Elon Musk recently shared with the New York Times that he has been enduring 120 hour work weeks, adding “There were times when I didn’t leave the factory for three or four days — days when I didn’t go outside- this has really come at the expense of seeing my kids. And seeing friends.”
40 hours a week is considered full time in America. Based on this metric, Elon Musk is doing three times that. This leaves him with essentially only time to work and sleep.
Musk is the founder, CEO and lead designer of SpaceX, the co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla, co-founder and CEO of Neuralink and co-founder of PayPal. He juggles all these responsibilities at the same time.
In a desperate plea, he was quoted saying, “If you have anyone who can do a better job, please let me know. They can have the job. Is there someone who can do the job better? They can have the reigns right now.” He wants to change the world with his idea,s but believing that he is the only one that can do it correctly leads to this extreme overexertion, and he is suffering for it.
Musk is number 52 on the Forbes billionaires list with a net worth of almost 20 billion dollars. This is not a small feat,but it comes at a price. Musk is not happy. Rich, sure, but he is not enjoying his life.
Is this a sustainable or successful way to work? No, and the data is very clear about the value of having a work-life balance. Bushey and Ansel from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth stated that “There is no doubt that success cannot be had without hard work. But arbitrarily increasing work hours can also backfire for individuals, firms, and the U.S. economy alike.”
Performance suffers when you stop being happy. Each person needs some level of well-being that simply cannot have when their whole life revolves around work. Overwork is not solely an American issue- Japan has a major problem with this as well. They even have a word for death from overworking: karoshi, which means death related to overwork and karojisatsu, which is suicide from overworking or stressful work conditions.
Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University, says “In many professional jobs, expectations that one be an “ideal worker”—fully devoted to and available for the job, with no personal responsibilities or interests that interfere with this commitment to work—are widespread”
No matter how much a person pushes themself, they are not a robot without needs that need to be attended to. Even robots need a power source. For humans, our power sources are self-esteem, relationships, safety, etc. We simply cannot get all of these things from working.
With research condemning overworking employees, why do companies keep doing it? I think overall, it is from a culture that we have created. We are fed the idea that success means overworking- that if we are asked to do overtime, we must say yes. This has been reinforced so much that it has become a reality that seems inescapable. Just think: How many movies have we seen where the father or mother misses their child’s baseball game or theater performance for the millionth time because of a meeting? How many time do they miss a date with a spouse because of late hours at the office? These same movies either end with that overworking person making a huge life change/career shift or with them losing those people they pushed to the side for work.
I think that the key to all of this is simply knowing what is best for you and not ignoring your needs. Some people can handle overworking because their priorities are in line with making profit- but others, especially those with children and spouses, need to do what is necessary to change their situation.
No one is going to do that for you. Culture changes from microlevel decisions just as much, if not more than macro level changes.