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Are You Working Too Many Hours?

Of course you are. Silly question. But now that I have your attention I want to ask a few more questions.

  • Do you feel you can never say “no” to requests…especially from your boss?
  • Do you  believe that long hours that bleed into the rest of your life are a requirement of your position?
  • Do you believe there is a one to one correlation between crazy hours and good performance reviews, bonuses and promotions?

If you answered “yes” to all these questions then you have put yourself in a position where you believe you don’t have control over your time. Your actions signal that you firmly believe that to be successful in your company you have to sacrifice a great deal. I don’t know about you, but not having control over my life feels awful. And if you feel awful then I’m guessing that both your work and personal life are suffering.

I can hear you now…because all my clients say this: But Nicki, I simply have to work this hard to get ahead/be recognized/do a good job. And then when I suggest that this is nuts and they need to be worried more about their well being I get loads of pushback. Lots of “I know my health sucks and I haven’t seen my family but this is just the nature of the beast.”

To which I say…bullshit!

I have facts on my side:

  • Human beings cannot be productive 24/7. We put in a good 6-8 hours of work and the rest of the time is either wasted or unproductive. Do your own math if you don’t believe me. In the 10-14 hours you are in the office/at your desk at home subtract the time you: chat casually with others, sit in meetings that are not relevant to your goals, surf the net for non-work related stuff, daydream in useless ways (some daydreaming is great), run errands/go to the gym during office hours, stare at your screen or redo your work. I’ll bet the real number of hours that you do your best work is close to 8.
  • We need 8 hours of good sleep each night to be productive. If you don’t get home until 7pm, have family time, then work at home for another 2-5 hours, sleep for 4-5 hours and leave the house at 7am you are not getting enough restorative time…which leads to ineffectiveness.
  • When we are in poor health even the simple things become more difficult. Thinking clearly, walking up a flight of stairs, breathing…basics.

That’s the physical reality. Here is the corporate reality.

  • Yes, many organizations and bosses are excessively demanding. But if you are doing good work within more reasonable time constraints no one cares how many hours it takes. All they care about is great outcomes.
  • When the vast majority of bosses are challenged about deadlines or volumes of work that are crazy they are generally open to rational discussions. They are rarely aware of the various demands on your time so it is up to you to spell it out and make recommendations for something that is more reasonable.
  • If the scope of your responsibility or performance objectives are inhuman there is a step that got missed along the way. Either you and your boss didn’t plan well or you didn’t speak up early enough or the company culture is out of control. Again, even in very high pressure settings, it is the rare boss that intentionally sets you up to live and die at the office or to fail.
  • People at the lower ranks are able to work 8-9 hour days. People at the very top put in about 10-12 hour days (not counting emergencies or late night board meetings). Middle managers, directors and VPs work at the office and at home between 12-16 hours. What’s wrong with this picture?
  • There is trash talk about parents/people who leave earlier than others and sometimes those people are passed over for juicier assignments or promotions. But the ones who really deliver are admired and do get good opportunities…sometimes over those that put in longer hours.

And here’s the personal and emotional reality for people who are working crazy long hours.

  • Ambition may trump all else. Whether you are in a start up trying to make it successful or climbing the corporate ladder work matters more than any other aspect of life. If that is the case (and it is not a bad thing) then understand that there will be holes in your life. No social or family life. Less sleep or health. And there are significant consequences to putting ambition before anything/anyone else.
  • Your identity may be inextricably bound to your work. You have poured so much into your professional life that if it was taken away tomorrow you might not know who you are/feel complete enough.
  • Co-workers will become your social network. That is fine up to a point. It gets tricky when you become your friend’s manager or when your emotional isolation from people outside of work causes you to turn to co-workers for greater intimacy or when your membership in a clique overrides your business judgment. Work relationships can become too important or too emotional. What happens to business, objective, unemotional decision making?
  • Lots of people under one roof for tons of hours a day creates a very closed system. This means that little new thinking, new people or outside influences can penetrate. The company and the people are serving needs that go well beyond doing a job. We are pack animals…we will do whatever it takes to protect our clan…even it is bad for the business.

You can already surmise my suggestions for a better way.

  • It is an illusion that you do not have direct control over your time. Stop being a victim (which has a whole set of problems!) and present your boss with a well thought out solution for how much time it will take to get your job done. As I say, if you are a valued employee, things will work out.
  • That said, it is easy to fall back into over working. So when your boss signs up for a reasonable schedule it is up to you to stick to it.
  • Carve out weekly time that is sacrosanct. Leaving by 5 on Tuesdays or limited computer time on the weekends or hours that your phone is off. Decide what is important to you (family, sleep, exercise) and commit to making it a priority. Work will still be there tomorrow. You want to be sure that your family or your health will be too.
  • Routinely fill your boss in on what you are doing and what needs adjusting. Bosses don’t keep track of that so it is your responsibility to share that so you can both create reasonable expectations.
  • Stop feeling helpless and out of control. This is the victim stuff. If you are allowing yourself to be in that position the issue is you, not the company.

I will grant you that some organizations and some bosses are completely insane. The question for you is are you willing to put up with that. If you look ahead 3 years will you feel that killing yourself paid off? Or will you feel like you sold your soul to the devil? You really, really do have a choice.

For more information on GetReal help: https://getrealleadership.com/get-real-help/

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