Are you too obsessed with planning?

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It's common for planners to work long hours to do right by their clients, but top academics say there may be other reasons your work-life balance is off.

In a recent study, sociologist Mary Blair-Loy discovered workers in the finance industry often display what she calls “work devotion schema”, or an obsession-like commitment to work.

Joan C. Williams, professor of law at the University of California, explains the expectations of the schema in an interview with Harvard Business Review.

“Work should be the central focus of your life, unencumbered by family responsibilities. It entails overlays of deep emotional ties with your work, that work is the chief place that you get your sense of identity, the chief place you get your sense of moral worth.”

Phrases such as “I would do anything for my clients” and “I’m always available when my clients need me” are common among people operating under the work devotion schema, says Williams.

“You have people who have sacrificed a whole lot in order to live up to this work devotion ideal.”

The work devotion ideal, says Williams, is one of the key drivers behind the on-going “hours problem” in the workplace: The fact that professionals are consistently working long, unsustainable hours and refusing to take up flexible work options.

Williams says men are especially susceptible to the work devotion schema, as modern ideas of masculinity are closely tied to business success.

She draws on an example of a Silicon Valley “geek” who compared his work to that of a fire fighter traversing an engulfed office building.

“He said ‘it’s not like being a brave fire fighter going up one more flight, but what I do is really rigorous and physically taxing’.

“It’s physically taxing because he’s always exhausted and is working long hours,” says Williams. “To him it was really a way to show he was just as manly, maybe more manly, than that fire fighter.”

Working longer and harder than your colleagues or others in the industry is a form of one-upmanship, or of proving that you’re "a man to be reckoned with”, she says.

Many women are also driven by the same competitive need to overwork, says Williams, although working less hours for family reasons tends to be more socially acceptable for women.

Regardless, large numbers of both men and women are not doing what they want to do with their lives because of these interpersonal implications, says Williams.

“Men totally want to be successful, a lot of them want to be in that one-up position, and so do a lot of women, but for several decades men have said that they want to be more involved in family life, they would prefer to work fewer hours.

“What’s blocking them is the flexibility stigma, the work devotion schema and the sense that they really need to be 'successful men'.

“If this kind of thing is what is driving work devotion, then unless we begin to talk about that, these flexible work arrangements are going to be stigmatised until the cows come home.”

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