Swim­ming against a worka­holic tide

The Washington Post Sunday - - JOBS -


I started a new job re­cently, and no­ticed right away that ev­ery­one in this fiveper­son of­fice, in­clud­ing the owner (my su­per­vi­sor), works at least nine hours a day. No one has specif­i­cally said I have to put in 10 hour days, but I feel like I’m com­mit­ting a ma­jor faux pas when I leave at 5 and ev­ery­one else is stay­ing un­til 6:30. I have a longer com­mute than the oth­ers, so my regular eight hour day is al­ready 11 hours long.

I don’t mind stay­ing late oc­ca­sion­ally, but I don’t want this to be­come a habit. There is enough work that even if I put in 16hour days for a month, I’d never catch up. How do I tell my co­work­ers 10 hours a day is not healthy and I’m not do­ing it? We’re all salaried, and there’s an un­der­stand­ing, though not a writ­ten pol­icy, that we can take time off when­ever we need.


Your three hour daily com­mute is ir­rel­e­vant. It’s ir­rel­e­vant be­cause you don’t need a “good” rea­son for want­ing to leave af­ter a solid day’s work. Stud­ies have shown that while an oc­ca­sional marathon can spur pro­duc­tion, a steady diet of 10 hour days has the op­po­site ef­fect — plus, as you note, it’s bad for your health.

A work­place that re­quires that kind of con­stant su­per­hu­man ef­fort just to stay afloat is grossly un­der­staffed, grossly mis­man­aged or both. I can see the owner in­vest­ing long hours in his own busi­ness, but ex­pect­ing the same of ev­ery­one he hires is un­re­al­is­tic, un­less he pays hand­somely or gives you some tan­gi­ble stake in the com­pany’s suc­cess.

Whether you failed to ask about work hours dur­ing the in­ter­view or whether he mis­led you, you’re over­due for a dis­cus­sion. The tone of your boss’s re­sponse — “Oh, just ig­nore us worka­holics” vs. “We all do what­ever it takes to get the work done” — should clue you in to his ex­plicit and im­plicit ex­pec­ta­tions and whether achiev­ing some kind of bal­ance is pos­si­ble.

But let’s be re­al­is­tic: Even if you get the boss’s all­clear to bolt at 5, you might as well be walk­ing around with a “Not a Team Player” sign taped to your back. Mar­tyring your­self for a cause you didn’t re­al­ize you were join­ing, how­ever, is the fast track to re­sent­ment and burnout.

I sug­gest you show that you’re will­ing to go the ex­tra mile when it’s ac­tu­ally help­ful. If you wrap up a project early, see if you can lighten some­one else’s bur­den be­fore you leave. If you telecom­mute or use public tran­sit, con­sider re­spond­ing to emails while you’re hav­ing cof­fee or sit­ting on the bus, so you’re putting in vis­i­ble ef­fort out­side the 9 to 5 win­dow. Stay late ev­ery so of­ten “just be­cause.”

And, of course, make sure your eight hour days are truly pro­duc­tive, start to fin­ish.

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