Never Not Working: A Book Review by Bob Morris

Never Not Working: Why the Always-On Culture Is Bad for Business — and How to Fix It
Malissa Clark
Harvard Business Review Press (February 2024)

How and why overworking usually results in underperforming


Why did Malissa Clark write this book? As she explains, she has become deeply concerned about the causes and effects of  developing a workplace culture that is increasingly unhealthy. “Levels of burnout and stress are at all times highs. Even before the pandemic , the World Health Organization called stressx the ‘the health epidemic of the 21st century.’ What is a major cause of that stress? Our jobs. Covid-19 exacerbated thias problem. During the pandemic, workdays became longer — in the United States, the average workday is now three hours longer; and in the United kingdom, France, Canada, and Spain, it’s two hours longer.but more than that, we have gotten use to working outside of traditional work hours.”

These are among the specific goals that Clark achieves in Never Not Working:

o A rigorous examination of major workplace myths and realities
o A 3-D portrait of the modern workaholic
o How to “kick the habit” of overworking one’s self and others
o How to avoid becoming — or no longer remain — an enabler of workaholism
o Repair an organizational culture driven by overwork

Clark devotes a separate chapter to each.

In or near the central business district in most major metropolitan areas, there is a farmer’s market at which — at least until COVID —  merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that same spirit, I offer a few representative excerpts from Clark’s lively and eloquent narrative:

o Keep in mind: “Workaholism  is not a clinical condition. Workaholism lies on a spectrum; even those with a few workaholic tendencies may be at risk for negative consequences. There is no ‘good’ workaholism. Workaholics are not more productive. Men and women are equally likely to be workaholics. Technology has exacerbated our workaholic tendencies.” (Page 40)

o “Organizations, just like people, misconstrue busyness as productivity. They reward the ‘first one, last one out” despite the fact that we know those metrics mean little to good results. They celebrate the always-working mindset even as it drives workers into sickness and depression. (67)

o Keep in mind: “The first step in kicking workaholic habits is to become aware of your own workaholic tendencies. Reflect on who you want to be in the future, focusing on your big picture priorities and goals. Record your workaholic patterns, both when you are working and also when you aren’t.” (100)

Note: Warren Buffett suggests that bad habits “are too light to notice until they are too heavy to break.” I agree.

o Keep in mind: “Pay attention to organizational signals that enable workaholism: physical artifacts, socialization, stories and legends, company norms, rituals, who is rewarded, and whether leaders and stars exhibit workaholic tendencies. Take note of mismatches between what the organization says it values and what it ACTUALLY values.” (130)

o Malissa Clark’s concluding thoughts: “The research is clear. Work cultures that enable overwork  are suboptimal. The COVID-19 pandemic was a major development in our realization that the work devotion schema may need adjusting. The success of four-day week trials was another.

“More and more organizations see the value of changing their workaholic culture. You can, too. No more excuses.” (162)

To repeat, overworking usually results in underperforming. This book is a “must read” for those who overwork and/or cause others to overwork. Stop working hard and focus on working smart.

* * *

Here are two other suggestions to keep in mind while reading Never Not Working: Highlight key passages, and, record your comments, questions, action steps (preferably with deadlines), page references, and lessons you have learned as well as your responses to key points posed within the narrative. Pay special attention to the end-of-chapter “Key Takeaways.”

These two simple tactics — highlighting and documenting — will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent reviews of key material later.

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