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Work Ethic or Workaholic? (The Billion Dollar Question)

work ethic perkspot culture workaholic

The 12.3 Billion Dollar Question, actually.

I recently came across an article on how Elon Musk spent days sleeping at the Tesla factory in order to reach his production goals. While his passion is admirable, the poster of the article praised Musk for his “work ethic”. But can you really call sleepless nights in a cold factory “ethical”? If the boss is staying late at work, what kind of work life is he promoting to his junior employees?

The 10,000-Hour Rule

The Millennial Generation has grown up hearing things like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule. Gladwell states in his book, “Outliers” that if you practice a skill for 10,000 hours or more, you will undoubtedly become an expert, or rather, an outlier. Outliers are people like Bill Gates, Kobe Bryant, Oprah Winfrey… to name a few. These examples are experts in their field and have reached a significant level of success that one could only hope to imitate. His conclusion is based on research from Anders Ericsson and Simon and Chase’s “Skill in Chess”, which, to oversimplify, states that the more time you spend on a skill (on average 10,000 hours), the better you become. Seems pretty obvious, right?

The problem in our world of instant downloads is we want to clock those 10,000 hours as soon as possible. If we work 40 hour work weeks, 52 weeks of the year, we’ve only clocked 2,080 hours. Which means it’s at least five years until we reach the average number of hours it took for these “outliers” to achieve greatness. That is unless you work 100 hour work weeks or respond to emails while interacting with your kids, like Elon Musk.

Ok, enough bashing on Musk. He’s accomplished plenty of great things and we don’t presume to know the day in and day out of his personal life. However, the discussion of whether or not we should praise his “work ethic” is definitely up for debate.

Finding the Balance

While things like the 10,000-hour rule are prevalent in discussions about the workplace, possibly even more dominant is the need for work-life balance. It’s as if we live in constant contradiction. Achieve success by working hard, but not too hard. Work 100 hours a week so you can run a billion dollar company, but also make sure you spend time with your family, cook Paleo-perfect meals, and vacation for a week in Spain. Totally achievable.

Fast Company recently published an article “How to Advance In Your Career Without Becoming A Workaholic”. The article focuses on the quality of work we do, versus the quantity. The author suggests targeting a few key factors. These include staying engaged in your work, being more efficient, investing in relationships, asking questions, and learning when to say no. These traits are arguably more essential to a true work ethic and a healthy work-life balance. Isn’t it more ethical to leave at five knowing that you’ve done your work well, learned to delegate when necessary, and accomplish personal tasks with peace of mind?

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