The Center for Work-Life Policy’s latest research, titled “Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the 70-Hour Workweek,” published in the December 2006 Harvard Business Review, reports that 35% of high earners work more than 60 hours a week and 10 percent work more than 80 hours a week.  Their conclusion is that 20% of high earners in the US have “extreme” jobs, that is: 60 hours or more of work a week that often includes unpredictable work flow, tight deadlines, work events outside of regular work hours, availability to clients 24/7 and/or a large amount of travel, among other things. And 48% of extreme workers say they’re working an average of 16.6 hours more per week than they did five hours ago.

Sound familiar?

The reasons for such long hours?  Among the external drivers: globalization and the round-the-clock availability it requires; vastly improved technology, allowing same-day delivery everywhere around the world; enhanced communication; increasing competition; and decreasing job security.  Among the internal motivators: stimulating work, high quality colleagues, high compensation, power and status.

Sound familiar?

Noted were the sacrifices that these schedules require in personal and family life.  More than two-thirds (2/3) do not get enough sleep, half don’t get enough exercise, and a significant number use alcohol, drugs, or food to alleviate their stress.  The sleep deprivation alone can work havoc on professional and personal lives:  a week of sleeping 4-5 hours a night induces an impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%, which is legally equal to being drunk.  Forty-two percent (42%) of extreme workers take 10 or fewer vacation days a year and more than half regularly cancel vacations. This in spite of data that shows that regularly taking vacations lowers the risk of death by nearly 20% among men between the ages of 35 and 57, often your most valuable age-range.

More than half say their sex lives have suffered; and nearly half say their work has interfered with their ability to have a strong relationship. According to the report, it is physically impossible to have a meaningful conversation with your significant other after a 12-hour work day.  The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers identifies a preoccupation with work as one of the top four causes of divorce. 

Extreme workers also note the negative impact their work has on their children.  The study pointed out that women, 20% of the extreme workers, are more likely to feel personal responsibility for these down-sides, particularly with respect to their children  Three-quarters (3/4) of the women said their work interfered with their ability to maintain their homes (66% of men said the same thing),and 57% of women (and 48% of the men) do not want to continue their work pace for more than one year.

The part that doesn’t sound familiar is that two-thirds (2/3) of high earners in a range of professions and three-quarters (3/4) of top managers in multinational corporations say they love their jobs. “The big surprise of the data was just how much these extreme professionals love their work,” said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president and founder of the Center.

Surprise, indeed.

Many doctors, lawyers and candlestick manufacturers may fall into the extreme category based on many of these standards but one thing is for sure:  loving their jobs is not usually part of the extreme lawyer package.  Attrition rates and simple "expressed dissatisfaction"–whether in surveys or on-line– that have reached astronomical levels attest to that. 

The take-home is that we can not blame the hours alone on lawyer dissatisfaction.  There could be such a thing as an extreme lawyer who loves his/her job.  And there are steps that can be taken to move your extreme lawyers towards that happier (and ultimately more profitable) place.  Are you taking them?