Working in agency land and the corporate world was a real eye opener for this multitasking machine who likes to go home at 5:30. I found that many of my colleagues would not be efficient or effective as they could (or should) be during their standard hours, only to work back late and turn up late citing having “worked so hard and so late” and were both celebrated and sympathised for it.
Call me a snarky bitch, but I don’t think how late you work is a representation of how hard you work or the quality of the work you do. I don’t think that working overtime every day is a healthy work-life balance, nor do I think it leads to better productivity or output. I actually think it will be a detriment to you as an individual to work your life away and will ultimately result in burn out – either you will hate the job itself, the workplace or even the industry altogether.
I too have fallen victim to this mentality. I have stayed back at work late thinking it will garner me better “brownie points” in a new job, or that it’s a good thing to tell a client that I’ve “been burning the midnight oil” on a particular project. But what I struggle to understand is why this irrational behaviour is considered a mark of hard work or good work. Why, by working late or working longer or always being available, we are praised – as though we are robots, simply there to do the job, whatever it takes.
There is a real phenomenon of this found in Japan and China, where working culture dictates that you stay longer at your post than your boss – so even if you have done your work, you remain at your desk until such time as your superior leaves theirs. I saw some of this emerging in design agencies I worked in, where sometimes it was the creative director who had literally not come to their desk until midday and then wanted the whole team to stay back working on an “urgent deadline” they could have begun work on a week earlier. Sometimes the person is a manager who actually doesn’t want to go home and uses work as an escape mechanism, or the person is the business owner, who’s entire life savings and future are invested in the business. But none of this means that you, the employee, should be expected to, or praised for, working later or longer or harder.
I have friends who face the same issue. They work a late night for one day of the week, then turn up later the next day to “make up the time” – except that the reason they worked over was that there was more work on than they could do in the hours set to them. And so, by coming in late the next day, they don’t get as much done during those set hours and so have to work back late. Or work on the weekends, which then causes them to think that they can “slack off” during the working day – resulting in exactly the same problem they started with. It’s a vicious cycle that actually leaves these poor people with more work to do than they can do in the hours they have assigned, and no time for themselves constantly playing this “flexible working” game.
My personal belief is that you should do the work you can do, in the hours available. That you should work as efficiently as you can, always. Part of this is because the harsh reality is refreshing Facebook 5000x times during a day doesn’t actually matter, and doesn’t deliver anything of value – so don’t do that, just do your job when you’re supposed to. But the other part of it is because I believe in a strong work ethic and in working hard, while you’re at work. I also believe in work-life balance (something I want to talk more about later) and that achieving this is key to good health and longevity in whatever you do.
Show me your efficiency every day – show me your readiness to work on a Monday morning because you have had a weekend away from your job and you feel refreshed. Show me that you have new and great creative ideas that have come from space and a walk outside in the fresh air on your lunch break. Show me that you have been able to correctly identify that you simply have tasks in your day that cannot be done even. Show that you understand the role, the work, the things that you do, what they take to be done and the things you need to do to do them.
I think that is worth celebrating and of great value.