The idea worker is not me and it likely isn't you.
The ideal worker doesn't take parental leave when a child is born. He or she has no need for family-friendly policies like flexible schedule, part-time work or telecommuting. The ideal worker doesn't need to find babysitters, deal with school closures or worry about child-care responsibilities.
The ideal worker, freed from all home duties, devotes himself completely to the workplace. He or she is a face-time warrior, the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night. He or she is rarely sick, doesn't take vacation and is willing to hop on a plane whenever needed. The ideal worker will answer email at 3 a.m. or pull an all nighter if asked. He is the guy who works endless hours, even if it cost him or her their health or family.
In her book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play when No One Has Time, Brigid Schulte brilliantly points out that the notion of the ideal worker wields immense power in the American workplace. "We are programmed to emulate him at all costs, or at least feel the sting of not measuring up," she notes.
Here we are in the 21st Century, one in which most women and men work and most have some kind of home responsibilities. Yet, as Brigid points out in her book ( a must read!) most of us are being penalized because we can't meet the expectations of the ideal worker.
This outdated notion of the ideal worker is a big reason why some education mothers disappear from the workplace and why some men hate their jobs. "Fathers are stigmatized when they seek to deviate from the ideal worker," Brigid writes. That leaves men with children faced with a sharp choice — either they choose not to be equal partners at home or they choose to be equal partners and hurt their careers, she writes.
What's it going to take to zap this longtime definition of the ideal worker?
That's a loaded question because with fast emerging technologies, the ideal worker is now expected to be on call and ready to roll all day, every day, all the time. Even worse, people who work for ideal worker managers sleep less than those who have flexible managers and are at great risk for heart disease, Brigid points out.
"No matter how much you do, how hard you work, how much you sacrifice, how devoted you are, you can never attain the ideal," Brigid convincingly argues.
So, here we are raising our kids, trying to please our customers and bosses, working crazy hours, and still, the workplace demands more. We are stressed. We are exhausted. We are on an unfulfilling search for happiness and we need a new definition of the ideal worker. NOW.
My definition of the ideal worker is someone who gives work his or her full attention while at the office and refuels once he or she leaves. My definition includes working parents who take their vacations, fathers who take their children to school or meet with their teachers, and singles who take time to do activities they find enjoyable. Under my definition, the ideal worker doesn't necessarily work less, he workers smarter and more innovatively.
If the outdated notion of the ideal worker is ruining your life, causing you to be overwhelmed and unsure of whether you can ever please everyone on the job and at home, it's time to work toward change. We can make the new definition stick, we just need to acknowledge it needs changing and get the movement started.