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Kennedy's Column

Beware the Workaholic

It's no secret that everybody is working longer and harder these days. In fact, cutbacks and corporate reorganizations have pretty much put the 40-hour work week on the endangered species list. Still, it pays to be wary of job applicants whose resumés experience is top heavy with overtime; people who consistently work fifty to eighty hours a week may not be such superstars after all.

Productivity experts point out that when it comes to overtime, there is a law of diminishing returns. After a while, it takes longer to get less done, and normal productivity suffers.

The truth is, many workers who put in long days simply don,t know how to prioritize tasks or juggle multiple projects. They become so used to spending excessive amounts of time working that when urgent assignments come along, they can't begin to meet tight deadlines.

Because they're already overextended, chronic "overtimers" also have less room to maneuver in a crunch. Trying to squeeze in even more hours can lead to illness, depression, and family problems. And for all their late nights, their work may be less than inspired, since the most creative ideas and solutions occur when people are relaxed, not when they're wrestling with a problem. (The first inklings of relativity came to Einstein while he was riding on a bus).

Finally, workaholics are often contemptuous of those who are less "diligent," and can make their subordinates, lives miserable by scheduling early-morning and weekend meetings (one Bay Area food company has employees meet Saturday mornings at 4:00 a.m.) and by pestering them at home. The result? Everyone's productivity suffers.

When interviewing people who work long hours, be sure to find out why. Are their superhuman schedules a response to an exceptionally demanding job or just a habit? Look for competencies in prioritizing tasks and efficiently handling large work loads. In the long run, it's better to find a candidate who works quickly and easily than one who works long and hard.

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