Overworked and Proud of It: Workload as Status Symbol

Is your workload a status symbol?

Overworked and Proud of It

Most people would rather feel important than be important. (Tweet that)

A recent Harvard Business Review article entitled, Why Men Work So Many Hours, had a passage that totally floored me:

How do the elite signal to each other how important they are? “I am slammed” is a socially acceptable way of saying “I am important.” Fifty years ago, Americans signaled class by displaying their leisure: think banker’s hours (9 to 3). Today, the elite — journalist Chrystia Freeland calls them “the working rich” — display their extreme schedules.

That’s right. Today’s elite are overworked (often by choice) and proud of it. They wear their 70+-hour weeks like a badge of honor. They tell their friends they can’t meet for coffee or tell their siblings they can’t make it for Thanksgiving. And they say it with pride.

They puff out their chest and declare to the world:

I am important. My employer/employees/team members need me. I have no time for little things or little people.

In short, they miss out on life. And for what?

NOTE: I should stop saying “they” and start saying “I.” Perhaps you should do the same. I hope not. However, if this post isn’t written for you, I hope you will share it with someone who needs it.

Why it happens

The truth is that this workload-as-status-symbol syndrome is usually not about working hard, chasing a dream, or being integral to an organization’s success.

We’re overworked because of:

  • an inability to delegate
  • fear of resting or missing out
  • trying to live up to some unwritten (or written) standard at your organization
  • trying to be like someone else
  • selfishness
  • __________ (fill in the blank)

All of the reasons can be summed up in one word:


  • Delegation. You don’t delegate well because you can always do it better. You don’t trust someone else with the level of perfection to which you hold yourself . 
    • TIP: Start delegating the non-crucial stuff immediately. Start with the stuff that is truly below your pay grade. If you’re making an average of $50/hour and you can pay someone $10/hour to do the same work, do it. Then work up from there. Google has approximately 8 bajillion articles on delegating, so I’ll spare you that lesson for now.
  • Fear of missing out. What do you fear missing out on? Who will it affect? If you miss it, what is the cost? 
    • TIP: Missing out is usually not as bad as you think.
  • Organizational standards. Some organizations have it in their culture or code that you are expected to work X number of hours. The culture dictates that you leave work in the dark in June, tie knot near your navel, bags under your eyes, with a zombie-like walk to the car. Everyone commiserates about how miserably overworked they are in a pathetic attempt to feel/sound/be important.
    • TIP: If you get your work done in two or three hours less each day, no one will care except those who aren’t performing at your level. In fact, you might become an idol or sorts to the others.
  • Being someone else. Your father was overworked. Your best friend who lives in a nicer house and drives a fancier car is overworked. Perhaps even your mentor is. 
    • TIP: I realize this isn’t profound, but stop trying to be like someone else. Do your thing and do it well. 
  • Selfishness. This is especially true for men. Given the choice between working for two more hours to earn a few extra bucks, pleasing the boss, or changing diapers, many men choose the former. I’ll ashamedly admit to this. I love my work. It’s often more fun than bathing a two-year old or feeding the dog. I am selfish with my time like that.
    • TIP: I’ve never once left the office early or on time, gotten home and an hour later wish I had stayed at the office longer. It never happens like that. Whatever you are dreading about going home, it’s not a reality.

Importance is misunderstood

Most people would rather feel important than be important. (Tweet that)

Ultimately, we all have to realize that being overworked is not synonymous with being important. In fact, it often strips our importance away.

Are you overworked and proud of it? Have you seen others fall victim to this fallacy?

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  • David Mike

    Our sermon this Sunday was about this topic. How activity becomes a feeble god, and can distract you from worship and relationship.

    • Wow. That is a great wording. Any chance you have a link to it?

      • David Mike

        As soon as it is uploaded I will message you on twitter. Finding Life Church Omaha, has a podcast on iTunes or stream directly from http://www.findinglifechurch.com however this Sunday is not up yet.

      • David Mike

        Sermon is uploaded. It is called “I need to be still”

    • I’ve heard it said that we (our current society) “work at our play, worship our work, and work at our play at our worship”. Can’t remember who said that. . .

      • David Mike

        Who ever said it was probably speaking from experience!

  • I could never work for an organization that requires this as part of their culture. It’s hard enough to keep up with a “normal” 8 hour day (plus 3 hour total commute a day). My thought is, unless you’re a neurosurgeon, no one is going to die if you don’t send that last email.

    • That 3-hour commute amazes me. I usually do the daily dance of debating rather to take my 15 minute commute or work from home…over 15 minutes!

      I’ve found that I work best with a limited time. I set deadlines and if I tell my wife I am leaving at 5:30 and it’s 3:45, those last 105 minutes are a flurry of activity.

      Great point about that last email, too. :)

      • Amazement is a kind word. It outright bothers me as the only downside of a job I really like. With that, I am very intentional about how I spend my time when I’m not working. My kids need to know they’re the most important. It’s a very hard balancing act. I’ve had to tell my daughter many times “My work (during the week) takes most of my time, but you take up most of my heart”.

  • Steve Pate

    Delegation is my favorite English word!!! Thanks Matt

    • Mine is kerfluffle.

      Unfortunately some overworked people think that delegation comes from the Greek word for “to be lazy, or pass the buck.” Nope.

      • Steve Pate

        That just made my day!!! lol

  • Great challenge. “I’m busy.” “Better busy than bored.” “I’m running from one meeting to the next all day.” These are direct quotes from me. So yes, I’ve fallen victim to this. Rather than busy, I need to be intentional in my relationships. Something for me to work on for sure. Thanks!

    • I realized when I read that article that I sound like a bit of a tool sometimes, because I brag about how busy I am, all with a sigh.

  • I used to work for a paranoid megalomaniac who took this idea to scary new levels.
    He was a terrific example, though, because I, too, love to work, and am very comfortable putting in long hours.
    My priorities were all backwards, and it took this guy’s brutality to remind me that work is only one of the important areas of my life, and that I don’t ever depend on any single person for my blessings. Those come from elsewhere.

    • So your saying paranoid megalomaniac’s aren’t all bad?

      Sounds like he was much needed.

  • I think the tide is turning on this to a degree – I think people are starting to see having to work into the night as more of a weakness then a strength. I’ve been guilty of it in the past, but set some hard boundaries that have worked well for me.

    • Makes sense. I’m working into the night because I took much of the afternoon off to get my wife’s oil changed and spend time with family…but I digress :)

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