By: Revanche

Workaholism: The quiet contagion

April 28, 2010

One of the oddest things about starting this new job is taking on a supervisory role, officially performing the duties I was unofficially in charge of in previous jobs, and going to a salaried position. I’ve never been salaried before and this is a dangerous thing.

I run with workaholics.  I always have. This particular set seems to avoid imposing their schedules on me, but when your peers or people you report to are diligently at their desks before and after you arrive …. well, I don’t know about you, but that gives me a touch of indigestion and I feel compelled to at least match their time in the office. That seems silly but most especially in the first six months, I think it’s crucial to do your best work and oftentimes, it has to be made evident via face time while you’re just learning the ropes.

The difference between starting this job and any other job in the last ten years is that while I want and expect to excel, I’m not willing to let the job take over my life. So rather than automatically resigning myself to mimicking their behavior, I’m on the lookout for ways to become extremely efficient and good at my job without having to log 14 hour days. As it is, I’ve naturally worked until almost 6:30 every night even on days where I’ve arrived before 8 am.

Part of that is the settling-in process: I have meetings back to back all day and very little time to do actual work. But every single meeting produces more reading, more meetings and more follow-up I’ve got to do. I expect that a third of the meetings will go away, but that’s only a few extra hours in a day.

The real boss has finally been in the office this week, so that’ll be part of the settling in process as well.

Does anyone else have problems balancing work-life-expectations?

16 Responses to “Workaholism: The quiet contagion”

  1. Danielle says:

    Of course. Welcome to the club. I spend more time with my assistant than I do with my husband.

  2. Oh, do I remember ALL those meetings and having little time to actually work. The sad thing… most of those meeting did not resolve any of the issues because everyone could never come to an agreement or wanted more than was adequate.

    Funny as it sounds, after reading Tim Ferriss’ book (4HWW) I quietly stepped out of those meetings (or declined via Outlook) and told them that if they really needed me than to please phone me. Now I have more time to work and I am still not missing out on a thing that goes on a round here. I still hold my lead role w/ efficiency and I get work done. 🙂

    Same goes with emails, I check them 2 hours before I leave for the day. Follow up on the priorities and put the rest aside until the following day. Rinse Repeat. If people need me urgently then they now walk in my office or phone me. Again, more time to actually work.

    You’ll find your balance. No doubt. But being new… your and your coworkers are still discovering your step. Once it settles you’ll be able to make more balance time.

  3. Red says:

    Ha, yes! Heck, I almost flunked my classes last semester because I tried to match my peers at the newspaper. But even if I didn’t have college to occupy me, I wouldn’t want to be at the office 24-7. And you know what? If you can get your work done within a smaller time frame than your peers, you shouldn’t feel guilty. You should be patting yourself on the back for being such an efficient employee! 🙂

  4. Anonymous says:

    The only thing I’d say is that you need to be very careful about how what you’re doing is perceived, and think about if you care about the potential repercussions.

    In the workaholic environments in which I’ve worked, the only people who worked shorter hours without it being a problem were receptionists, office managers, and the like– people who weren’t part of the team and weren’t responsible for meeting targets and deadlines.

    Other than them, the team people who consistently worked shorter hours were seen as unreliable flakes. Their opinions were not respected, and they were not seen as pulling their weight. They were a source of frustration, and people talked about them when they weren’t around. People openly wondered why they hadn’t been fired yet and wished that they would be.

    I can respect your wanting more of a work-life balance, and maybe your job isn’t the same kind of pressure-cooker environment as the places that I worked. But I will say that if your workplace is like mine were, you may not be doing yourself or your team any favors. My own opinion is that there are some jobs that you just don’t take if you want work-life balance.

  5. Jersey Mom says:

    Work smarter not harder. I like that you’re efficient enough to finish your work w/o having to spend all of your time at the office. At the same time, like anonymous said, you don’t want to be perceived as a slack off for leaving earlier than other people. I propose that you should “show off” a little bit to your boss. What I mean is to let him/her know what you’re accomplishing; it’s not kissing up. Put yourself in your boss’s shoes: what does she see; how does she evaluate who’s the better employee; what does she expect? Depending on her expectations and your work environment, you may want to spend a bit of time to ensure she sees how you’re contributing to the company.

  6. Ginger says:

    All. the. freaking. time.

    Our culture is messed up. We spend so much time working so we can “live” that we don’t end up living after all…

  7. Ruth says:

    I consider it one of the perks of being non-salaried right now. But I know that it’s possible once I step up. I just hope that since most of the libraries I’ve worked in are different from corporate places I’d be putting in an extra hour/half-hour now and then vs. extra hour+ every day.

  8. It may be expected, but it’s sort of a miserable way to live.

    I refuse to play the face time game. I think my office is pretty relaxed in that regard, but even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t hang around. I do get all of my work done, and if I need to stay late or come in in the middle of the night or work 18 hour days, I’ll do that. But if I’m bored at work, there’s no reason to put in extra time just to look good.

  9. eemusings says:

    Sometimes I do stay a little later just so that I can leave after the big boss does (when he’s at his desk). But that doesn’t happen too often.

    When I worked in a different department one summer where everyone worked at least an extra hour per day, I eventually felt so bad about coming in late and leaving early that I started matching their schedules. I wasn’t salaried, though, so I just logged the extra hours on my timesheet. I’d be much more reluctant to do it if I wasn’t getting paid.

  10. I seem to have traded a heavy work load for a smaller salary. I only work 40 hour weeks and am not even allowed to take my work home. But, I only make $35k a year. I’m okay with that, but it’s usually a trade off, right?

  11. Shelley says:

    It’s one of the main reasons I decided to retire early, this culture of all work no life. When they handed me responsibility (for no more pay) for 1/3 of England I could see I was going to be spending my life on trains going to meetings and that’s when I said no thanks. I found that the higher up the food chain I went, the less satisfying the work. If I were to return to work it would be for an ‘uncluttered job’ – clock in, clock out, forget it; I would avoid supervisory responsibility altogether.

    I don’t know an answer if the job culture really requires long hours. I would suggest you keep your health as your main priority. My experience is that work will step over your cold, dead body and keep on wheeling. I had a workaholic boss once who scared everyone with her relentless pace, but she actually respected my boundaries when I said I had a goal besides work (training for the London Marathon). It’s possible that we either misinterpret the culture or that people admire a renegade – as long as you deliver the necessary. Tough one.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you just start the job? How can you be complaining about work hours already? 8am to 6:30pm is pretty standard stuff in many industries.

    Perhaps you’re not cut out to be in the corporate world?

  13. You have every right in the world to consider your time. This is your life energy that you are giving to a corporation. I earned salary in retail management. Sometimes the salary was fair but when it was busy and I didn’t have enough staff I ended up working open to close at times and that salary ended up being less than minimum wage when I considered how many hours I was putting in.

    Once when family visited I had inventory and couldn’t spend time with them. I worked from nine in the morning til eleven the following morning, went home and slept three hours and came back in and worked three til midnight.

    Definitely set limits! Don’t be owned by a corporation, find joy in your life, and carve out big chunks of time just for you. Life is too short for it to pass by in a blur of meetings and commuting.

  14. I don’t think I could write something as succinct as the comment from I am the working poor.

    I agree wholeheartedly. You need to have you/family/SO time. Time goes by so fast!

  15. Yup. I used to work 60, 70, 80 hours (sometimes more, if you can imagine!) a week. After you grow up, you come to realize how counterproductive that is.

    a) No one appreciates it. If you’re doing more work than your colleagues, they resent you for it, and it’s unlikely to get you a raise or promotion. Those things are acquired by other strategies.

    b) You’ll make yourself sick with overwork and stress doing that. A healthy person needs to spend some part of her or his time and energy somewhere other than the salt mine.

    c) You should never work more hours than you’re paid to work. It’s a rip-off and makes you feel resentful at the employer’s exploitation of your values and good nature.

    d) If you can shuck the e-mail onslaught, the unnecessary meetings, the water-cooler socializing, and the tendency to gather wool, you can get most of your work done in 8 hours with no problem.

    e) Whatever you left on your desk will still be there in the morning! There’s no hurry to get everything done right this minute.

    It’s amazing how much “working smarter” changes your attitude toward your job for the better, even in an environment where morale is low.

  16. Revanche says:

    @Danielle: Ooof girly. Ooof.

    @Christine: Right now I can’t opt out of those meetings because they ARE useful (both informational to bring me up to speed, and decision making for me to give input and act upon) AND I’m new. 🙂

    I’m hopeful that I’ll find my pace soon, I always forget how long it takes.

    @Red: I’ll never work LESS time than my staff, but I’m going to worry a whole lot less about face time after I’ve established my competence.

    @Anon, 10 am: That’s a fair point, and I’m certainly keeping it in mind as I proceed, but it’s also important to set boundaries as long as I excel in my actual work and that’s made clear. I would definitely never work fewer hours if it led to missing targets, deadlines, or being unavailable when it’s important to be reachable.

    Thus far, I’m not expected to be on call outside of regular business hours and that’s demonstrated by the fact that my boss doesn’t ever try to reach me via phone or email though he can, and doesn’t reply to them either, unless it’s critical or he’s asked to be contacted during the weekend or off hours.

    @Jersey Mom: Well I’m not that efficient YET, but I expect to be. Make no mistake, fewer hours isn’t my goal: not letting work take over my life is.

    @Ginger: Yeps.

    @Ruth: Yeah, my staff are not allowed to work overtime, though I found out that some of them are working unpaid hours and I have put a stop to that.

    @paranoidasteroid: Pretty much what I feel. Why sit around being bored on the very few occasions that I might be bored? It’s vanishingly unlikely that it’ll happen much, but I don’t want to have a prisoner mentality if it does.

    @eemusings: I used to care about being seen at my desk by the big boss, but the structure is different now.

    @Budgeting in the Fun Stuff: Definitely, it’s usually a trade-off.

    @Shelley: There’s definitely a point at which it’s not worth going further up, I’m sure. I’m seeking supervisory experience because I think it’s a valuable skill, but it’s not the only thing I ever want to do.

    I do agree that it makes zero sense to sacrifice your life for a job – they are a business and must go on with or without you. It’s just the nature of the beast. And I do believe that you’re right: the culture may be one of workaholics but that’s also a personal choice. You needn’t conform if you’re always delivering the goods and don’t actually need the hours in office to do so.

    @Anon, 11:18 am: Where you’re incorrect is calling my statements and considerations “complaining.” I’m commenting on the current state of affairs knowing they will likely change, and I’m making sure that I perform higher than standard to make sure that they change in a way that’s beneficial to both me and my employer.

    There’s nothing in that statement that says I’m not capable of handling a corporate environment.

    @I am the working poor: I consider it a fair trade of time and effort for money, but there absolutely must be limits. I understand that the agreement is that I can and will work whatever time is necessary to get the job done – it’s just on me to make sure that I have the resources to get that job done in a reasonable amount of time.

    But if the demands become completely unreasonable or unmanageable, then I’d have to walk away from that job because I cannot let it consume my life.

    @Rina: It really does. I’m getting old!! 😉

    @Funny: I almost want to print up your comment and share it with every one of my staff. I know that seems counterintuitive but they need to know that there’s got to be work-life balance for them too!

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