twice as much time, would
you really exhaust the things you
should be doing?" the answer is invariably
no. "We have created jobs
that are literally impossible," Bryan
says. "The human cost is profound,
and the opportunity cost is also great in terms of organizational
Tales From the Front
Peter Chernin didn't set out to pioneer the humansized
job, but he's responsible for an accidental
breakthrough at NewsCorp. Seven years ago,
Chernin, the company's president and head of its
Fox subsidiary, appointed Gary Newman and Dana
Walden as presidents of 20th Century Fox Television.
Not co-presidentsit is not a job share. Presidents.
Both are responsible for the performance
of the entire company.
In simpler times, Chernin says, Fox produced four
to five television series a year (about 100 episodes)
and sold them to three networks. Now it produces
25 series a year (about 600 episodes) and deals with
six networks, 200 cable channels, syndication,
DVDs, international, wireless, and broadband markets.
"What I was really thinking was where to find
the skill set to manage these businesses," Chernin
says. "I came to believe that, because of the complexity,
if I could find two people with complementary
skills, it would probably be better."
It has turned out better, both for Fox and for Newman
and Walden. "Because there are two of us,
we're capable of getting involved in many more
things," says Newman. "There's more productivity
here than at any other company like this where
there's only one person in charge," Walden adds.
Both say the arrangement has been fabulous for
their family lives. "I have greater freedom to be a
participant in life," says Newman. "There's no meeting
that I can't cover or that Gary can't cover,"
Walden says. Example: When Walden's daughter
broke her arm one weekend, Walden didn't come in
on Monday. The business didn't skip a beat. A president
of the company was there; all scheduled meetings
Like any successful partnership, Walden's and
Newman's took a while to sort out. They spent the
first year doing too much together. Only when they
became trusting enough for each to
let the other handle situations alone
did the leverage for the company
(and their lives) become powerful.
Making the arrangement work requires
ground rules. At the outset,
they sometimes inadvertently contradicted
each other in responding
to e-mails. Today their rule is whoever
gets to an e-mail first, answers
it. "If one of us has to step up and
make a decision," says Newman,
"we do it and move on, and worry
about straightening it out between
us the next day."
Chernin doesn't find managing two presidents all
that hard. If he talks to one he expects that person
to pass on the word to the other. If he needs something
he asks his office to "find Dana or Gary." "It
doesn't really matter to me which one," Chernin says.
"Both are up to speed on everything." Though he
didn't create this arrangement to give them better
lives outside work, it does that too. Newman and
Walden compare their relationship to a marriage;
Dana calls Gary her "day spouse." They recently renewed
their "vows" by signing a long-term deal to
keep working together.
Across town, at the Los Angeles Times
, Dean Baquet
has cloned a key position as well. Shortly after
becoming editor, he announced that he was dividing
into three jobs the managing editor position he
had previously held. Now two managing editors and
an associate editor oversee the 1,000-person newsroom.
Why three? Like Chernin in the TV business,
Baquet cites the growing complexity of major newspapers.
He felt that as a solo managing editor
there were things he hadn't been able to do well, despite
putting in long hours. "If your job is gigantic,
there are things you ignore," he says, citing the
sports section in particular as getting short shrift.
Baquet also felt so swept up by daily crises that he
had little time to think strategically. "The job was
just too big for one person," he says.
A saner division of labor is good for the Times
news coverage, he believes, since top editors are supposed
to be in touch with the world. "I like the idea
of them getting home earlier," he says of his senior
team. "I like the idea of them having lives. I like the
idea of them having exposure to things other than
just the newsroom and the news in the moment."
Dividing such jobs is also a way to broaden the company's
talent base and nurture new leaders, he says,
making it possible for people to spend time with their
families and climb the ladder. And while adding top
managers at high salaries may seem like a costly fix,
both companies say that the gain in effectiveness far
outweighs the incremental expense.
CEO David Neeleman of JetBlue is also experimenting
with job designs for senior executives.
Thomas Kelly, 53, is an executive VP whom Neeleman calls JetBlue's "chief wisdom officer." Kelly
worked with Neeleman at a previous airline; from
the start he has run JetBlue's legal, government affairs,
and treasury teams from Salt Lake City even
though Neeleman based the company in New York.
Not long ago, because of Kelly's responsibilities in
the Mormon church, he requested a four-day week
at reduced compensation. The boss, also a Mormon,
said yes. Both men felt the strength of the three VPs
under Kelly meant it could work.
Still, Neelemana father of nine who's home
most nights for family Scripture readings at 8 P.M.
isn't sure about applying this kind of arrangement
more broadly. Yet he says he's considering a similar
four-day-week request from another crucial
player, the airline's head of scheduling.
At Fleet Bank in Boston, Cynthia Cunningham
and Shelley Murray shared the job of vice president
for global markets foreign exchange for six years.
Each worked three days a week on a trading desk.
They didn't divide clients and tasks; whoever was present
dealt with whatever came up. They had one set
of goals and one performance review, and they operated
so seamlesslywith the help of a weekly meeting
and constant voicemails throughout the daythat
out-of-town colleagues often didn't know there were
two of them. In previous jobs each had worked 50 to
60 hours a week; in their shared role they dropped to
20 to 25 each. They also felt "totally on" at the office
since work wasn't consuming their lives. The gratitude
factor, too, was huge: having a rare senior jobshare
doubled their drive to deliver. "We didn't have
time to waste," says Cunningham. "We had to succeed
so that we could keep the arrangement we had."
When Bank of America acquired Fleet and eliminated
their department, Cunningham and Murray
looked for a new job together. Despite their track
record, no company has yet been willing to give them
another shot; it's outside most business's comfort
zone. Top recruiters told them "we don't place parttimers,"
unable to fathom what they'd achieved.
Things to Try at HQ
Thirty corporate big shots listened politely while the
woman told them they were slaves. It was a meeting
in London last February of a new entity called
the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force, which counts
30 blue-chip firms among its members, from Alcoa
to Unilever. The group focuses on breaking down
barriers to advancement still faced by women and
minorities. But one of its chief goals is to fix an
equal-opportunity oppressor: "extreme" jobs. That
project represents the first systematic effort by major
companies to humanize senior work.
Madeleine Bunting, the British author of Willing
Slaves: How the Overwork Culture Is Ruling Our Lives
had been invited that day to provoke debate. Is the prevalence of extreme jobs a product of forces like
technology and globalization? Or is it rather something
in which talented people are themselves complicit?
Either way, Bunting said, old assumptions
about how to work, how to show commitment, and
how to advance are cruelly out of date. Decades after
women rejoined the workforce and two-income
couples have become the norm, business and society
haven't adequately adjusted. "Everyone has individual
coping mechanisms," says Carolyn Buck-Luce, a senior partner at Ernst & Young who is helping
lead the extreme-jobs review. "But that's not an
Jon Katzenbach, who advises FORTUNE 500
managements on organizational issues, thinks it's
possible to humanize top jobsthough no company has ever asked
him to. Among the fixes he promotes
is more effective use of
teams. (That was a key aspect of
Slager's reorganization at Ernst &
Young, where each due-diligence
team now may work on several
deals for a given client, rather than
being assigned to deals piecemeal.)
Katzenbach also urges companies
to offer alternative career paths in
which executives choose the speed of their promotions.
Instead of having to make vice president
in five years, for example, you'll be able to choose
to get there over ten, perhaps while the kids are
young and you prefer to avoid intensive travel.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Higher
earners may consider trading income for time.
Two professional parents, for instance, may
arrange for each to work full tilt for nine months
and then take off three, or work five days 9 to 4,
except when there's a crisis. Maybe they'll handle
three clients instead of six. To make any of it work,
says Katzenbach, employers have to give senior
people the freedom to define what they mean by
success in their livesand then ask them to translate
that into how much time they're prepared to
devote to the job. That still leaves room for executives
who love work so much they never want to
leave, or who prefer the clarity of the office to
the chaos of family life. As companies learn to accommodate
a range of time commitments from
top talent, organizations will look less like a
pyramid and more like a puzzle.
If such transformations sound easier said than
done, it's because of that roadblock, fear. A 2003
Harvard Business Review
article, "Let's Hear It for
B Players," illustrates the dilemma. It defines those
who "place a high premium on work-life balance"
as second-tier workers. The authors thought they
were being generous to the Bs, pointing to them as
underutilized assets overlooked in the rush to woo
the workaholic highfliers. But the message, echoed
across the culture, is clear: Declaring your interest
in a human-sized job is like announcing a disease.
B-men may not often opt out of the workforce
entirely, as do some women with high-earning
husbands, but they scale back, switch to staff
jobs, and turn down promotions. Or, like many
women, they keep their B-ness a secret and suffer
FORTUNE encountered similar angst in a focus
group of first-year students at the Wharton Business
School. These future leaders were adamant
about wanting full lives and cynical about feelgood
pronouncements on such matters by CEOs.
Yet they also felt they had "no leverage," and
that if they mentioned nonwork aspirations
in job interviews they'd be
seen as "slackers." They'd figure it
out once they'd shown bosses they
could do the work, they said.
The biggest challenge in humanizing
work may be not how to get
the work done but how to persuade
corporate leaders to view the desire
for a complete life as legitimate. It
hasn't been a CEO priority, to put
it mildly. Jack Welch, the iconic boss
of the 1990s, wrote in his book Winning
that he always
worked Saturdays as a rising star at GE, and
found that his direct reports (surprise!) showed up
to join him in the office. "I thought these weekend
hours were a blast," Welch wrote. "The idea just
didn't dawn on me that anyone would want to be
anywhere but at work."
He was hardly alone. Other seventysomething
empire builderslike Eli Broad of KB Homes
and SunAmericadescribe themselves as "old
school" in this regard. As Bob Knutson, 71, who
built Education Management Corp., put it, being a
child of the Depression grafted on to his native
drive a "whatever it takes" work ethic that was hard
to dial down even decades after he'd made it. That
style has flowed to the current crop of bosses. Babyboomer
Jeffrey Immelt, Welch's successor at GE,
boasts that he has worked 100 hours a week for 25
years. That's 7 A.M. to 9 P.M. seven days a week!
Schultz at Starbucks is among the minority of
CEOs out to break the taboo against discussing
24/7 workloads. "You may not get what you want,
but at least we're going to have this dialogue," he
says. "And there'll never be a mark against you because
you asked for something." At Xerox, Ann
Mulcahy wants top performers to come forward
and say, "Here's the approach I'd like to use to deliver
the performance that I think is required." "It's
got to be initiated by your best employees," she
adds, to create a buzz around the company that innovative
job design is a way to keep great people.
Lessons From Old Europe
If you've made it this far, it's obvious what you and
Tom Friedman must be thinking. With people in
India and China seemingly working 35 hours a day,
how can anyone talk about working 35 hours a
week? Isn't this precisely the wrong moment for
Americans to be kicking back? What is this, France?
Consider some facts. While every red-blooded
American knows that the U.S. has the most productive
economy in the world, the truth is that in
2002 it was actually less productive per hour worked
than countries that are supposed to be slackers: Belgium,
France, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands.
True, the U.S. had more output per person,
but that's only because a bigger share of Americans
worked, and many Americans work longer hours.
This is not to suggest that America should emulate
Europe's economic policiesfor one thing, job
growth there is abysmally slow. But the rough parity
of Europe's productivity with America's own, despite
the absence of a macho work culture, should
give Americans pause. The moral: Americans don't
have to work like the Indians and Chinese any more
than they have to work like 19th-century factory
hands, when hours were far longer than today.
"There is probably not a productivity penalty to
shortening hours in the U.S., and there may even be
a benefit," says Martin Baily, who chaired President
Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors.
Leslie Perlow of the Harvard Business School makes an equally tempting microeconomic case.
An ethnographer, she studied teams of software
engineers in several countries. These teams had
been identified as equally productive doing similar
kinds of work by their joint venture partner, a
large U.S. tech company. But Perlow found the
teams had different ways of organizing their work,
with vastly different impacts on workers' lives.
In India the engineers, mostly specialists, reached
out directly to other team specialists when they had
problems. Their sense of mutual commitment led
to very long hours, since everyone felt they had to
be available to their colleagues. In China the engineers
never spoke to one another; all requests for
help went through the project leader. That made
everyone highly dependent on him and locked them
to his hours. In Hungary, when one engineer had a
problem, he'd go to whoever happened to be free.
As a result, many people were able to help each
other and it was less important for everyone to be
at the office all the time. All three teams, says Perlow,
were "convinced that there was no other way to
do it" and that they were merely doing what the
global marketplace required. Yet the Indian team's
approach was a formula for burnout, and the Chinese
team was at the whim of its boss; only the Hungarian
team's approach allowed a life.
If you still can't visualize how jobs might be reorganized, remember that humanizing top-level work
isn't something really hard, like finding a cure for
cancer. The idea seems farfetched only to those who
don't recall history. People "knew" a century ago, for
example, that a "weekend" or a "minimum wage"
would spell the nation's ruin. In the not-too-distant
future the idea that CEOs once thought it effective
to work 24/7 will seem equally preposterous.
There's a scene in the classic 1956 film, The Man
in the Gray Flannel Suit
, when Fredric March's driven
CEO is informed that his estranged daughter
has eloped. The CEO's wife, far from seeking her
husband's comfort at this distressing moment, instead
announces that their chilly marriage is over.
In a wave of bitterness and self-pity, the boss tells
junior executive Gregory Peck that "big successful
businesses aren't built by men like you9 to 5 and
home and family." They're built by workaholics like
me, he explains. The personal toll is obvious. "My
mistake," he adds sadly, addressing his glass of
Scotch, "was in being one of those men."
We're still stuck between the extremes depicted
in the movie. Either you're a maniacal workaholic
who runs the worldor you're a Dilbert, punching
a clock with little power and authority. Too many
businesspeople think that's just the way of the world.
"You can't have it all," they say. But let's be very
clear on what "all" is. People want to work at the
level they're capable of and still have time for things
outside work that nourish them. They don't expect
to be as rich or accomplished as Bill Gates or Jeff
Immelt while also being the perfect parent. They're
saying that most of us lucky enough to have the talent
and ambition to tackle top jobs while being
blessed with people or things that give us sustenance
should be able to combine both.
To say this is "wanting it all" is like saying people
should have to choose between food and water.
They need both. As Dean Baquet of the L.A. Times
argues, "The top shouldn't be reserved only for people
who can work 18 hours a day." Obviously these
are lucky problems to have. But why should America's
professionals be the only elites in human history
who don't set things up to get what they want?
If they did, America would be the better for it.