Millennials to the Workforce: I’m Not Impressed by Your 60-Hour Workweek

One of the biggest generational gaps between Millennials and their older counterparts arises in how each views the time they spend working. The so-called Old School mindset being, if you want to be successful and progress in your career, you have to work 60+ hours a week. People who adhere to this idea often talk about how much they work, and are often (but not always) GenXers or Baby Boomers.

This idea that time spent working is the key component to value as an employee is one that needs to be scrapped. It’s a consequence of the “it’s always been done this way” mindset. Many of today’s middle and upper management were promoted to their current positions because of the long hours they put in. In some cases, it was duly deserved. However, in many other cases, companies have simply promoted the wrong people, and lost employees who made greater contributions without working 15 hour days.

There is a certain type of employee who lacks the knowledge, abilities, social skills and time-management skills to produce quality work in a reasonable period of time. This type of employee often talks about how many hours they’ve worked with a sense of pride, and with the insinuation that you should feel bad for them because they “work so much.” I’m going to refer to this type of employee as the Counterfeit Employee.

Counterfeit Employees are a massive source of passive aggression in the office. All of us have been in that situation where it’s 5:30PM on a Friday, you’ve produced high-quality work on time, and you’re ready to leave the office. However, Counterfeit Employee is still “working” and they make sure everyone knows it.

For the Counterfeit Employee, it’s all about ego and appearances. They enjoy the praise and sympathy they receive when they announce how late they were at the office the day before. Unfortunately, Counterfeit Employees are often rewarded for their time, not necessarily their work. Many of the GenXers and Baby Boomers came up in workplaces where the person who worked the longest hours was looked upon as the hardest working and most important. However, people are finally realizing that time does not necessarily equal value.

Millennials get chastised for being lazy, demanding and idealistic. However, Millennials are also fearless when it comes to saying what everyone else is thinking. The simple fact is, just because someone works a lot doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good at what they do. If an employee is working 60+ hours a week, someone should be asking why it takes them that long to complete their work.

More times than not, Counterfeit Employees lack the focus, skills, or the time management discipline needed to complete their work on time, and they try to make up for those deficiencies by sitting at their desk longer than anyone else at the office.

In sports, there’s a sabermetric called Wins Above Replacement (“WAR”), which measures a player by comparing how many additional wins a team would achieve over a replacement player. WAR is often used to compare a player with a high salary to a player with a lower salary. All other things being equal, if the projected wins for a team is the same for two players, the team will choose the player with the lower salary.

The concept is perfect for analyzing the Counterfeit Employee. If two employees produce the same quality of work, but one takes longer, the employee who takes less time should be rewarded, not the person who takes longer. Moreover, compared to a Counterfeit Employee, an employee who can do more in less time must possess some additional knowledge, skills and abilities that allow them to be more efficient. These highly efficient employees should be first in line for promotions, not the Counterfeit Employee.

In theory, this should make sense to everyone. Efficiency and productivity are measures of output over time. Companies, bosses and managers want higher output over less time. However, history has proven this theory struggles in practice. Analyzing employee performance can be difficult. The lazy approach, and the approach that has dominated the 80s and 90s, is to simply reward the employees who seem to be “working” the longest hours. The false-assumption being that if they’re working that much, they must be productive. In reality, the opposite is often true. The most productive individuals are the employees who are focused, work hard and properly manage responsibilities so they don’t have to work longer than everyone else.

Bosses and managers need to stop taking the lazy approach to employee evaluations. It’s easy to equate time with productivity, but that equation is not always accurate. You need to look behind the curtain to understand who’s actually contributing, how much their contributing, and how long it’s taking them to make those contributions. In today’s workforce, GenXers and Babyboomers are often found in the decision-makers chair, and they need to be especially cognizant of not falling into the “it’s always been done this way” mindset.

Entry-to-mid-level employees who produce high-quality work should stop being concerned (or annoyed) with Counterfeit Employees who always seem to “have to” work long hours. Know where your knowledge, skills and abilities are, and be confident in yourself. Millennials, who typically hold these entry-to-mid-level positions, should be ready to tell their boss and coworkers that their value is not measured in hours, it’s measured in the contributions you make to the company.

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