Study: Faking Long Hours Is Just As Good As Working Long Hours

At the firm where I used to work, there was a partner, let’s call him Shane1, who was a goddamn rock star. Why was he a goddamn rock star? Not because he was a rainmaker or a social media wizard or had Taxspergers syndrome.
 
He was a goddamn rock star because he worked all the damn time. He worked so many hours that other people at the firm -- people who themselves were used to working really long hours -- thought they should get a parade if they -- even once -- either got to the office before Shane or left the office after Shane.
 
Shane had no life, and everybody wanted to be like Shane. Because if you worked as much as Shane eventually you’d make partner like Shane so you could continue to work as much as Shane.
 
The ethos of workaholism in the accounting profession should be embarrassing, but instead it’s a badge of honor. We’re supposed to be trusted business advisors, and based on our actions, our trusted business advice is, “Work compulsively at the expense of all other pursuits.” Because that’s every business owner’s dream.
 
Caleb nailed it in his 2013 post when he quoted himself from his 2012 post where he said:
[M]any people working in [public accounting] today feel guilt - GUILT! - when they leave after a ten or eleven-hour day.
 
[...]
 
The worst thing about this aspect of the culture in public accounting is that so many people say that "face time doesn't matter" when it's obvious that it does matter. You'll hear people at every level of your firm say it but it is a baldfaced lie. It matters a lot. It matters MORE THAN ANYTHING.
But new research out of Boston University shows that there are people who work in a culture that expects ridiculously long hours, who are beating the system.
[Researchers] interviewed more than 100 people in the American offices of a global consulting firm and had access to performance reviews and internal human resources documents. At the firm there was a strong culture around long hours and responding to clients promptly.
 
Some 31 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women whose records [were] examined managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it.
This subset of employees wanted more flexibility and fewer hours, but instead of asking for it, they just took what they wanted: they started working fewer hours and allowing themselves a more flexible schedule. 
 
One of these cheaters explained his M.O.
Despite limiting his hours, he said: “I know what clients are expecting. So I deliver above that.” He received a high performance review and a promotion.
Other cheaters colluded with co-workers to cover for each other when needed.
These people were “passing” as workaholics and received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.
 
Maybe the real problem isn’t people faking greater devotion to their jobs. Maybe it’s that too many companies reward the wrong things, favoring the illusion of extraordinary effort over actual productivity.
So how do you feign workaholism in a traditional public accounting firm that bills by the hour? You do it in three easy steps (only two of which are unethical):
  • Request individual assignments
  • Sign-off prematurely on audit procedures
  • Pad your timesheet
If you’ve got a system for faking long hours at your firm, we’d all love to hear about it in the comments. And while you’re typing that comment, make sure you look annoyed so everybody thinks you’re busy.
 
1 Because his name was Shane.

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