Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Year I Transitioned From Working 90 To 60 Hours Per Week

Chapter 1: My Corporate Idolatry Part 7

During the year I transitioned from working 90 to 60 hours per week, I started learning more about the teachings of Judaism.  My wife and I elected not to send our kids to Sunday school for religious education.  I hated Sunday school as a kid.  It was boring, irrelevant, and seemed like an onerous, guilt-driven obligation.  Instead, we enrolled in a family based education program, which had sessions of family learning time, followed by separate adult and age-appropriate kid learning.  And snack – adult snack was a nice spread every week that included wine, humus, and chocolate cookies.  It helped us get to know the other families.

My fascination with idolatry grew.  As I learned more about it, I found more connections to my corporate life, and surprising solutions in ancient texts.  For example, according to the twelfth century Rabbi Maimonides’ ‘Laws of Idolatry,’ it is forbidden to wear the clothes of idolators.  Maimonides reasoned that wearing the clothes of idolators was a way of giving tacit approval to the idolator’s value system, and made it more likely that the wearer would start to follow this value system.  On a lark, I stopped wearing company t-shirts on weekends, and found it helped me keep my mind off of work. (For a previous post on the subject, click here.)

I wrote a short essay on Corporate Idolatry, and handed it out in a one-hour discussion section the following year on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.  The turnout was high for one of these groups, about twenty people, and the debate was fierce.  My thesis was simple: when we do what is “best for the company,” instead of “what is best” we are adopting the company’s value system and are practicing a form of idolatry.  One man in his late 50s, wearing a classic navy blue jacket, objected in a soft-spoken, kindly way.  “I’ve been in the corporate world a long time.  Sometimes things go astray, but as long as you do what is best for the customer, you will be fine.” I wasn’t sure what to say when a woman piped up from across the room.

“But what about the workers?  My husband was told that if he didn’t push his group to work every weekend in order to make the timeline, he would be out of a job.  The customers will be fine, but the employees are being driven to exhaustion.  We aren’t twenty-something kids anymore.  His company is hardly a start up, but that is the type of time and commitment they expect from everyone.  Treating people that way goes against his values, but he needs the job and feels like he is between a rock and a hard place.”

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  1. Greg Marcus says

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