Working at a startup comes with the expectation of always being on.
In Silicon Valley , the culture of round-the-clock work is so engrained that eating and sleeping are practically the only acceptable breaks that startup founders and early employees are expected to take.
I recently overheard a startup founder chastise an employee for leaving work at 7 p.m. when he'd been there since 8 a.m., insisting that an 11-hour workday wasn't enough.
The expectation to be superhuman permeates corporate culture but few of us succeed in meeting it for too long. For several years now, women who realize how taxing it is to be a superwoman at work and at home have started fighting back against this impossible ideal. But what about men?
Erin Reid, an assistant professor of organizational behaviour at Boston University's Questrom School of Business, conducted research at a top consulting firm. She found that many men found it challenging to live up to the perceived standard of an "ideal worker," meaning someone prepared to work 80-hour weeks with little to no time for family or personal interests.
While some were willing to put in the hours and forgo any personal life, many complained bitterly of the toll it took on their family life and health, everything from divorce to substance addiction. While women, especially mothers, were given special accommodations at this firm, men were expected to toe the party line.
Not surprisingly, these men struggled with what was expected of them. While some asked for the kind of special consideration normally offered to women, others chose a different approach: They lied. In other words, they surreptitiously made changes to the way they worked in order to avoid the 80-hour work week treadmill without getting caught. These tactics included cultivating customers who were in close proximity, telecommuting, controlling information about their location and building alliances with other colleagues in order to maintain a more reasonable work schedule of 50 to 60 hours.
One senior manager was so adept at pretending to be an ideal worker than he found time to ski with his son five workdays in a row, by taking calls in the morning and at night. Unknowingly, colleagues considered him a hard-working star employee who eventually made partner.
Ms. Reid's data demonstrated that men who lived up to the ideal worker standard, and those who just pretended to, both received very high evaluations from the firm and one GROUP was not more successful than the other.
Unfortunately, the men who sought formal accommodations were marginalized in the same way women often are.
So is the ultimate answer to work-life balance to just fake it and hope no one notices?
Ms. Reid cautions that pretending to pass as an ideal worker is not an easy feat and the right approach should be for employers to move away from extreme work schedules and avoid the charades.
While Ms. Reid's data focused specifically on the consulting business, the "ideal worker" myth permeates many different industries. Yet, study after study suggests that working extreme hours with no regard to one's personal life actually has an adverse affect on an employee's success. A 2013 study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine showed that workaholics don't perform as well as others since exhaustion often leads to illness and mental strain.
Further, a 2014 study from Stanford University and the Institute for the Study of Labour in Bonn showed that the output from working 70 hours remained about the same as working 56 hours.
Working longer hours also doesn't pay off financially, as one study showed that "work martyrs" who forfeited between 11 and 15 of their paid vacation days remain 6.5-per-cent less likely to get a raise or bonus than their better-rested colleagues.
Countless studies reinforce the idea that overworking doesn't pay or produce better results. Ms. Reid's recent study also shows that it doesn't translate into a more successful career.
Still, the myth of the ideal worker remains a tough one to dispel. We tend to believe it's true while knowing deep down that it's a lie. This leaves employees, like the one I overheard being chastised for working "only" 11 hours with two choices: Pretend to work from home or find the courage to put his foot down in the name of productivity.
Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a machine-learning, human capital search engine for enterprises. Twitter: @LeahEichler