“Christmas Eve, when I was reviewing the procedure manual, I noticed a problem.” That’s how an acquaintance of mine once began a meeting.

Were it anyone but him, I would have thought, “What a phony!” However, knowing this individual, it was perfectly believable that he was, in fact, reading the procedure manual on Christmas Eve.

To give you some idea about this fellow, he was once so upset about forms being filed incorrectly that he proposed the “Rainbow Record”— a filing system in which the forms in each record were printed on colored paper. He designed this so that the correct sequence of forms would mimic the colors of the spectrum, (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) like a rainbow. Unless you missed that unit in fifth grade science class or were color blind, you could immediately tell if a form was out of order. Mercifully the expense of colored paper laid this brainstorm to rest.

The other people at the staff meeting were not convinced that Dave’s Christmas Eve comment wasn’t just one-upsmanship so they tried to top him saying things like, “Well, I didn’t notice the problem last week when I was reading the manual at my daughter’s wedding reception;” and “I suspected there was something wrong that time I was studying our procedures in the recovery room after my brain surgery, but I always assumed it was just the anesthesia.”

Except for high-powered young professionals on the fast track, the venerable Japanese business custom of working yourself to death to please your employer has never really caught on in Middle America. Americans, however have shown considerable interested in finding ways to appear to be working harder, in order to beat out the competition for promotions, raises and status. The Wally character in Scott Adam’s Dilbert cartoon strip depicts someone who has developed this into an art.

The incredibly messy-looking desk and lugging home a gigantic briefcase full of work each night are traditional ways to demonstrate your corporate dedication, but putting in long hours is the sine qua non of the company man or woman.

Since the opposite is also considered true, it explains a boss I once had who would visit subordinates’ offices a few minutes before five every Friday to finger employees who were taking off early for the weekend. Around 3 o’clock Friday one coworker would turn on all his lights, spread work papers across his desk, and place a large slow burning cigar in the ashtray (this was back in the days when smoking was still permitted in offices) . Then he would take off for the weekend, abandoning both his coat and briefcase and leaving a cheery note (“Be right be back!”) on the door. I often wondered how long our boss hung around to see if the guy ever came back, but, of course, I never found out since I was already gone.

Some people have themselves paged at the start of boring meetings, both to escape the tedium and to establish how indispensable they are elsewhere. In addition to the pager, modern technology has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for demonstrating how hard you work. For example I knew a guy who sported every conceivable electronic communication device strapped around his waist, so that he looked like something out of Batman. You would be talking to him and suddenly he would start violently vibrating, like he was being electrocuted. Then he would jerk one of the phones to his ear, as if the President was calling on the hotline. It may have only been a reminder to pick up some milk on the way home, but I was always impressed by these performances.

Voicemail and e-mail have also made it possible to return messages at virtually any time so that others might think you are working around the clock. I have heard that both presidents Kennedy and Clinton would call their subordinates at all hours of the night asking complex policy and technical questions. They may have been sincere but I bet most other have simply parlayed their insomnia into a way of appearing devoted to their jobs. In addition to its workaholic overtones, returning voicemails or e-mails at 3 a.m. has the added advantage of not actually having to communicate with the sender of the original message. With high speed communications everywhere, perhaps we are too connected for our own good. In the good old days when you would wake up in the middle of the night with a backache or anxiety attack, you could comfort your heart with a tear jerker on TV, improve your mind by reading a classic novel, or even feed your spirit with a few choice Psalms. I don’t know about you, now I just check my e-mail.

A final variation on the “I am always working” theme is what I refer to as “Vacation Interruptus,” which, of course, involves conducting business during your vacation. Somehow answering e-mails on the beach just seems perverse. Even if it is just a scam to look good, it shows a dreadful lack of priorities. Of course, the hidden danger in all this, is the fact that appearances often become realities. Constantly trying to look busy ends up taking up just as much time away from your life as work itself.

Dedication and ambition and certainly have their place, but balance may ultimately be more important. So, unlike my friend, set your multiple cell phones to stun and remember that on their deathbeds, no one ever says “If I could do it over again, I sure would spend more time at work.”

Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com or 812-206-1234.

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