Dads work long hours, when we should get home early!

More than two times as many dads work long hours as do moms with the same education. Why? Because working long hours has become a status symbol — nothing’s as prestigious as talking about how busy you are. Yet Kaizen tells us that busy-ness is no sign of productivity, and I, as a dad, wish for more hours with my son every day. One HR Director quoted in the Harvard Business Review story asks “how do we get moms to work more hours?” My thought is the opposite: how do we get dads to work fewer?

Kaizen and Dad’s Long Hours

That’s where Kaizen comes in. The first muda — type of waste — that everyone learns about in kaizen is overproduction. And there’s a good reason for that — overproduced work product usually just sits there until people realize it’s not needed. This is particularly true for managers; that big project plan that you produced, just to be ready? Yeah, strategy will change in Q3 and then you’ll never get to it. It’s happened to me over and over again. Did it make you feel good to have it? Well sure, but the 47 hours required to produce it could’ve been spent elsewhere. What dad wants to work long hours for nothing?

Muda has two other matching m words that are famously forgotten when learning about Kaizen; one is muri — overwork, or overburden.1 In manufacturing, keeping a line moving at a steady pace — not too fast! — is a proven way to improve overall productivity and quality. I think it’s safe to say that 12-hour days are muri, especially when you’re doing six of them every week like I did in my first job.

Not only does muri lead to its own set of problems2, but it often leads to additional muda — low quality. After all, who does just as good work when they’re exhausted? There’s a reason they don’t let airline pilots fly all kinds of hours.

When I finally became a manager, my first thought was to make sure I was in before my reports and that I went home after them; I had to not just work long hours but work the longest hours, so that — in my head — I could ask more of them. Also: so I could look good compared to everyone. And when I say “good,” I mean “like a competent guy,” as if being competent and working long hours had any relationship.

If Mom’s Place is At Home, then Dad the Manager’s Place is…

From a Kaizen point of view, it’s actually worse than that — the work a manager is doing during those long hours is probably wasted. Why? Because of one of my favorite Kaizen details — the gemba. The gemba is, in business terms, where the activities that earn money take place. I don’t know where that is in your business, but it’s not at my desk in mine3.

How do top companies like Toyota get around this? They send the manager to the gemba! The manager watches, learns, and helps the team find ways to solve problems. That’s what a manager’s everyday job is — keeping the team working well. If Dad’s a manager, and Dad works long hours, and Dad’s team has gone home because he’s the first one in and the last one out, then… what’s being accomplished, again?

If the manager’s place is with the team, and the team has gone home, then… heck, I’m going home too!

Speaking of gemba, the gemba in raising a child is, of course, home, where the child is learning new skills and having formative experiences. When Dad works long hours, he’s not at the work gemba or the family gemba — his time is just wasted. Go home, Dad, and put in effort that matters with the baby!

What I’m Doing as a Dad to Not Work Long Hours

The first week I was at work when the baby first came along, I was excited to get home; I shot out the door at 5:15 every day. Somewhat to my surprise, I’ve very nearly kept it up! Sure, half the days I get out at 6, but that still gets me home before the baby’s last feeding of the night. I come in a little earlier, too, more like 8:30am — works out perfect if I leave right after the first morning feeding — and I make sure not to take a long lunch, so they get a full 8 hours out of me. As they say in that linked article:

Mothers won’t bite for a simple reason: if they work 55 hours a week, they will leave home at, say, 8:30 and return at 8:30 every day of the workweek, assuming an average commute time. Most moms have this one little hang-up: they want to see their children awake.

Well, that’s me too: I want to see my baby wake up, and I want to help put him to bed. Lucky me: I get his first and last feedings of the day, almost every day!

And how much less have I gotten done? There’s a kind of muda that isn’t officially in Kaizen, but which I think we all know: work expands to fit the time available. Since I set my new schedule, I’ve gotten just as much done — just with more urgency. It’s easier to prioritize tasks when there are more limits on which tasks get done, so only high-priority tasks are in my queue. And it’s easy to avoid the temptation to slack off when you know you’ll get to go home at a reasonable hour.4

So back to the beginning: some people ask how we can get moms to work longer hours; I say, hey, let’s have dads work shorter hours. And let’s be smart, and make those hours better hours too — we know how. And let’s get them back to making the most important thing — their child — with excellence! If Kaizen is right — and it’s proven in the marketplace — then we already know how!


  1. The other is mura, of which more on… someday 
  2. burnout, anyone? 
  3. I’m pretty sure that it’s where the programmers and salespeople work at my company. 
  4. This may sound familiar if you’re a GTD-type 

Wade Armstrong

Hi! I'm a dad in Los Angeles, CA. I work in tech, where I learned about lean & agile methods — thus the "Kaizen" part of the Kaizendad name. My hobbies include cooking and photography.

Los Angeles, CA