Working hard or Work-a-holic? There’s a costly difference.

Working hard or Work-a-holic? There’s a costly difference.
February 15, 2023 Rob Artigo
In Podcasts

Is it easy to fall into the work-a-holic trap. Did you know that working 80 hours a week does not equal more productivity? Ray Zinn explains why in this new Tough Things First podcast.


Rob Artigo: I’m Rob Artigo, your guest host for this edition of the Tough Things First Podcast. I’m a writer and investigator in California. Here with me is Ray Zinn, the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley history. Hello, Ray.

Ray Zinn: Hey Rob, it’s great to be with you today.

Rob Artigo: Well, in the 37 years that you were CEO of Micrel Semiconductor, you were known for being a hard worker but not known as a workaholic. Give us an idea of the difference between, in your mind, what it is to be a hard worker versus being a workaholic?

Ray Zinn: Okay, so working hard, which is a hard worker they kind of go together. Working hard and hardworking are the same. They just switched the adjectives around. A workaholic is just like an alcoholic. It’s something that takes over, that you can’t do without. In other words, you can’t survive without working. There’s a big difference between working hard, or hardworking, and not being able to do something else other than work, like an alcoholic.

Ray Zinn cont.: And it’s very hard to break. Being a workaholic is a hard habit to break and it destroys homes. Just because you’re working 24/7 as they say for a workaholic, that doesn’t mean you’re hardworking. It just means you just like to be involved in doing your job, your function, not necessarily you’re getting a lot done. There’s a huge difference between being a workaholic and being hardworking or working hard.

Rob Artigo: I think that it might be an easy trap to fall into if you’re motivated, and you want to prove yourself in the business world, no matter what your level. Starting out or starting out in management, or starting a business, as we talk about a lot on this podcast. That it’s pretty easy to go from being a dynamic invested person in your business, or in your employment, to basically wrecking your life because you’re a workaholic.

Ray Zinn: There was this well known CEO at a very large tech firm in the Silicon Valley that, I won’t mention his name, but people will know who I’m talking about. He used to live at the office. I mean, he actually had a bed there in his office area. He used to call meetings at two o’clock in the morning. Maybe he didn’t have a happy home life, or family life, or whatever, but he just stayed at work. That’s the classic definition of a workaholic. Not that he got a lot done, he just got so caught up in the business and the company, it becomes like a drug. And he just couldn’t live without it. Again, a bad habit starts real easy. It doesn’t take much to start a bad habit, but it takes a long time to reverse a bad habit into a good habit.

Just like an alcoholic, a alcoholic has to go to Alcoholic Anonymous and has to learn to do without the alcohol. A workaholic has to learn to do without that being at work 24/7. What I did is, again, I think I worked very hard, but I had limits. I didn’t work more than 10 hours a day max and I didn’t work weekends. That was just a golden rule. I never worked weekends. Saturday and Sunday did not work. I did that for my entire career, and especially running Micrel for 37 years. But no one ever thought I wasn’t working hard. They just knew I wasn’t a workaholic. They knew I loved my company, I loved the job, I loved my people, because I showed that while I was there. While I was doing that hard work, I was showing that.

But they knew that when it came time for, to go home, I went home. I didn’t stick around and I didn’t work odd hours. I tried to work kind of an eight to five job as you would. Had breakfast with my family in the morning and had dinner with my family at night. I did that my entire career. And so that my family knew that they were more important than my job, because our families are more important than our job. Even though our job is part of how we provide for our family, our family is the most important and we need to focus on that and not on our job.

Rob Artigo: It’s a place where you are, it’s a work-life balance. But when you’re in management and you have to evaluate your employees, I mean, your habit of walking around. And talking to your employees and getting to know them, I’m sure helped to identify those people who need a little guidance in that area, so that they don’t become addicted to working 24/7.

Ray Zinn: I know there are families where the husband doesn’t want to go home. Maybe he’s got a wife and doesn’t want to go home because they have a difficult family situation, and so they find it convenient just to stay at work. It’s a safe place for most people and they just get in a habit of just not going home. I know some homes that if I had that kind of home, in my case, that I’d probably stay at work. I can see that happening. If I did see that when I was running the company, or one of my managers saw that, I asked them to look into it. Find out if there’s a family situation that we need to address, because if you got a happy family, you got a happy employee. If you got an unhappy family, you have an unhappy employee.

Family is really important and we focus on that at Micrel. That family is number one, and Micrel is just another place for you to provide for your family, but it wasn’t number one. The purpose of this podcast is to get those that maybe are having difficulty, not working in 24/7, to really look at your family situation. And understand maybe why you’re not at home with your family, where you should be. Work is important, but it is not the most important.

Rob Artigo: Your productivity, what you were talking about, that you’re not necessarily more productive when you’re there all the time. And that’s something that, an employee, you have to walk them through these things, and see if they can self evaluate what their situation is. And recognize what they’re doing so that they can accept the fact that they aren’t being more productive, just because they’re working a lot of hours. I mean, you see them chalking up the time, they’re always there. Their car’s there, the first car in the morning, and the last car to leave. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re contributing any more than if they had taken their time to step back and take those weekends off like you said you did. I mean, you were able to compartmentalize and go, “All right, weekend, time for family. I’ve got kids to raise, I’ve got a wife to take care of. To give her some of my time and company. I can’t invest it all in the business world.”

Ray Zinn: Or the vice versa. If you’re a wife and you’re the female, and your husband is at home taking care of the family, that’s not going to be a healthy situation either. Again, the purpose of work is to provide for your family. It is not the end all. Happy family, happy employee. Take time for your family. Don’t be a workaholic. Anything that’s aholic is bad. Whether it be a hobby aholic, or whether it be an alcoholic or a workaholic, whatever, it’s not good. You need to carve out enough time for your family. I don’t think you need to work more than 10 hours a day. If you have to work more than 10 hours a day, there’s something wrong. Either in your efficiency, your ability to schedule, plan, develop, whatever it is you’re needing to do to provide for your job, you’re just doing something wrong. You never should have to work weekends unless you’re like a high patrolman or a fireman, and you have to work weekends. But you should not have to work weekends as a regular basis.

Rob Artigo: It’s a tough thing to do at work-life balance to get it right, but with one of the soundbites we play going into the podcast, our intro here at Tough Things First includes the soundbite with you saying, “If you think that you have to work 80 hours a week to be productive, then you’re just wrong.” I think about that all the time, and that there are people who will boast that they put in 80 hours this week. And you have to wonder did they do only 40 hours worth of productivity during that period?

Ray Zinn: It’s like going to a lecture, you only get about the first 10 or 15 minutes of value out of a lecture, and the rest of it you’re off in some other sphere. Same thing in a class when you’re learning, taking an educational class, if you’re not getting the gist of it in the first 15, 20 minutes of that class, the rest of it’s going to be a waste of time. Same thing at work, if you’re finding out that you’re not getting your job done in a eight-hour period. And you’re having to come back after dinner or something and work until midnight or whatever, then there’s just something wrong with either your project, your skillset set. Maybe this is not the right job for you because you should be able to get what you need to get done on a regular basis. Now, I mean, there may be exceptions. We’re talking on a regular basis. You should not have to be there more than eight hours, or 10 hours.

Rob Artigo: Good advice. Well, join the conversation at toughthingsfirst.com. Your questions and comments are always welcome. Follow Ray Zinn on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Of course, pick up Ray’s books, Tough Things First, and the Zen of Zinn. One, two, and three, you won’t regret it. Thanks again, Ray.

Ray Zinn: Thank you, Rob.

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