Are Folks with Families More Focused at Work?

Ann All

As I've written before, Google expects its employees to work pretty much all the time, and fills its offices with free gourmet food and other perks to entice them to do so. And Google isn't the only tech workplace with these kinds of expectations. More than a few employees of start-ups pride themselves on all-night work sessions fueled by Red Bull and an ever-present desire to find the next big thing.


But are these the kind of employees you want? 37Signals blogger David Heinemeier makes a compelling case to the contrary. Past experience has shown Heinemeier that workers who toil around the clock often provide "a crutch for shoddy management, lousy execution, and myths like 'this is the only way we can compete against the big guys.'"


Folks with families and lives outside of work, on the other hand, tend to be more focused and motivated to finish tasks than their colleagues. Writes Heinemeier:

From the experience I've had working with family people, I've found an amazing ability to get stuff done when the objectives are reasonably clear, the work appears to have meaning, and if it can be done within the scope of what should constitute a work week. When there are real constraints on your time, like you have to pickup the kids or make them dinner or put them to bed, it appears to bring a serenity of focus to the specific hours dedicated to work.

From my own experience, I find that having a family forces me to be more organized in my work life -- and life in general. I can't let myself get too sidetracked by projects and requests that aren't relevant to the tasks at hand.


Though I can't exactly say I have "the serenity of focus" that Heinemeier mentions, I am happier and less stressed now that I realize that few tasks are so important that they can't wait until the next day. People that convince themselves otherwise tend to suffer, as The New York Times noted in a recent article about the stress-related ailments of high-profile bloggers like Michael Arrington and Om Malik.


Productivity can also take a hit when folks try to juggle too many tasks at once, as evidenced by a study by academics Sinan Aral, Erik Brynjolfsson and Marshall Van Alstyne.


While it would be silly -- not to mention unfair -- to make a family a prerequisite for new employees, you may want to at least look for evidence that prospective hires have interests and lives outside work.

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