Working dads unite!

A Fortune magazine cover story profiles executives who "get a life." But is the rat race really about to get easier for anyone?


Andrew Leonard
December 1, 2005 12:26AM (UTC)

Have our corporate overlords finally seen the light? Is it possible that they understand that both working dads and working moms want lives that balance work and family? An intriguing article in Fortune magazine suggests that the era of the 24/7, 80-hour-a-week workaholic executive is poised for a makeover. The authors of the piece, titled "Get a Life," say that "top executives are increasingly strung out" and that corporate America needs to learn how to make work more livable "before an entire generation of senior talent melts down or decides to stay home."

That all sounds well and good and eminently sensible, even if the authors' casual observation that accomplished women have long had a hankering for sane lives "but anyone who understands America knows that unless men want something, too, not much will change" is discouraging. Never mind that -- if there truly is a new movement sweeping corporate America that aims to restructure work responsibilities and make it possible for hard-charging men and women to flourish simultaneously in the rat race and the rumpus room, well, who wouldn't applaud?

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Except, I don't get it. Every day we are confronted with more proof that the brutal pressures of globalization are forcing a more competitive environment on workers in industrialized nations. Pensions are being slashed, benefits are being cut, workers are being pressed to put in more hours for less pay, even as plants are closed and unions reel backwards. How exactly is it that those at the top of the heap are immune -- how is it they can figure out innovative ways to boost productivity while at the same time allowing executives to work less?

OK, OK, that question is more than a trifle disingenuous. The rules are always different for those at the top than those at the bottom. China and India aren't quite ready to apply their low-cost-pricing pressure to Wall Street mergers and acquisitions specialists. The crème de la crème have leverage and aren't afraid to use it. And there is some certain Darwinist appeal to the theory that the companies that offer executives a chance at the most livable lives will attract the best prospects.

The authors also do make a token gesture at acknowledging the Tom Friedmans of the world, and their concerns about globalization. U.S. workers aren't as productive as they could be, and part of the reason for that is burnout -- so, reorganize their job responsibilities and, voilà, we'll have a new wave of happy campers who can compete on the global stage even more effectively. There's even a nod to the bad old days of yesteryear when "people 'knew'... for example, that a 'weekend' or a 'minimum wage' would spell the nation's ruin. In the not-too-distant future the idea that CEOs once thought it effective to work 24/7 will seem equally preposterous."

C'mon, who is being preposterous now? Corporate America's rush to outsource jobs is motivated precisely by its desire to avoid paying minimum wage and to take advantage of a labor force that does work on weekends. The kind of people that subscribe to Fortune may be safe, for now, from that pressure, but every sign visible indicates that the future will not be as friendly. The rest of the world wants to "get a life" too, and they seem quite prepared to work 24/7 -- or harder -- to get there. The rat race is not about to get easier, for anyone.


Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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