A Call to End the ‘Work Hard, Play Hard’ Mantra

Marketing guru Seth Godin succinctly wrote about conformation last week:

“We organize our schools around obedience. Tests, comportment, the very structure of the day is about training young people to follow instructions… We organize our companies around obedience as well. From the resume we use to hire to the training programs to the annual budgets, revenue targets and reviews we create, the model employee is someone who does what he’s told."

And

“Emerging is when you use a platform to come into your own. Merging is when you sacrifice who you are to become part of something else."

It’s time for me to emerge from the platform I’ve built here and dethrone a white-collar business phrase that has misled more young professionals over the past decade than it's helped. I’ve added fuel to the flame many times before, so this is me jumping in with a blanket to put out a forest fire:

"Work hard, play hard" is absolute bullshit.

It's an invitation to merge into a company and feed it. It's a term of obedience. It's wasted your time.

I can recall countless interviews when the phrase bred like bunnies, and I have been on both sides of the desk when one of the two following statements are spoken in repetition.

Interviewer: “We like to work hard and play hard here. We work long hours but get to have some fun.”

By the interviewee: “I like to work hard and play hard. I’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done and like to celebrate with the team.”

Occasionally, these statements are made consecutively, signaling a worst-case scenario and advancing societal averages for hair-loss and wrinkles.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this mantra of business culture, here’s the translation:

Interviewer: “You can expect to work 50 hours on a light week, but you can plan on an occasional Friday happy hour, maybe related to an industry event, where you’ll “play hard” and hopefully recover by Monday to work another 50-hour week.”

Interviewee: “I am speaking your language to get this job. I can assimilate.”

What an awful cycle. Those are the same cycles that add 10 hours of work each week with every promotion and cause you to have the same hourly wage as you did when you started. When your working hours double with your salary, you’re earning more, but you’re not making more. And you have less time to enjoy it. Or share it.

I understand the source of the mantra. It's as American as Coca-Cola. The mantra held true for generations. The problem, of course, is that global sourcing and economics changed the ROI of "hard work." It changed the value of the US dollar you work for. You can't work harder for jobs that aren't there, or exponentially earn more by working harder for longer, as earlier generations have enjoyed.

Working “hard” usually means working long hours. Working “smart” means completing the task without excess of resources and freeing more hours for personal time or creativity that inspires better qualities of work. Wouldn't you produce better at work if you had time allotted to be inspired?

I read an article earlier this year, "The top 5 regrets people have on their deathbeds." Here are the Top 2 regrets:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

To the first regret: What do others expect of your lifestyle? How much do you control your lifestyle compared to the people you report to? Is your lifestyle true to what you want, or do you let others define that for you?

To the second point: What or who do you work hard for? Is working hard the only means to the end, or is there a path of less resistance? What or who is being sacrificed to serve the interest of working hard?

Perhaps you could work smarter and less to avoid whatever cup of satisfaction wasn't filled by many before you by "working hard."

To that point, I propose a new mantra: “Work smart, play more.”