Intrinsic Motivation: What Doesn’t Work

Physical death may be a rare consequence of a disastrous work-life balance, but the soul-killing workplace is not at all uncommon.

In a recent article written in the New Yorker, Ruth Margalit examines the recent death of Moritz Erhardt, the British Bank of America intern who colleagues said worked a straight three-day shift without breaks or sleep, as a foil to a prediction made by early 20th Century economist John Maynard Keynes. Keynes famously remarked that by the time technology took full force in the workplace, people would require far fewer hours to get work done—15 hours a week, to be exact.

Technology is here, however, and we are still working 40-plus hours, and lack the leisure time kids like Erhardt work double-overtime now to afford later in life. As Margalit cites:

The top ten per cent of earners “have not shared much in the gain of leisure,” Robert Fogel, an economic historian, wrote in 1994. Rather, those well-off people, Fogel noted, were working closer to the nineteenth-century standard of thirty-two hundred hours a year than to the current standard of about eighteen hundred hours.

Margalit attributes the problem to the changing nature of work and of leisure, and people’s expectations from both. She writes:

The answer might have to do with the fact that workplace cultures—including the hours people work—are often set not by workers themselves but by those who employ them.

It seems unlikely that Erhardt was walking around red-eyed with a caffeine hangover and working to the potential that he could during normal hours. The balance between work and leisure is essential for our ability to create, think, and ultimately make waves. Companies like Google have proven that the best way to ensure the success of the company is to meet the health, happiness, and therefore loyalty of its employees with shared time, flexible hours, and a multi-faceted inspiration-inducing activities and opportunities in the work place.

Check back for more on work / life balance as we continue explore the factors that either support or undermine this critical equation.