Elana has written a great post over on BlogHer about the shift in terminology from “workaholics” to “Extreme Jobs”.

What I find most interesting about this is the shift from personal responsibility (if you’re a workaholic, then you’ve chosen to be so) to situational/corporate responsibility (the job/company REQUIRES that you work crazy hours). On the one hand, it’s an unusual trend to see a move AWAY from personal responsibility. On the other, it’s a very dangerous slippery slope for the organisations creating the types of roles that require workers to routinely work 60-100 hours rather than the baseline 40.

The main reason I think this is dangerous is not because people won’t do the jobs (someone always will) or even because it will severely limit the diversity in those top roles (although it will). The real problem is that research has consistently shown that time worked and productivity are not directly proportional. Working more in short bursts (e.g. for an upcoming deadline) can be useful, but consistently working long hours leads to lower productivity.

Tom DeMarco in Slack: Getting Past Burn-out, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency discusses this in detail. He posits that when workers consistently work longer hours, any productivity gain is lost. Essentially, we are “re-baselined” — achieving the same amount of work in 10/12/14 hours as we would have done in 8.

Overwork can cause burn-out or even death. Selecting executives who have already lived through years or even decades of overwork, hoping to win the tournament are arguably the most at risk. So if your method for choosing your top executives is not who is most productive or effective, but really who can best withstand extremely long working hours, is that really smart?