Swimming against a workaholic tide
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.