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Why Do Americans Work So Hard? Let Us Count The Ways...


I agree that leaders making too many decisions is a huge problem contributing to "The real reasons you're working so hard... " (Cover Story, Oct. 3). However, meetings and e-mails get a bad rap. Connecting an organization and sharing knowledge are key needs in a modern global organization, and face-to-face meetings are a necessary component.

As for e-mails, executives who pride themselves on not reading them and have their assistants manage e-mails for them are not connected to the modern organization, and they may be slowing down the process and missing opportunities. If they would just let go and empower their organizations, we would all have better working lives.

Ken Goldstein

Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Modern accounting has failed to persuade companies of the value of managerial time. The time of salaried workers appears to be free (barring termination), so this resource can be frittered away in low-value tasks. Activity-based costing might reveal just how much in corporate resources are wasted in the endless meetings and administrative tasks that fill the corporate day (and night). Instead of perceiving the salaries of managers and professionals as sunk costs, companies should think in terms of opportunity costs. That points to a second failure: a failure of imagination that makes it so hard for companies to conceive of the contributions their managers and skilled professionals might be making if they weren't always racing from one meaningless deadline to the next.

Edward E. Rigdon

Georgia State University

Atlanta

The real reason why Americans over-work has nothing to do with communication or collaboration. It is the corporate culture in which only the hardest-working few can survive and a belief that work is the most important aspect of life. The "Five ways to work smarter" totally missed the point, as they essentially only help workers save time. But if this work-is-everything mentality does not change, I guarantee you any time saved will not be spent on family or leisure (which should, in the long term, lead to higher efficiency at work and a better society at large) but on producing more of something else!

If there were a solution to this problem, it would be a complete change in attitude that life is more than work and that finishing early can be rewarded just as well as working late.

Stanley Ngan

Hong Kong

The 1990s rush to replace U.S.-viewed corporate liabilities (secretarial and clerical positions) with corporate assets (computers) so that one does his/her own file preparation, filing, address-keeping, letter-writing, voice-mail listening, etc., insidiously adds many hours of routine clerical tasks to almost everyone's weekly routine. The workforce today does in fact work harder and longer, but not better, as a result. Nor is it, traditionally speaking, more productive.

Paul Crovo

San Diego

"The overworked, networked family" is a sad commentary on family life in America (Cover Story, Oct. 3). Ignoring your kids at home while you work on the weekend is excused as "multitasking." Whatever happened to a family spending time together? Recent studies show that children are less likely to get into trouble if they have regular meals with their families. Turn off the computer and the TV and the cell phone, and ask your child how his or her day was.

Ken Jacobs

Christiansburg, Va.

As someone who has led a large project to reengineer a multinational company, I have seen how hard it is to change the "overwork" behavior that harms companies. One effective technique to reduce overwork and consequent organizational bottlenecks is to make sure people delegate to competent individuals in other time zones. A person who is working long hours to cover multiple time zones is either not letting someone else do their job or not developing the talent in those time zones capable of being delegated to. Unfortunately, delegation is often viewed as the first step of job elimination, so it's something people don't readily embrace. Fast-moving companies have decision-makers where the decisions need to be made.

Matthew Johnen

Corvallis, Ore.

Another reason we work into the night and into our days off is because our unsleeping computers, cell phones, BlackBerrys (RIMM), etc. entice us into doing so. It is not unprecedented for people to become extensions of their machines. The first assembly lines turned many satisfied craftspeople into tired, bolt-turning automatons. Most factory floors have been rehumanized, so there's hope for us office workers as well.

Irving Adler

Rye Brook, N.Y.

Re "Calming the crowd after Eisner's thrill ride" (News Analysis & Commentary, Oct. 3): With regard to the changes in Walt Disney Co.'s (DIS) stock price after the announcement of the appointment of Robert Iger as chief executive, investors and others might consider that at ABC, Bob studied under three of the greatest masters of shareholder value in American history: Warren Buffett, Capital Cities/ABC Inc. CEO Tom Murphy, and Chief Operating Officer Dan Burke. These three gentlemen, with the help of Capital Cities Chief Financial Officer Ron Doerfler, engineered the 1986 acquisition of ABC by Capital Cities Communications at a price of $6 billion and the subsequent sale of ABC to Disney in 1996 at a price of about $19 billion. During those years, stock appreciation was so great that the decision of whether to participate in the ABC employee stock-purchase plan was jokingly referred to as an IQ test.

Murphy and Burke also had the foresight and good judgment to recognize the leadership potential of Iger, elevating him to positions of increasing responsibilities.

Ted Van Weeren

Longs, S.C.

Editor's note: The writer is a former ABC Television Network finance executive who worked at ABC for 28 years.


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