Why do highly educated people accept 100 hour a week jobs?

Switching jobs can be VERY disruptive, especially if you’ve worked somewhere more than a year or two. I switched jobs about 3 years ago (3 years ago this coming Sunday in fact), and it was a colossal change coming from a job where I’d worked for nearly 10 years prior. At the old job, I was well tied into the gossip, knew who had the titles, who had the actual power, and who did the actual work. I also knew what/who I could and couldn’t blow off. In a less work-focused sense, I knew where to get lunch, where to run errands, how long those things took, the best ways to and from work, etc… Changing jobs meant nearly all that work and near-work knowledge went out the window. I had to relearn all that stuff in my new job, and I’m still learning (it’s a much larger enterprise!).

I think that a lot of mid-career people are busy enough with families, aging parents, and other stuff such that the disruption for a new job isn’t worth it unless things just go to complete shit, or they get an offer they can’t refuse. More often than not though, they act like the proverbial boiling frogs and don’t realize just how shitty things have become, because it happened over the course of many years.

I think most people want some level of stability where they can master their job, learn the ins and outs of their company, building relationships with their coworkers, clients and partners, learning the products and services, and the industry it operates in. That takes at least a year. I don’t care how smart a person is. And you can’t do things like buy a house or raise a family if you have no idea if your job will be there in 9 months. Ideally, I think most people would like to work at a place where they can continue to learn and grow and gain more responsibility.

It’s my understanding that’s more or less how companies used to work (up until around the 90s). Not that they were perfect places to work. They invested a lot in you, but you were tied to the company. If they wanted to transfer you to Cleveland, you went to Cleveland. And switching companies was kind of a big deal.

The rise of tech companies changed all that. I think because demand was so high in the mid to late 90s, people thought it was a good thing since you could change jobs at the drop of a hat. But it also made workers very transactional. Even non-IT workers. Companies don’t care about retaining institutional knowledge or the true “team building” that comes from actually working with people over time. The big thing now is “disruption”. Constantly revising their technology and business processes so they can do things faster, cheaper, better. Figuring out how to replace expensive workers with software and automation. Companies don’t care about retaining or even training most workers because their technical skills will be obsolete in a few years. They want you to come in and do some job that adds real value immediately or get out. Like hiring a plumber. I don’t want to fucking teach you plumbing, just come in and upgrade my toilet and get out.

I would also look at the book “Bullshit Jobs” by David Graeber. It describes how American corporate culture has become a sort of feudal system. It also discusses how and why the financial services industry seems to have exploded over the past decades and why there appears to be such disdain for people who actually produce things.

I know most people on this board don’t care for Ayn Rand, but Atlas Shrugged also provides some insight into how and why so many people seem to make a living from doing “bullshit”. The problem with Ayn Rand is that everyone reads it and assumes they are a Hank Rearden (a “producer”) because they get paid a shit ton of money doing something that doesn’t really produce anything of value for society. Which is sort of the point of the book.

I’ve never worked one of those jobs with 80 or 100 hour workweeks, but am trying to imagine how you do it.

Reminds me of life in Japan. And life as a freelance translator. One dream is that I could have found a job that paid insane amounts of money, even if it required insanely long working hours, and held out until I had enough to guarantee a comfortable future. It would be nice if such a thing happened now, but I’m too old for long hours of really hard work. And plenty of desk work is indeed strenuous and exhausting. Yep, translating is not that easy. Not after 12 hours, anyway. And as a freelancer I have to meet the deadline, come what may.

In Tokyo I met a large number of people who were in the financial, consulting and accountancy industries, the sort where young hopefuls half-kill themselves to become partner, You can, or should, only do it for so long.

But discussions about “is the money worth it?” are academic to someone who is wondering how to placate the bank manager and the landlord and the taxman. At the other end of the scale, I don’t see the need to work insane hours merely to buy more man-toys.

I think this is interesting in that it is a very different perspective than I’m used to. My whole career has been in extraction and manufacturing industries. Most of the people I know are involved in producing something and there is more prejudice against mbas and lawyers who just move paper.

There are lots of six figure jobs in manufacturing and extraction that actually accomplish something concrete.

I think it changed up to a decade before that. See how IBM changed, it used to be a company that virtually guaranteed lifetime employment. In the 1980s it became increasingly noticeable that companies were less inclined to worry about their workers and just regarded them as numbers to be juggled. The spate of takeovers and the disappearance of many relatively long-established companies, and with whole industries getting into financial trouble, the workforce started being dumped and shifted far more than ever before.

Of course, the 1980s were a time when the tech companies got big, with IT and software, but just look at how many of them disappeared. Even really big companies were not immune; for one, I never expected Kodak to fall.

Yeah, certainly it was going on in the 80s with Jack Welch at GE and his stupid “vitality curve”. I was taking management courses at the time, and the teachers were all enamored with him. I mean, of course none of them were in the bottom 10%. :roll_eyes:

I’m trying to figure out exactly what you do?

I’m sure there are a lot of highly paid people in manufacturing and extraction. But a lot of these “100 hour a week” jobs promise ridiculous compensation at a relatively early point in your career. Imaging being in your early to mid 20s making $150k, $200k or more just because you joined the right law firm or investment bank. Or if you became a multi-millionaire because the tech firm you worked developing some dumb algorithm for tracking ads at went public.

Right I did that. I started off in the oil field and was a drilling engineer and was making 150k per year 4 years out of college and almost 400k before I was 30, at one point I was offered a million dollars in stock options to not leave a job. I took the money and ran and started a distillery which led to consulting on breweries, wineries, and distilleries which is where I meet a lot of other people who have taken the money and ran have gone to as well.

Most of my friends who are still in the oil field are earning $200k+bonus in their mid 30s. The oil field is where I was working my crazy hours most of my friends have gotten out of that except those sitting on rigs who work 24 hours a day for a week then get a week off (or work 2 on 2 off). Due to college a lot of my friends are also in the mining industry, including my wife, and while they don’t pay nearly what the oil companies do it seems fairly routine to be 150k+ in your 30s. Most of the civil engineers I know are earning less than 100k but those that became structural engineers are typically and have been doing it for 10+ years are all in the 200+k range. A lot of them are partners in engineering firms though. The aerospace engineers I know have stock options in their companies and there is a lot of growth when we’re talking about SpaceX or a lot of the other ones here in Colorado and from what they’ve said they routinely break 200k with their options.

All of these aren’t going to be 7 figure jobs in most cases but they are all comfortably 6 figure jobs.

Also known as “stack ranking.”

Yes, I had heard that petroleum engineering was fairly lucrative. Probably also pretty interesting as well. Not a lot of mining or oil here on the Northeast (not like one has to stay here). Mostly finance, tech, and pharma companies. So everyone I know is more or less involved in that somehow. Used to be more manufacturing with GE, Pitney Bowes, Sikorsky and a few other big companies.

From what I heard, jobs in things like petroleum engineering are subject to layoffs during times of low oil prices.

Without a doubt and that’s one of the reasons it’s so well compensated. In the 15 years I’ve been out of college I was part of a 30% layoff and two companies that I worked for have gone bankrupt. The year I earned 400k I was laid off at the end (actually the second week of January) and I was tired of it which is why I took the money and ran.

Interesting article I came across in Harvard Business Review discussing why lawyers, accountants, consultants and other white collar professionals work so hard:

The article describes how these companies actively recruit and promote “insecure overachievers” who are willing to kill themselves working and propagate the culture onward.

What is notable is that where in the past, these long hours were a sort of rite of passage to becoming a partner and enjoying more freedom, that’s changed. Now everyone continues to work crazy hours, forever.

The author attempts to caution against adopting these habits. But she is an academic and the reality is if you want to work for these firms, the expectation is you put in the hours.

She spoke to recruiters and the people who work the hours, and I think she knows that. However I wonder if the hours are brought up during the recruiting process. And I bet new graduates, who put in long hours in spurts while writing papers or when studying for exams, don’t realize what it is like when you do it without end.
However I think she might be underestimating the social pressure. If one leaves at 7 pm one day and comes back to a dozen frantic phone messages and 20 emails, I suspect you don’t often leave early again.

This is a part of the article that really intrigues me. I guess I always just wear my emotions on my sleeve and have never noticed it be a problem in my low-competition work environment, but the idea that people aren’t talking about being burned out and are thinking that they must be the only one really surprises me.

I think that’s definitely a huge problem. There are a HUGE number of people out there who define their self-worth and identity by their job and their success at that job. They feel like failing at some aspect of their job is a personal failure, and they work like demons to prevent that from happening, including pre-emptive overtime, etc…

I’m not sure THAT’s the problem. People have all sorts of jobs and a lot of them take a fair amount of pride in those jobs. Not just corporate white collar jobs, but first responders, health care professionals, pilots, skilled tradesmen, etc.

I think the mentality is that these are competitive, smart, ambitious people who go to the best schools they can so they can get good, high paying jobs at top companies that will hopefully lead to rewarding, lucrative careers.

I mean, yeah. The mentality is there is a line of people out the door looking to work here. If you can’t handle the workload and the pressure, maybe you shouldn’t be here. Like it can be very cult like in that they do try to make you believe you are something special for working there.

In my experience, it’s not necessarily having to work long hours that creates pressure and burnout. It’s inadequate or poorly defined requirements, conflicting instructions, lack of availability of key resources, being assigned to projects that don’t fit your interests, skills, and/or abilities just because you are “available”, and just general politics. People always seem to be let go at random points in time for “performance reasons”. Like the review cycle ended four months ago, why was Janet suddenly let go in the middle of April?

But then what’s the alternative? There are a lot of worse jobs out there, even if they may be more stable and better hours.

I’m not sure I agree. Everywhere I’ve worked, the company has always consistently said one thing “life/work balance”, “good place to work”, “family first”, and so on, but when it comes time to promote people, who’s at the front of the line? Those people who put work ahead of everything else. And why? Because they’re desperate to be successful. At some point, it quits being about the paycheck (probably around the $100k-150k mark), and becomes more about the prestige/power of the position these folks are in.

I mean, in theory I could go up one or two more levels, but they literally couldn’t pay me enough for the degree of intrusion into my personal life that being in those levels of management would entail. But there are lots of people who would do it in a heartbeat without even getting a pay raise in the bargain.