Dear Work Professional
How many hours a week are you willing to work to seem valued by your employer: 60…80…100+?
Unfortunately, for many, long hours at work is worn as a badge of honor. It’s a rite of passage. Long hours demonstrate the highest level of commitment. It is used as a tool to compare employees. It is one of the most treasured of unspoken corporate awards: The Long Hours Award. My career has benefitted from the Long Hours Award and I’ve been a victim of others winning the Long Hours Award. I have had many bosses that mistakenly held “hours work” as the benchmark for performance. I have had many that haven’t.
This is what I have learned.
Long hours equals long hours.
Long hours does not mean hard work. Long hours does not mean high value.
Not Hard Work
There are countless examples from my past about people who were “on the clock” but were effectively useless for many hours of the day. They were there to show they were there; they weren’t working hard; and they took long breaks, long lunches, and long desk chats. They got less done in 60 hours than I did in 40. But when the weekly overtime report came out, they were champions.
Not High Value Work
Ok, you’re burning the midnight oil. Every night. You’ve built in the expectations to your employer that your job is 1 FTE when it clearly isn’t. You can’t back down now. You agreed to the role. The thing is, when those hours tick by, you become less and less effective at your work. Every hour on the clock become mere minutes of productive effort if any. You aren’t fooling those who work under you, even if your work is still impressing those above you.
Loss of Life Balance
We aren’t built to work the hours we do. Our relationships weren’t either. Unless we’re married to our job and our best friend is someone at the water cooler. Here’s what you lose when you put too many hours in–personal health, family relations, volunteerism and personal breadth.
“But,” you say, “If I stop, I’ll lose.”
Who are you competing against? Where is the finish line?
You’ve already lost. Your company won.
Long hours in the office can wreak havoc on your health. The minimal amount of cardio exercise recommended is 2 1/2 hours every week. Include prep and clean up and that number can balloon to double that. And that’s the minimum. Your heart and health can hold for a while. You certainly can pack weight on through your 20s and 30s without really feeling it. At some point, it starts to catch up with you. Your blood pressure is suddenly high. You become diabetic. Your joints are aching all the time. You can’t catch your breath. Maybe it becomes a major medical event. Perhaps your quality of life suffers.
Maybe you are squeezing in workouts, at the expense of your family.
Work Family or Real Family
Do you think your spouse cares about your career as much as you do? Even if you think they do, how long will they think that before they change their mind? It’ll be sooner than you think. You’ll drift. Unofficially two separate lives until it becomes officially two. Your kids certainly don’t understand it. Eventually, they will become teens, teens you are or aren’t connected with. Those teens will make decisions that impact them as they enter adulthood. But I had to provide for them, for college. Then it’s too late for your to get off of the hamster wheel. You’ll get back what little time you invested.
So the school/church/neighborhood needs help. They know they can’t ask you. You’re too busy. Your spouse/child/friend is always embarrassed by the suggestion they ask you to help. You’ve already made your decision. Your career. Your work. You. YOU. All of those teachers, parents, coaches, helpers, and the army of people that helped you grow up, learn and become who you are today…
So you write a check instead. Bravo!
If narcissism is the trend from long hours, then here is where you lose. You gain tremendous expertise in one, infinitesimally-small slice of the professional world. Your expertise is limited to one industry, one company, one series of roles. If that company folds or downsizes or offshores your role, you may be looking at relocation or unemployment.
You running under the misassumption that all of your time is for your personal consumption.
Choosing to play the game of long hours at work will always catch up to you. Always. You may seem invincible. It may seem like you have everything under control. You may think people don’t know what’s percolating behind the scenes. Spoiler alert: you can’t win. I’m trying to head off your regrets before it’s too late for you.
Win the Award that Matters: Your Legacy
Start with working forty hours, not fifty, not eighty.
- Do a great, focused job while you’re working
- Give a little extra time on occasion when needed
- Balance the rest of your life and give time for others
It’s worth it.