The first at the desk in the morning, the last out the door in the evening – if you want to make a good impression with your boss, this is usually the way to go. Sometimes, however, that kind of commitment is just pretense, as a recent example in the USA shows. At one company, every third consultant regularly sneaks out early.

 

Imagine a consulting company; an international business, fast-paced, tough, successful. The Consultants can be reached 24/7, they are nearly constantly on a business trip or other, and hardly anyone leaves the office before 11pm. The typical work schedule is 80 hours a week. Everyone knows this. Everyone adheres to the unwritten rules. And in return, they get good appraisals.

 

Now, however, an assistant professor at Boston University discovered a dirty secret: at a big international Consulting company in Boston, about a quarter of the 115 employees aren’t really working around the clock – they just pretend to be. And they still reap the praise and pay raises from their superiors.

 

The Consultancy that Erin Reid looked at for her study is just one of thousands worldwide. She also did not talk to and looked at the employment record of every single employee but of a sample of 115 of them. The results are interesting nonetheless, because the company is known for its heavy work-load; availability is expected, no matter what the time or the day.

 

Women aren’t as good at cheating

 

Reid, who published her findings in the science magazine “Organization Science” identified three distinct groups among the consultants:

The majority played by the rules; they worked long hours, were always available, and got praise and good assessments in return.

Others resisted the push to completely bend their lives for the company and insisted on flexible work hours or fewer business trips – and were punished for it with bad reviews.

 

The third group, which consisted of 31% of the male employees and 11% of the female employees, was more clever: They merely pretended to be always working.

 

They picked clients nearby to avoid long business trips, and when they left early to spend some time with their family they did so without telling anyone.

 

During vacation, they made a couple of phone calls early in the morning and in the evening, and stayed connected to the company network. A small group of young parents even developed a system of cooperation where one took over for the others so that overall everyone had to spend less time at the office.

 

One young consultant revealed that he deliberately worked with clients close by: “I’ll be done there at 5pm, be home at 5:30, and still have time for dinner with the family and for my daughter.” On weekends he tries to not work for more than two hours. Even so, he is quite aware of the demands that customers put on him, and exceeds those expectations. His boss gave him a good assessment – and he got a promotion.

 

Shirking away discreetly

 

This is where it gets interesting when looking at those female colleagues who openly demanded more regular shorter work hours. They got significantly more bad assessments, even though they did not work any less or had worse results than those colleagues who simply surreptitiously took the time off.

 

Of course, this survey is in no way using a truly representative sample, but it still shows that employees are often judged more by the time they hang around the office and are available than true results; and that the idea of the perfect employee still is that of a constantly available, 80 hour work week, workaholic.

 

Men seem to know and accept that, and have figured out how to look busy at work without actually working. Hence, they are more skilled at dodging attention.

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