The myth of hard work

Many people believe that one of the keys to success in business is to work really, really hard. There is a compelling idea that if you put in the hours, you’ll be successful.

However, as a business coach and in my experience of working with hundreds of businesses, this simply isn’t true.

If we judge business success by my idea that running a business should make good money, and be lots of fun, working long and hard does not seem to correlate at all to the amount of money you make, and it certainly doesn’t make it fun.

Where does this myth come from?

The idea of hard work and long hours is deeply embedded in our culture.

It seems to come from a mixture of Protestantism (you can debate for yourself whether the Protestant religion has been better or worse historically than other religions at making people believe that it’s okay to be exploited).

And a historical culture where you had to work incredibly hard just to survive, usually because you were a wage slave in an industry which paid very poorly.

But this is the 21st century now, in the West. We don’t have to get up at 6 am to go down the pit, or milk the cows – despite all the talk of recession, we still live in a land of plenty for many of us.

What does the myth of hard work do to us?

In many ways, working hard can be very detrimental to a business. Working too much means that you don’t question your strategy for the business, and you just carry on doing the same thing over and over again.

I see many businesses where the phrase “flogging a dead horse” comes to mind. People are caught in a hamster wheel of sending out the same old special offers, discounting, or even worse, not doing any proactive marketing like writing an automated email series.

This is because they’re too busy looking after the customers who aren’t paying them enough money. I’ve written here about how you can say no to these customers.

How to have your cake and eat it

When I see a successful business owner, this is usually one who is not doing excessive hours.

I see a business where the business owner has a clear picture in their head of where they want to be, and I see someone who is very focused on what needs to happen, day by day, in order to get the business to the next stage.

I also tend to see people who are relaxed, who have enough time to spend with other people (and therefore be open to new opportunities) and who can wear the responsibilities of the business lightly.


In a successful business, the business owner is quite happy to delegate big chunks of the work to other people and sees their role as supporting others. So don’t feel guilty about how many hours you’ve done, or haven’t done.

Don’t take your work home with you this Friday, just make sure that your to-do list for next week is written and prioritised. Then you can have some fun, and when you come to work on Monday, you’ll be focussed on the important things.

Do you want more ideas for building a successful company?

I’ve written dozens of ideas and how to guides here at the Joy of Business to help you to build your business.

Some of them are in my Secrets of Business Success downloadable guide – see the bottom of this page for how to get your hands on this.

And here are some more articles you’ll find invaluable for creating the kind of business you want to be known for:

What we learn from Sara Blakely, inventor of Spanx

Are you a sponge?

How to recognise if your business might be failing


Photo credit – postcard of miners, put on Flickr by simpleinsomnia under a creative commons licence, mountain people on pxhere and Rawpixel from Unsplash.