Open plan office
Credit: VeronicaTherese

What not to ask a recruiter 

A few days ago I spotted an article on the home page of my LinkedIn entitled “What Not To Ask a Recruiter”. In it the author quotes an email of a young woman asking a recruitment consultant for advice. She has recently been offered a job at Deloitte and is wondering if it is possible to work in a demanding role at a multi-national organisation and find love. The article implies that the email is inappropriate and, indeed, it wouldn’t have made the headlines, had the question been asked in a different way but can we really blame the candidate and say that her concerns are unreasonable?

“We can’t afford work-life balance”

The article reminded me of my personal story from years ago. When offered a job at a well-known American financial services corporation in London, I asked the in-house recruiter about work-life balance and whether it was possible for employees to maintain healthy relationships outside of work. The recruiter, who was an employee of the company in question unlike the recruitment consultant in the story above, said that she didn’t know. That was very strange seeing as she had direct experience of what it was like working for the company but since I was young and ambitious, I accepted the offer anyway. Soon after I started, I worked out why she shied away from giving me a more straightforward answer. It was because the answer would have been “No, we can’t afford work-life balance.”

Your job is where you spend most of your waking hours so it’s not unreasonable to expect that candidates might want to find out more about their future workplace. After all accepting a job offer is a little like accepting a marriage proposal, except that it’s easier to quit the former than the latter. 

Long working hours are an increasing problem in corporations across the UK and the US. But, ironically, they don’t make us more productive. Our European counterparts tend to work less but they get more work done. It proves that quality time outside of work contributes to our productivity and well-being. So why do we do it?

The answer is politics

The answer is politics and in the corporate world politics is more important than productivity. 

In one of the banks that I worked for, I managed to do all my work between 9am and 5pm and I would leave on the dot. I concluded that since my colleagues didn’t need my help, I could go and spend some quality time at home or out with friends. Surely, that’s a better way to spend your evening than sit in the office and browse the Internet, just because everybody else does it.  I had my work-life balance but... working 9 to 5 didn’t make me popular.

Death from overwork

In August this year Moritz Erhardt, a Bank of America Merrill Lynch intern collapsed while taking a shower and died. He was caught up with what the financial industry calls the “magic roundabout” – after a 24-hour shift a taxi driver drives you home, waits for you outside while you take a shower and change, and then takes you back to work. In Japan there is even a legal term karōshi that can be translated as “death from overwork” and is referred to occupational sudden death. How long until lawyers come up with a term for it in the English language?

Following the crowd

Work-life balance has stopped being a human right and has become a luxury that not many are able to enjoy. Working long hours is now the norm not because people are made to stay at work after 5pm but because they consent to it. What is even stranger is that when asked whether they would rather do something else after 5pm, they answer that they would. So why do they keep spending their evenings at work? Social psychologists say that people look at other people’s actions to determine their own. Hence for as long as there are people out there who want to work long hours, work-life balance, just like yachts and expensive cars, will be a luxury enjoyed only by a few.