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7 Signs of Greedy Work and Reasons to Stay Away

Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.

Greedy work takes time away from family and incentivizes those willing to work long hours and on demand.

Greedy work takes time away from family and incentivizes those willing to work long hours and on demand.

When Is Your Work or Job "Greedy"?

Having a flexible job is no longer as simple as being able to work as many or as few hours as you wish on any given day and wherever you'd like.

A company may offer "flexible working arrangements," but it could turn out that the job demands long hours on given days, whether it's because of workload or client needs. Advertising a job that's said to offer work-life balance isn't so straightforward anymore because greedy work is something that has existed for a while now—and probably a little bit under the radar.

What's greedy work, or what are greedy jobs anyway?

Forbes calls greedy work those "professions that demand long and unpredictable hours from those who wish to succeed in them." And Harvard Business Review has a near-identical description—"high-salary jobs with long, inflexible hours" that "exacerbate the gender pay gap."

Greedy jobs aren't anything new. The reason nobody talks about them that much is because of norms that have been accepted and established from profession to profession.

Say you're a young accountant fresh off graduation. In order to fit in and get noticed inside a cutthroat accounting firm, you're expected to work early in the morning until late at night—and if you get stuck in the office when it's dark, you're probably going to end up sleeping there and restart the very next day.

The same scenario applies to a junior legal associate at a prominent law firm, an entry-level programmer at a startup, or even a doctor in the first few years of residency—the hours are brutal, and rest becomes a luxury.

And what is it that makes all of this even sadder?

You probably didn't imagine that a single mother, or even a married woman with kids, could ever work those jobs I just mentioned.

Greedy jobs are unfair because only a few types of people seem to be able to work them—and probably not for long. Plus, the financial/career rewards are present for those willing to indulge in them. Could greedy work be a type of ageism? In any case, if you're seeking a work-life balance, greedy jobs are something to veer away from.

Here are seven signs that you might be working a greedy job.

1. Unpredictable Hours

I once believed that it was enough for someone to work "flexible hours" in order to attain a work-life balance. However, remote work during the pandemic showed me in a practical sense that when your company offers flexible hours to you, you have to offer flexible hours to them, too.

This means that when the work demands it, you go the extra mile and take that extra late-night meeting or take that customer call when you're in the middle of having dinner with the family. It took time for me to realize that predictable hours were the real key to less demanding, more flexible work.

A logical byproduct of greedy work is unpredictable working hours because the "knowledge work" professions that grew more remote during the pandemic—finance, consulting, law, research, etc.—became more available in the sense that you could expect a remote professional to be one email, ping, chat, or text away. The result was unpredictable working hours, or "working all the time."

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Granted, hours for young professionals at prominent, competitive organizations were already bad before the pandemic—but at least they were a little bit more predictable. Back then, you were either in the office or at home. Now that everyone can work everywhere, greedy work has become greedier, and burnout has become a pandemic unto itself.

2. Disproportionately More Men in Higher Positions

Another symptom of unknowingly having a greedy job is noticing that there are disproportionately more men in higher positions than women in your company. Is this circumstance simply gender-based bias in the workplace? Not all the time. It might also show that the jobs in your organization are greedy in the sense that only those willing to forego family time or sacrifice time off are able to sustain their career and prosper.

And more often than not, these are men who, because societal norms don't expect to "take care of the kids" or "keep the house clean," are always available to do more work. That said, we are already starting to see a shift in today's world of work. More and more women are occupying high positions in prominent companies.

Sheryl Sandberg is no longer the lone lioness among the execs that run the private sector—Mary Barra of GM is there, and there's Safra Catz of Oracle. Slowly but surely, what used to be greedy work has started to become more inclusive. But we're not yet there. So, for now, if you observe your company having way too many male leaders, that could be a bad sign.

3. Very Loose Overtime Pay Policy

A relaxed overtime policy means that workers can render overtime anytime they want (which managers would probably like) and get paid for it. A strict overtime policy usually means that rendered overtime hours have to be scheduled and enter an approval process. And that approval process could be as troublesome as having to get the green light from a VP, or worse—the CEO.

What I noticed among all the places I worked at was that the looser the overtime policy was, the greedier the work became. When I say the work became greedier, I simply say more demanding. The tighter the overtime policy was, the more flexible things actually were—because the company or bosses weren’t expecting you to work extra hours!

It could all just be for financial reasons that companies become either loose or strict on overtime. But if you’re working a job that easily approves any overtime pay, you might be falling for a very bad trap. Loose overtime policies are observed in corporate law (where they can bill the client more), accounting (where there’s always too much to do), healthcare (where there’s always not enough staff to cover), and other notorious professions.

4. More Focus on Creating In-Office Perks

Why do you think some companies go over the top in adorning the office space with foosball tables, free coffee, pricey lounge furniture, and other perks? Is it because they want you to enjoy your eight-hour workday there until you leave on time every day, or is it because they want to lure you into staying there and never leaving?

The latter is probably an exaggeration, but you get the message here—employers want to make the office homey, so you don’t have to be at home so much. If you notice that your workplace has this kind of feel, or if it becomes too emphasized in your workplace that "you have everything you need right here in the office," then that could be a red flag of a greedy job.

5. Free Food All the Time, Everywhere

An extension of making the office your home, offering free food all the time and everywhere is a tell-tale sign of greedy work. Free full meals and sometimes a fully functioning cafeteria with unlimited refills are pretty much the scene at well-known tech companies—a perk that startups desperately try to imitate with free snacks and lunch coupons.

You probably saw it first on the hour-and-a-half-long advertisement for Google starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn called The Internship. Free, unlimited food used to be a novel in-office benefit, but now it’s really more about keeping employees closer to the office and having them work more.

You may consider yourself lucky when you get to eat free meals at work, and you may be able to convince yourself that working more is simply the least you could do to give back to the company for being so benevolent. How’s your freedom, by the way? How’s your life outside the office?

6. Difficulty in Disconnecting

You’ll notice in some jobs which, although you’re only required to work 30–40 hours a week max, you still get messages or calls at all hours of the day. And so, are you really working shorter, more flexible hours when work can come up anytime?

Being able to completely disconnect is something greedy work can never offer. And even if you’re able to physically disconnect from work, when you get home, you’re probably still thinking about it. Or worse, your dreams would probably be a scene from one of your meetings that went wrong!

7. Compromised Family Time

Last but not least, and probably more of an outcome of greedy work than it is a symptom—compromised family time. It’s known that Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta, still finds time to always be at the dinner table. But obviously, not all workers can be like her—not many workers in the greedy jobs sector, in fact, can opt for better working schedules. More devotion to work means more money when it comes to greedy work, and that means less time with everything else.

When you notice that your time with family has become compromised to the point where you cancel all the time or you're not even being present when you’re physically there with them—your work is obviously greedy. And you don’t have to be a resident doctor, or a corporate lawyer, or a McKinsey consultant, or a Michelin-star chef to be working a greedy job. Any work can be greedy in this day and age.

I Hope You Find Your Balance

This article was not written to judge you on what you’ve chosen for yourself or for what you may want for your work life. Whatever your path may be, I hope you’re able to find your balance, and I hope it’s worth it.

Greedy work goes beyond work-life balance, and its implications on the gender-pay gap, or even discrimination on age, medical condition, etc., deserve much more attention than it is currently receiving. This is also one of the reasons that the people occupying the highest positions among organizations are better off when diverse.

Diversity in leadership breeds more understanding and empathy, and hopefully, one day, we will no longer reward people based on how devoted they are—instead, we notice the impact from those who make it look so easy.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Greg de la Cruz

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