Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Harvard Business Review Tip For The Overworked

Build Your Community: Part 12

The The Harvard Business Review tip of the day: People who are overloaded by work should “create rituals—highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, that become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. For example, go[ing] to bed at the same time every night [ensures that] you consistently get enough sleep.”

As a baseball fan, I’m all over rituals. This year during the SF Giants World Series run, I listened to the first two playoff games (losses) on the radio, and then I watched next three (wins) on tv.  It was a bummer, because I was afraid to turn the radio on for the rest of the playoffs, lest The Giants start losing again.  Unfortunate, because Jon Miller and the other local radio announcers are so much better than the various clowns broadcasting on tv.  But what could I do?  I didn’t want The Giants to lose on my account.

My silly-but-true example illustrates something important about human behavior: much of what we do is driven by emotion, not reason.  And while my turning on the tv was not a ritual per say, rituals serve the same function: emotional comfort from the sameness of an activity.

Rituals are one of the ways that corporate culture is perpetuated. A primary example is the quarterly company meeting, when all employees gather to hear senior management go through a scorecard of performance, talk about what is coming up, and try to inspire employees for the future.  Employees at dysfunctional companies sometimes refer to these as “cool aid sessions” while companies like Google and now Yahoo use weekly all hands meetings as a way to build a culture of transparency and trust among employees.  (For more check out this interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations on

This tip from HBR is spot on, although I disagree with the overt suggestion to use rituals as a means to maintain a work-first mentality.

“Sebastian Tate,” who we met in Chapter 7 in this post, uses the ritual of the male-bonding camping trip to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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What No One Is Saying About Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s New CEO

Family by Nina Matthews Photography via Flickr CC

As is the custom on Friday, a break from Busting Your Corporate Idol.

Marissa Mayer is the new CEO of Yahoo.  She has an impressive track record at Google, and is eminently qualified to take over.  But there is a big brouhaha and a lot of hand-wringing over her pregnancy.  What really got people going was her comment to Fortune Magazine.

My maternity leave will be a few weeks long and I’ll work throughout it.

The debate has been blistering Melissa Hincha-Ownby at the Mother Nature Network summarized it this way.

This sent the mommyverse into a tailspin. Some mothers praised her determination and work ethic, others denounced her decision as selfish and mourned for the son who won’t spend much quality time with his mother while others think she’s going to be in for a rude awakening once her son is here and she won’t have time to work at all.

I am a big advocate of people-first values, and The Idolbuster has a number of posts about the personal cost of a 90 hour work week, which Mayer apparently worked at Google.

So what people should come first here?

Is it the new baby, and if so does that mean that women should never work with a newborn in the house?  The woman who cleans my house was pregnant one week, and back at work the next.  I was so shocked.  I assumed she would take the week off, but was back right away.  I expect she couldn’t afford to forgo a week of pay.

Is it the employees, investors, or customers of Yahoo who need Mayer’s expertise to turn the company around?  I read Yahoo news multiple times every day, and I want the company to succeed.  In my opinion Yahoo would be just fine if she truly unplugged, but I can understand why she would want to work through.

Is Marissa Mayer herself the person we should put first?  And if we want to, how would we go about it?  Should we save her from herself, and push her into taking a longer or shorter leave?  If I read another “she doesn’t know what she’s getting into” handwringing post, I’ll shoot myself.

Here is the simple truth: none of us know what is best for Mayer or her family.  But our course of action here is simple.  Mayer deserves the basic respect to make her own choices and tradeoffs without our punditry.  She is an adult, and gets to choose what is the most fulfilling path for her life.  The Golden Rule says “Treat others as you would like to be treated,” or “don’t treat others in ways you don’t like to be treated.” And I can’t imagine anyone would want a Facebook poll to be taken about their maternity leave.  It is no one else’s business what Marissa Mayer does in her family life.

And one more thing:  Am I the only one on the world who thinks maybe her husband will stay home with the newborn?  Her husband, Zachary Bogue, is a lawyer and Co-Managing Partner at Data Collective.  The very idea that he would take care of the newborn seems out of the question.

For my marketing friends: we need a phrase to describe the societal barriers that make it hard for men to take care of the family.  We need something that is analogous to The Glass Ceiling.  Somehow The Glass Remote doesn’t seem to cover it.


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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