It is Just a Job

This needs to stop.

We have been hearing for some time about life in the finance industry and how the most junior employees and interns cease to have a life when they start out at an investment bank or in many other parts of the sector. No one seemed surprised that overwork may have contributed to the death of a 21-year old intern in London late last year.

People have accepted that investment banking is a high-pressure industry with long hours but with the rewards of great pay. They have gone into this willingly, knowing (or at least suspecting) what they are in for. Still, the fact that the job might kill people is a bit ridiculous (and it is not just juniors…how many heart attacks, how much obesity, is caused by a career in this field?).

Now we are hearing about such stories from the creative sector, too, and I think this is where we cross the line from ridiculous to super-ridiculous. The death from overwork of an Indonesian copywriter last December sparked a conversation about how much is too much, and what the real importance is of creative work. Soon after her death, her father (also in the ad industry) defended the practice of working like this, essentially saying (and I am paraphrasing here) that she died doing what she loved.

Are you kidding me?

First of all, IT IS JUST A JOB. It is not worth killing yourself for work. It is not worth dying to make money, especially when the money you are making is for someone else. Employees need to pay attention to their bodies and know their limits and take care of their health. Leaders need to manage the workload so their people are not crushed by it, and need to ensure the workforce is big enough to fulfill the obligations the company is assuming. Leaders need to set the right tone, that work is important but your life comes first. Your employees’ work should be a part of their lives, but by no means the most important part of their lives, and it certainly should not pose a threat to their lives.

Having said that, there ARE some jobs where risk to life is expected. The military, police and firefighters, of course, willingly accept that risk because someone has to. Same with miners and deep-sea divers and others who do a job that has to get done; they take a risk on behalf of the rest of us. But copywriting? C’mon. That is insane. Nobody’s life should be put at risk to get a new print ad ready or launch a new website. There is a difference between working hard and working ridiculously, and leaders may need to help their employees see the difference.

Your best employees may be quite passionate about their work. That’s what helps the best of them be so good. But risking your life? Unacceptable. Leaders, help your employees find a good balance if they seem to have trouble doing that on their own.

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