During the past six years, I've met dozens of mid- to high-level executives in the auto industry from the Detroit 3 to the imports.
I am always struck by how most of them arrive at work by 7 a.m. and stay well past the dinner hour every day -- often taking work home to finish after the kids are in bed.
These 60- to 80-hour work weeks are so ingrained in the Detroit 3's culture that it's not even a part of the job description. It's a given.
I remember two executives telling me they felt “lucky” because their bodies only needed three to four hours of sleep daily. Another told me he's learned to sleep whenever and wherever he can, even on the shortest of airplane flights or cab rides.
And one boasted she only missed her son's school activities three times that year.
Granted, most of these folks are paid handsomely for keeping such a schedule. And most gladly do it. But ask yourself:
• Can an average person really sustain good health and sanity on that kind of schedule long term?
• Is it good for morale, the family unit and society for people to work to such extremes?
• What's the point of all that money when you have no time to spend it? (That's something one midlevel employee actually told me once he saw how much of his life he gave up for that big salaried job).
Some people have suggested the culture at the Detroit 3 needs to change for the automakers to attract and retain top talent -- especially after General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group filed for bankruptcy protection last year.
Here's an idea: Start having folks come to work around 9 a.m. and go home around 6 p.m. most days.
Ford Motor Co. showed its willingness to do that recently. It allowed two female engineers to share the job of program manager for the 2011 Explorer. The job is an 80-hour week position. So each woman works a normal 40 hours and the work still gets done.
Unless it's a top global level job that requires communicating daily to an overseas counterpart in a different time zone, maybe more folks should work 40 to 45 hours a week.
But you might ask how would this be possible when there's so much work to do?
There are options: Cut the bureaucracy, hold fewer and shorter meetings and empower people to make their own decisions instead of requiring dozens of others to weigh in. And, where appropriate, create job-sharing arrangements.
Consultants at hiring firms say the benefits of shorter or flexible hours benefit employers and employees.
After all, one has to wonder how many companies fail because of bad decision-making. And how many because of a lack of a good night's sleep.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this blog used the incorrect year for the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies.