“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82)
Henry Wadsworth’s famous quotation has motivated many generations of workers to strive harder and achieve success. I like it to some extent. I agree that nothing worthwhile can be achieved without “toiling upwards” unless you strike a lottery or think of an online business idea that gets lapped up for millions even before you have launched. However, I have a problem with the last word of this famous quotation “night.” I guess this makes the otherwise exceptional advice very dangerous.
The quotation seems to reflect the state of today’s workplace. Not only should you work hard but you should also work long hours to become successful. In the UAE, a Gulf News study from 2015 shows that very few residents are happy with their work-life balance, most struggling to meet their responsibilities.
Business environment is cut-throat, new technologies and ideas are disrupting established models of making money, businesses always seem to be running on a treadmill and companies are constantly restructuring, reengineering and remodelling their businesses just to ensure of their own existence.
Sometimes jobs get created but mostly jobs disappear or get outsourced. The concept of job security -the bottom most in the hierarchy of needs postulated by Abraham Maslow- has gone out of the window. Employees now have to be hyper productive yet can be handed a pink slip for no mistake of theirs. It is such a basic existential need that if the employer cannot provide this, employees start manifesting it or at least want to think that they can create it on their own. The easiest way of getting a sense of job security in today’s chaotic and anarchic workplace is to show that you are committed and what better way to demonstrate that than by staying late in office.
Isn’t that an easy and simple way of differentiating from others?
“I work more than others, so please give me more rewards and please, please do not lay me off when times are bad.”
Millennials are most affected when trying to manage work-personal responsibilities.
CEOs, Directors, Managers and Flunkies all do this. They carry their stressed and haggard looks as a badge of honour to show their loyalty towards the employer. In reality, they are doing this to tackle the fear in their minds and get a sense of comfort, although false.
Now comes the other problem with Wadsworth’s well-meaning quotation: it spells out that toiling upwards can make someone a “great” man and can help him reach “the heights.” Can someone become a “great man” by “toiling upward in the night?”
Yes, you can achieve short term results by toiling in the night for a few days but if this is a regular story in your office, you are more likely to become a “gone man” or a “gone girl” in the long run.
1. It will take a toll on health:
If not today, then in a few years.
Do you feel your fingers or toes tingling, gets bouts of anxiety or depression, find it difficult to sleep or wake up in the middle of the night sweating, have to smoke just to feel better and think better, or need a drink every evening just to improve your mood?
If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, then I have bad news. This person is at a high risk of being afflicted by hypertension, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases like stroke or heart attack, sometime in his life.
I have some other bad news: the day, god forbid, this person suffers a major health setback, his employer will show little patience to rehabilitate him. That day he cannot go back and remind them of all the long hours he slogged in the office.
No one gives a salary for very long to someone who is physically impaired.
2.It will take a toll on your personal life:
To begin with, a person who spend most of his waking hours at work may find it difficult to find someone to get married to.
Sacrifices made for work-life balance
If this person is married, his spouse is likely to complain regularly and that may start a vicious cycle of home-avoidance and further delays in office. If he has children, they are likely to break his heart and treat him like a stranger when they grow up.
Overall, working late hours is likely to reduce chances of finding peace and happiness outside the office. That will only increase stress and hasten the deterioration of health as stated in the first point.
3. Points 1 and 2 feed onto each other and can quickly take a person down a vicious spiral.
According to 2012 Regus study, “57% of business people believe they spend more time away from their home life compared to the global average of 39%.”
And now comes the worst part: a person living such a messed up life personally is unlikely to reach the top; or unlikely to stay there even if he reaches it. The journey to the top is like a marathon and a sprinter who is used to running a 100-metre race is unlikely to succeed at this.
The journey to the top and sustenance at the top requires a cool, Zen-like head; stamina – both physical and mental; maturity, judgement and discretion and above all, the ability to stay detached in order to observe himself and guide himself.
Achieving these traits is rather difficult for someone who lives and works like a robot, a headless chicken or an indebted bonded labourer. So, in case you find yourself burning the midnight oil for the success of your company, beware, this midnight oil is more likely to burn you rather than lead you to any greatness.
I urge you to break out of this venomous work arrangement at the earliest. It is a raw deal for you – the costs far outweigh the benefits. Rewrite the rules of working for yourself – even if it is a little painful for your boss in the beginning.
And if you can’t, look for another job. Now.
Suggested: How To Achieve Work-Life Balance in 15 Steps