Are you working hard enough, or possibly too hard?

We are working hard not just because it is required by our position. Often we work hard to feel better. Previously I addressed the issue of working hard vs working smart: burnout and reduced productivity. Today I want to address a less critical issue of working hard just to feel good. In this case, there are no clear adverse effects except for missed alternatives. Today I really suggest you read here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Productivity vs status

We want to feel good teammates and productive members of society. Our jobs provide us with that: social status, belonging, and identity. If we do not work enough, we might be labeled as lazy, useless or failure.

Possibly our status requires us to buy and use possessions we do not really need. Then we need to work harder to pay for it. A good house in a good neighborhood with quality jobs and a nice car to drive to the job and an expensive student loan that comes with this sort of lifestyle may be sufficient to make us work very hard for several decades. Would it be so bad to live in a cheaper place and work less?

Germans work less than Koreans and arguably enjoy life more. Germans put less focus on status and more on getting things done. Koreans want the best and compete for limited workplaces and living districts. Russians often do not want to work hard and are extremely creative avoiding hard work.  Japanese work very hard because they love their jobs and coworkers too much. I presented these stereotypes as perspectives. Obviously individuals are very different from the stereotypes.

Work as escapism

In Israel, we work hard usually to get out. Our apartments are small. Even the most educated children are noisy and we have many children. The family roles are divided almost equally, and even the most considerate spouses tend to be demanding. We do not really engage in alcoholism like some colder countries. Instead, we work extra hours, just so we do not need to deal with chores.

This sort of productivity as a resort is very convenient. I am very tired after each weekend. The first day after a weekend my productivity is low. Then I get productive, and before the weekend I can even become inspired. Why? Because at work I do not work as hard as I work at home. By a longshot.

I guess if I was doing a tedious manual job, I would be exhausted. But my job is relatively easy, and my coworkers are nice. Clearly I miss quality time with my wife and children, and I would like to write more books and articles. But then when I do what I want, I get exhausted. Fortunately every four years or so I am partially unemployed and I can spend time with the family for months.

The fear of losing jobs

Being not effective even for a short period of time can be stressful. We might have no reason to fear to lose our job, but if we do not work even for a short while this fear gets very real. If there are downsizing rounds this stress is stronger. I think one of the reasons Americans work so hard, is because they are afraid they will lose their jobs otherwise.

The concern is actually very valid. There are relatively few part-time opportunities, since it is very hard to find and train quality people, and there is some management overhead. If we are spending the resources, it is more reasonable to find a person with the best productivity possible.

This is one of the reasons our courses are so popular. As a possible alternative to hard work, I might suggest learning new professional subjects and finishing risky projects. More often than not we will waste time, but at least we will enjoy it. Occasionally these activities might pay off big time.

The stress of not working

Another issue with not working is the damage some people do while being bored. This concern is also real. Military service often requires a lot of cleaning and maintenance, simply so that the soldiers do not get bored. If there are no clear alternatives to working, people might leave their places and make noise, for example with food and beverages. They might also ask people that do work all kinds of things that take their mind from working.

The solution is very simple: find or create a pet project that does not interfere with anything else. If there is another coworker in a similar position, do this project together. Volunteer work will usually do the trick.

Hard work as a core value

Our parents or grandparents might have taught us to work hard. Sometimes knowingly, other times simply by personal example. The thing is: we live in a different environment. Our work hours are already quite long, and when we are not working our minds are often still at work. This was not the case several decades ago. When people went home they did not take mobile devices. Instead, they would read books, make food and have sex. In 1970s people claim to spend x3 more time on sexual activities than today. Our generation is probably too busy to do that.

Unfortunately, hard work does not correlate with high job satisfaction. It uses a different vocabulary of effort and exhaustion instead of creativity and inspiration.


We spend a lot of time at work bonding with other employees. This is natural, enjoyable and positive. Unfortunately, the time we spend bonding adds up to the time we spend doing tasks. To be successful in our careers we need to be successful in both areas.

It is often easier to pick fights strategically than trying to please everybody. At least,  we do not need to spend time on stupid activities just because someone wants them to be done.

Our relationships with our peers combine elements of cooperation and competition. If we do not complete tasks or fail to build a coalition, we will be in a competitive disadvantage. When somebody needs our help we should collaborate. If that person works strange hours, we are often forced to work extra hours as well.

As a solution, one can put fixed unmovable appointments in the calendar:  take kids somewhere, buy something or visit an expert. Eventually, we need to stay at the workplace when others need us, but we can do other things if we have time. Be creative…

IKEA effect

We value the things we create, so we are likely to take an activity and do it fully. Instead, it would make sense to leverage strengths and share. Quite often the hardest part of the job is hard because we tried to do something we are not good at. Somebody else might complete the same activity faster and easier with a better result.

Collaboration is complex, and we value our autonomy and ability to experience new things.  At the same time, we value expertise. While we might want to see a product of our activity, it might be more cost-effective to focus on the status we get from adding expertise to multiple projects and dedicating tasks when needed. This might be hard, but it is a part of effective teamwork.

Blame yourself

Some of the stupid things we do at work can be blamed on others, but we share the blame. It is best not to blame anyone, but if you must blame than blame yourself. There are usually great alternatives for those who can pause and think creatively, brainstorm with others, and ask for help. Quite often the most important thing to fight for at work is productivity: when we do the right things in a correct way, we also tend to do less work and enjoy more our efforts.hard work


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