Working hard or hardly working?

The notion of “working hard” is a subjective one, and has changed over the last two generations to mean different things. “Working hard” used to mean putting in required time, usually long hours, week in and week out. Today, however, working smarter is more important than working longer. Working 12 hours a day doesn’t necessarily mean you’re working harder than anyone else, and working a shorter day might mean you are more efficient in getting things done.

It’s very difficult to objectively juxtapose the work habits of two different people. At a recent dinner, I had a conversation with a woman who had just retired from a 40-year teaching career. She insisted that she had “worked really hard” throughout that time, and although I have no doubts that she did, I began to wonder: Don’t most people believe they are putting in their best effort, especially when looking back at the end of a long career? Without the endorsement of her colleagues or supervisors, who’s to say that she worked harder than anyone else? It’s common to hear someone say, “You deserve it, you worked hard,” but without a comparison for good measure, how does one judge a person deserving of praise over another?

Even in the case of indifferent or lousy customer service, when the person on the other end of the phone or counter doesn’t care about the job they are doing, they might self-report that they are working their hardest. In today’s world, performance is measured by sales, creativity, timeliness and other varying standards—not just by clocking in and clocking out. This variation makes comparison between individuals difficult, and the idea of “working hard” is becoming increasingly hard to define.

How would you define “working hard,” and how would you show a potential employer, client or customer that you work harder than your competition?


-By Berbay Principal Sharon Berman

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