I work long hours but don’t want my staff to feel pressure to do the same

A reader writes:

So, I work a lot. I try to keep a healthy work/life balance, but I really like my job so the scales definitely tip toward the work side. Sometimes it gets a little too tipsy, especially recently due to some fluctuations at my workplace.

Recently I have taken over the management of a team in a coworker’s absence, and I am worried that my obviously constant work schedule is making my team feel like they have to follow suit. It’s fine for them to work 40 hours a week, but I’ve noticed stuff like them staying a little late, or offering anxiously to work/be available on times when they’re not obligated to be (for example, saying they’ll work from home when they are sick, etc). I always tell them that they don’t need to. I’ve also gotten a few comments like, “You are always working!” that don’t come off as passive aggressive or anything at all; my reading is more that they feel bad that they aren’t shouldering the load, or something.

I’ve tried to assure them that they don’t have to work anything like my hours in subtle/low-stakes ways, since it feels like saying “You don’t have to work as much as me” directly just comes off like a humblebrag that is actually saying that they aren’t working enough?

How do I make clear that I don’t expect them to follow my lead without sacrificing the work/life balance that works for me — or, at times like now, where it’s a lot even for me, without dropping the ball on the extra stuff that has to get done that I can’t delegate?

I so relate to this. When I like my job, I like to work, and I feel better just getting things done so they’re not hanging over me later in the week, and I often work an excessive number of hours, and I sometimes send work emails at 1 a.m. … and none of that has ever meant that I’ve expected the people working for or with me to work those sorts of hours.

The thing is though … when people see their boss working those sorts of hours, they’re going to think they’re expected to work long hours too. Or they’re at least going to worry about it and possibly resent what will feel like pressure. The kinder among them will also look for ways to take work and stress off your plate and on to their own, even if it means increasing their own hours.

There are things you can do to counter this, although they’re not always going to be 100% effective.

* Most importantly, you can be very, very direct with people about the situation and what you do and don’t expect of them. You can say things like, “I’m in a busy period right now where I’m working in the evenings because of X and Y, but it’s really important to me that you don’t feel obligated to follow suit. I expect you and others on the team to work about 40 hours a week, and I would be alarmed if anyone felt like they needed to do more.” You said you feel weird about being so direct about it — but be direct! It’s the best option. You don’t want people to have to read cues or guess at what you do and don’t want. That leaves too much room for misinterpretation. Tell them directly!

* You can also keep an eye on what kinds of hours people are working and intervene if you notice people working more than you think they should be. You can say things like, “I noticed you were working on this at 8:00 last night. How’s your workload? Where can we adjust things so that you have your evenings free?” If you do that type of intervention, people will take you more seriously when you say they don’t need to work long hours. (If you don’t do that type of intervention, it’s easier for them to think you don’t really mean it.)

* You can also change some work habits so that your hours aren’t quite as in people’s faces. For example, don’t send emails late at night. Save the draft to send in the morning or, if your mail program allows it, set the email to send on its own at a more reasonable time. That doesn’t mean that you need to go underground with your late-night work, but for people who are worried about what hours their boss might expect of them, arriving in the morning to see a slew of emails sent at 1 a.m. can be disheartening.

But bigger-picture, I urge you to rethink your own hours. I totally get it, as I said above, but you are modeling behavior for your staff whether you want to be or not. Plus, while you’re willing to work these hours now, what happens if at some point in the future you’re not, but you’ve set your employer up to believe that that your workload is reasonable? What about the poor person who replaces you and discovers they signed on for a job that’s way more than full-time? It’s in your employer’s best interests to know how much work the person in your role can reasonably take on, and right now they’re getting inaccurate messages about that. It’s also in their interests to ensure you don’t burn out.

To be clear, it’s one thing to temporarily increase your hours when something important comes up that just has to be dealt with and nothing else can be pushed back. That’s part of being a manager. But that should be an exception, not your normal way of life.

Signed,
a huge hypocrite on this issue who works way too much, but is trying to change that

{ 169 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. PizzaSquared

    This just makes me wonder about where to find these magical jobs that I like enough that I’d want to actually work long hours voluntarily…..

    Reply
    1. Crivens!

      Right? Honestly, I think it might be a personality type thing. I can’t think of a single job anyone could offer me that would make me want to work long hours, ever. But then again I’m one of those people who would never work another day in their life if I suddenly became wealthy.

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      1. Peaches

        I totally agree! There is literally no job where I would want to work long hours. I value getting off of work at 4:30 P.M. 99.9% of the time more than almost anything else at my job.

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      2. merp

        I’m only recently deciding to stop feeling guilty for feeling exactly this way. It was a weird pressure I put on myself that made me feel inherently lazy or something just because I would rather not work (which I don’t think is true, and is certainly not something I would apply to other people!). So it’s nice to find others who feel like this!

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        1. Archaeopteryx

          There was a great NY Times article recently about the rise of “hustle” and promotion of unhealthy performative workaholism, especially in tech. It’s toxic and it only benefits the very wealthy– it’s great if people have jobs they love and work hard in, but you’ve got to give the rest of your like at least as much attention!

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        2. Kaimana

          Same! I feel simultaneously like I’m stating the obvious, and also revealing a deep character flaw to admit that I would rather not work. It’s work and I do it to survive, but I don’t find my life fulfillment in sending emails and fighting with Excel, and that’s OK, even normal.

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        3. GoBlue!

          There’s a good TED talk about how the concept of “following your passion” is silly, I’ve linked it in my username.

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      3. londonedit

        My absolute dream is some kind of lottery win that would allow me to stop work and just fill my days with whatever I fancied doing! I’m totally not a live-to-work person. Sometimes I feel guilty for my ‘lack of ambition’, because I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder (in fact I did that for a while, and it sucked, so I took a few steps back down the ladder and am much happier) but I’m the kind of person who just wants to feel satisfied with what they’re doing, earn enough to pay the rent, and not have to spend all my time working. I really like my job at the moment, but I purposefully get to work early so I can leave early and have as much free time in the evenings as possible. I can’t imagine wanting to spend my evenings at work!

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      4. SavannahMiranda

        There are people who do what is called FI/RE (Financial Independence, Retire Early). Meaning they work their tails off for a set block of years while living extremely frugally in order to squirrel away a massive nest egg, and retire at 30, 35, or 40.

        Many of them come back from the RE part of it and choose to take consulting work, serve on community boards, take ‘fun’ jobs they want to do, and other forms of non-retirement. Because retirement isn’t all it’s chalked up to be.

        I’m not FI/RE (wish I could be though), but I am definitely the type who would be pulling my hair out within 6 months if I won the lottery and suddenly had nothing to do. Doesn’t mean I’d do the job I have today! Not by any means. But I can’t not work. I’ve already had that experience and I lose my everloving mind extremely quickly.

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    2. Jubilance

      Ditto!

      I’ve never had a job where I’d rather do it, than anything in my personal life. Maybe I’m just a slacker…

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    3. Bibliovore

      I am not sure there is a formula for magical job. I think of that every time they send around that engagement survey. I have been lucky to have jobs that I loved getting out of bed for-for over twenty years. Maybe that is a good Thursday question.

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    4. ThatGirl

      I like my job and more importantly I start to have anxious stress dreams when there’s too much work – I would prefer to spend a few extra hours per week Getting Things Done during our busiest season so it doesn’t linger. On the flip side, though, I think it’s silly that I have to make up 3 hours in the summer when we’re let go early on Fridays – there’s just not as much to do.

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    5. Pudgy Patty

      Co-sign, co-sign, co-sign. Working as a concept just makes me so anxious; I think it’s because I get bogged down in my frustrations of working with people, rather than thinking I’m doing anything of value. I work hard, and I do put in extra hours, but I pretty much hate every minute of it.

      I have been working long enough now to know that I will never find a job where I’d voluntarily work more than the minimum acceptable amount. As someone else says, this has to be a personality thing.

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    6. Miss Fisher

      I work with someone who will email me at 3am. I called her the next day and asked her about it. She said she couldn’t sleep so she might as well work. She also emails me while driving. And she only took 1 week of her 5 weeks vacation last year, and called and emailed all during that week. It is just her personality. I don’t think she likes the work that much but that she just has to have that control over it. If I cant sleep, I sure am not thinking about work in the middle of the night. I would rather read a book or watch tv… anything else. I love my job, but I am on salary, so I don’t plan on working more than the 40 hrs expected unless occasionally since I am not getting overtime pay.

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      1. Turquoisecow

        Yeah I think some people work so much they don’t have hobbies. I worked with a woman who was on chemo and everyone was telling her to stay home but all she did when she was home was watch tv. She never developed any hobbies because she was always working long hours.

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        1. SavannahMiranda

          I am a hobby-less person because I like working. It’s not a punishment to me or anxious fakery. Do something remunerative that makes a difference for other people? Or…knit, I guess? Give me something I get paid for that moves a project forward for someone else in the world.

          Unless watching BBC videos on YouTube is a hobby (it’s not, but Lucy Worsley is a delight).

          This is so revealing. I’m learning so much from this thread.

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          1. SavannahMiranda

            I realized that last line sounded a little off-tone and I thought I’d clarify. This thread is revealing so much to me about myself! I’m learning so much about how I fit in, or don’t fit in, with people with good hobbies.

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    7. Dr. Doll

      One hundred percent agree!

      And here I am in an environment where people see sleep deprivation and the wreckage of personal relationships as a badge of honor. I refuse to play.

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    8. MissDisplaced

      When I was doing my graduate school I happily worked 10-12 hours a day and often late at night writing my papers or reading. But I wasn’t working outside of school, and after years of working a full time job AND night college, it honestly felt like bliss.

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    9. Jules the First

      I have one of those jobs where I (mostly) volunteer to work long hours. I love what I do, it’s endlessly challenging and enjoyable, and I thrive on working with people who are passionate about what they do.

      Is it always fun to work late? No. Right now, for example, I’d rather be in bed instead of waiting for a file to export, but I know if this project goes well, it will be well worth it. I do work very hard to make sure my team don’t work anywhere near the kind of hours I do – I make proportionately a lot of money and I work in a bunch of timezones and realistically speaking, it will make literally no difference to their career paths whether they work my hours or not. I do insist that they be willing to stay late if they have a project due, but I never ask my team to work hours I wouldn’t be prepared to work.

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    10. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

      I like working because it gives me a structure. When I’m not working, even if I have plenty of money to live on, I tend to just spend my time messing around and not really doing anything I want to do. But I also don’t work overtime unless I can’t help it.

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      1. Asenath

        I like working well enough, and it is partly because of the structure it gives me, although I do try to keep some structure in my personal life of things I also like doing. I do tend to put in very long hours from time to time, but it’s mainly because I want to get some specific task done and off my plate – perhaps it’s a combination of perfectionism and obsessiveness, but when I get to a certain point in a certain kind of task, it’s really easier to keep going than to stop and pick it up again the next day. And I can get time off in lieu of overtime pay.

        I used to be a teacher. One of the things I really hated about that work was the way marking and often lesson prep too simply expanded to fill up all the available time and a lot more – and the part of me that gets satisfaction in finishing off the more clerical and admin work I do now never ever kicked in with that kind of work.

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        1. SavannahMiranda

          “perhaps it’s a combination of perfectionism and obsessiveness, but when I get to a certain point in a certain kind of task, it’s really easier to keep going than to stop and pick it up again the next day”

          Yes, this. If I’m on a roll, for the love of god don’t try to make me stop.

          If you make me stop, it will take twice as long to pick back up again. Let me get things done! If that means 8:00 pm, that means 8:00 pm. I’d rather work until 8:00 pm than try to put my brain back into the same mode at 8:00 tomorrow morning.

          I mean, the work has to be done anyway. The project isn’t going away between now and 8:00 am. The requirements aren’t changing. Let me get it done when I know I’m in the zone!

          I’ve been known to bite people’s heads off if they try to make me stop working. (Looks down and shuffles uncomfortably.)

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    11. London Calling

      I did have one. I was happy to work after hours and come in weekends to get stuff done, then I was made redundant by that company after 12 years and all of a sudden there was a magical transformation in my attitude. Now the only time I work over hours is to make up time.

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    12. SavannahMiranda

      I had a job like this. We were helping companies to go public with their IPOs. I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. Worked long hours and had fun doing it.

      I left based on personality differences and a misunderstanding about the new job I was taking, and almost immediately regretted it!

      For me, what made the difference was very high standards for quality work product (its demoralizing to see poor work product found acceptable), a cadre of extremely driven and highly organized people (these folks got! stuff! done!), and quality leadership in the rank of bosses and supervisors (no drama, no muss, no fuss).

      I think those characteristics could be promoted in many different workplaces. They aren’t industry specific. I’d kill to have a job I liked that much again.

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  2. BRR

    Another part of adjusting your behavior, if you’re staying in the office late can you leave at a regular time and work more from home? It’s really hard to accept when your manager says you don’t have to stay late and they’re there late. At the very least, if they don’t see you working it might help them not feel (self-inflicted?) pressure). But as Alison said, modeling behavior is really the best thing.

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    1. The Original K.

      Yeah, I had a workaholic (her words) boss. She worked remotely once a week and on that day you’d see emails starting at 5 AM. She worked nights. She worked weekends. She worked holidays. She worked constantly and we knew she worked constantly, and it was very hard to feel like we didn’t have to work constantly (and she actually kind of did expect us to work constantly, which was a different problem than the OP has) when we had so much evidence of her work habits. One of the team members had a baby and a long-ish commute so her departure time was firm in order to get to day care before it closed, and it was incredibly stressful for her to feel like she was “leaving early.”

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      1. valentine

        I always assumed bosses would work late doing boss stuff and would delegate rather than work late unnecessarily, so, nothing to do with me.

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    2. Ama

      My boss does this. It is largely because she now has a child and so tries to leave exactly at 5 a couple days a week to spend more time with him (and then does work at home after he goes to bed), but having her leave before us at least a few days every week really does make it seem more okay for us to leave before her on the other days.

      I’ll also say when she happens to see us preparing to head out before she does, she always says a very sincere “have a nice night,” that also helps make it feel like it’s okay for us to go whenever we need to go.

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      1. Sharkey

        Yes! My boss often works longer hours than I do, so it makes a huge difference to see her leave earlier than me at least once a week – it makes me feel a lot more okay about leaving on time most days. And the sincere send-off is also helpful – it makes it clear that she expects me to live my life outside of work.

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    3. Marion Ravenwood

      Working from home/not in the office was going to be my suggestion too. I’ve talked about this before, but in my second-to-last job I had managers who would insist we (the office juniors) went home at 5, or earlier if we’d worked the early shift, and it was difficult to do that when you knew they’d be at their desks till 7 or 8 at night and back in again at 7 or 8 in the morning. (I worked in marketing/PR/comms and we had people rota-ed on to work different shifts during the day and on call overnight as well, so whilst this was partly the nature of the job, if something happened there would always be somewhere there to deal with it.) I stayed late a lot in that job, and if I’m honest a lot of that was because of concerns that leaving early would be seen by senior colleagues as not being committed enough to the role. There was always a weird thing of who was going to be first to leave and frankly it wasn’t healthy.

      By contrast, in my last job the directors were very much of the type of ‘we don’t care when the work gets done as long as you do it when it’s meant to be done’, and very hot on things like working flexibly and working from home. Don’t get me wrong, they all worked hard, but they would regularly take WFH days (especially for stuff where they needed few distractions or to deal with emails etc) and nearly always left the office on time when they were in. That made me feel a lot more comfortable about WFH myself and leaving the office on time; it sounds odd, but them being quite strict about that sort of thing felt like ‘giving permission’ for other employees to do so.

      The directors in LastJob also checked in with people to make sure they weren’t staying late due to overwork, in line with Alison’s second point, and I think this is key as well – it reinforces the idea that you do not have to stay late unnecessarily and will not be judged for it, which was definitely a big part of my concern when I started that job because of my experience at the last place. (That said, I’d make sure you’ve got something in place to address this when it comes to promotion etc – not necessarily for yourself OP, but for others who might perceive that ‘bums-in-seats’ time is more valuable than employees’ output.)

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  3. seller of teapots

    This makes me think a little bit about parenting…your kids ultimately learn more from what you do than what you say.

    While I think being direct is much better than speaking in generalities, ultimately I think adjusting either your own work hours or the visibility of that extra work is going to be the thing that makes the biggest difference.

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    1. Bostonian

      Yeah, OP, even if you are CRYSTAL CLEAR about why you’re working extra (which you should definitely do!), there are still going to be people who on some level feel like they need to match that and/or can’t help but feel on some subconscious level that you would value them more for putting in the extra effort.

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      1. Sloan Kittering

        Agree. There’s really no way around this, unless perhaps (and I’m not suggesting this because I can imagine some drawbacks) you make it One Weird Thing about yourself, like “I work really slowly / I find I’m more effective in the late evening for some reason.” If my boss is a workaholic, that’s the culture of the org and I’m going to feel that pressure.

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    2. Mobuy

      Why should she hide her working hours, though? If she wants to work those hours, she shouldn’t have to manage other people’s emotions. If she’s clear about a) why she’s working, and b) that her staff doesn’t have to, and c) that they REALLY don’t have to, she’s covered. She should work the hours she wants and needs to.

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      1. seller of teapots

        If she were a peer to these other folks, she wouldn’t have to “manage other people’s emotions,” but she’s there boss. So when she sends an email on Saturday afternoon or Thursday at 11:30pm, there will be employees who feel obligated to respond.

        I would argue that if you are a manger, (I oversee 26 people) you actually do “manage other people’s emotions.” Not in a co-dependent, hand-holding way, but because as their boss your actions carry a specific kind of weight that you are responsible for and should be mindful of.

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        1. Mobuy

          It doesn’t matter. If she’s clear and has clear expectations, she shouldn’t have to be “adjusting either [her] own work hours or the visibility of that extra work.” That doesn’t make sense. Why should she make her own job harder? There are a lot of much better ideas in this thread than “Hide what you are doing from your children — oops, reports!” How insulting to them.

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          1. Kaimana

            The problem is that if she is in charge of evaluating these people, they must try to meet the standard that she sets. She can set very clear expectations for behavior, professionalism, work output, quality, etc. But if she says one thing and does another, it might look like hours worked is an area that she actually does value, so therefore if you work more hours you might be able to exceed her expectations and therefore get a better evaluation=more money/promotion.

            Same question but different issue: If I was struggling with catching errors and my boss said “It’s OK as long as you get 93% correct” but she consistently produced 99% correct, I would be watching how she evaluated me compared to others…does she actually want 99% correct and is settling with me? Is my job in jeopardy? The hypocrisy of “do what I say not what I do” is a tricky balance to get right.

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          2. Turquoisecow

            Only I bet her people have worked at places where they were told the hours were 9 to 5 but if they didn’t come in a little or early or stay a little late, they were viewed as slackers. People often say one thing and mean another.

            And if you’re a boss, you are obviously the model to your reports. You’re modeling the behavior and the work that you want them to do (especially new hires), so even if you say “everyone should leave at 5” what they might see is “boss stays until 7; if I want to get ahead or even just succeed at this job, I need to stay late, because that’s what higher level people at this job do.”

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          3. Seller of teapots

            I largely agree with the responses here, and I’ll add one thing:

            If you’re a manager, you may have to do things that “make your job harder” in order to best support them and hold them accountable. Because managing *is* the objective, often above and beyond your individual contributions. For example: I have to set an agenda for my weekly all-hands meeting the day before and circulate it. Per my personal work habits, it would be much easier to set it day-of and just stroll into the meeting, but my reports want structure and an agenda so they can prep, and it’s my job to make those meetings as effective as possible so…the agenda happens 24 hours ahead of time.

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          4. EventPlannerGal

            Well, if you don’t want to occasionally do things that make your life harder you probably shouldn’t become a manager.

            Honestly, the blame for the situation really lies with the many employers who say one thing and mean another when it comes to expectations around working hours. Even if the OP is one of the people who really means what she’s saying, it’s SO common for managers to expect longer hours than they say they do that inevitably a lot of people will assume that if she’s working long hours then they ought to as well. In many places that really would be the unspoken expectation, so the OPs reports wouldn’t be unreasonable to think it applies here too.

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        2. Tellering

          That is an interesting point, and I see it to a level, but… look, I am a workaholic working for a workaholic. When she sends an email on a weekend, IF I see it, I often respond, simply because it is easier for me to handle the question on the spot rather than having to come back to it (this is for quick fixes, obviously, not major timesucks).
          After the first few times that happened, she asked me if I knew I did not have to do that. I said yes, but (see above why I do it). She said ok.
          I think it would have been majorly disrespectful for me to lie to her, or not to take her for her word, or for her to doubt me.
          I manage people too, and yes, their emotions, sometimes. Not their neuroses or trauma. I am sorry for everyone who had to work at a place where their boss was lying to them about basic stuff like this. I cannot not do my work because of that.

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          1. seller of teapots

            Managing emotions vs trauma is a good and important distinction!

            But I see a distinction between the OPs situation and the one you describe. The OP is the manager, so her weekend afternoon email carries the expectation for many to respond, which is why I’m a fan of scheduling these emails to arrive during more normal work hours when it’s a big trend in your own work that you don’t want your reports to feel obligated to mimic.

            In the situation you describe, your boss did the right thing by making sure you knew this perceived obligation was not, in fact, an obligation. And you did the right thing, for yourself, by letting her know you were responding because you wanted to/not because you were afraid not to. It *would* be strange to lie to your boss when she checked in with you because when an employee emails their boss on a weekend afternoon/very late at night the power dynamics are totally different than the reverse!

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  4. Mujj

    Even though we have a lunch room, for some reason everyone on my team eats lunch at their desks. Some are working, some are just browsing the internet, and some (like me) are doing both at leisure. The optics of this are pretty shocking to people from other teams, though, and we have a reputation for being workaholics. I always directly say to new hires that it is encouraged for them to eat with others in the lunch room and there are no expectations for working through lunch – a lot of us aren’t even doing work during that time! I think a direct approach is best, especially with a new boss/employee so they’re not left guessing or stressed out.

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    1. Karen the rock whisperer

      It’s valuable to encourage people to take a true lunch break, but pushing the lunchroom as the lunch place can be intimidating. It only encourages people who don’t want to eat in the lunchroom to go eat in their cars (if they have them), and that doesn’t tend to be comfortable. There are as many reasons for avoiding the lunchroom as there are people who do so. Maybe it’s noisy and they want quiet. Maybe the smells from other people’s lunches heating in the microwave are problematic. Maybe watching co-worker tuck into a large, tempting lunch while you’re dieting on a yogurt and an apple is depressing. Maybe a person really wants to shop for something online at lunchtime, or read their current novel.

      If you’ve allowed people to make their workspaces comfortable, a certain number are going to want to eat there. But do encourage them to take that break.

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      1. Mujj

        Great points! I actually don’t often eat in our lunch room for many of the reasons you listed. Sometimes you just want to be “off” and decompress. It’s a say-it-once-and-leave-it kind of deal. We don’t force or heavily encourage anyone to eat in the lunch room. Just want to make it known that they won’t be seen as a slacker for socializing, leaving their desk, etc. during lunch. What they do after that is 100% up to them.

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    2. wittyrepartee

      I do this, but it’s partially because I like taking a non-food lunch break around 230 when I’m getting lazy. Go take a walk, knit or something. You know?

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    3. Asenath

      Just about everyone in my group eats at their computer. I think one sometimes meets a friend in another part of the complex. I refuse point-blank to eat in the noisy, overcrowded cafeteria!

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    4. SavannahMiranda

      I’m with you. Please don’t make me go to the lunchroom! I kind of resent being made to leave my desk.

      I watched a lovely show about work-life balance in other countries, and one employee talked about the emphasis in her adopted country of getting up and leaving her desk for lunch (was this a movie? I can’t remember). Apparently the first two or three times she tried to eat lunch at her desk, her colleagues all but forcefully made her get up and leave the building with them.

      I thought – check, I can not work in that country – hahaha.

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      1. EM

        It was like that when I lived in France – we all ate a hot sit-down lunch together in the middle of the day. You could not to that at your desk.

        In my current company it is absolutely forbidden to eat at your desk- we have designated cold food zones on each floor and a communal hot food zone on only one floor. At first it was strange but now I love it- no more accidentally interrupting someone on their lunch break, no weird smells drifting through the work zone, no more crumbs on desks. And it really encourages people to take a proper break, which is nicer too

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      2. TardyTardis

        I used to split the difference–a half hour in the lunchroom, and a half hour in the cubicle whacking away at my current novel. Although I had a boss who felt free to interrupt me anytime I was in the cubicle, but when I didn’t work for her, things turned out pretty well.

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  5. animaniactoo

    I think there’s another aspect to this: You’ve said you took over management of the other team in your co-worker’s absence. Depending on why they’re absent, what you’re seeing might also look like a real attempt to pull together as community and help out when someone needs the extra support. That is not only not a bad thing, but is actually a good thing and something to foster when it happens spontaneously. You might actually be making them feel REALLY bad by not being able to help – while simultaneously making it clear that it’s not just an amount of work that is easily absorbed into your own schedule.

    It may be to your/their benefit to let them help now – and fight for the work life balance by pushing the tone of your reports to your boss and other higher ups that this is not sustainable but you’re very grateful that they can pitch in a little extra on this temporary basis. Meanwhile, X report is going to need to be pushed back a week because extra help still not sufficient to cover both departments on a permanent basis, and so on.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      Note: If “pitching in” is going to last longer than a couple of weeks, I would also discuss how to reward those who are helping do that as appreciation for those who are willing to do so. Can we give them an extra day or two of PTO after other co-worker is back? Bonus for above-and-beyond effort?

      Basically: Preserve the work-life balance with the higher ups by also making it clear that the extra effort doesn’t come without a cost to them. To reduce the chance that they will see this as viable regular workload and worth pushing for.

      Reply
    2. the_scientist

      THIS. I actually wonder if this was written by a colleague of mine, as we’re in a hiring freeze right now (there is an interesting political situation happening right now) and managers are taking over multiple teams to cover for departures/ mat leaves etc.

      It sounds like the OP has a team that is really willing to help out as OP takes on this additional work and also learns the workings of a new team- no small feat! This is a great opportunity to build alignment and strong mutual purpose within the team….OP, let people help you where they can!

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        More I was thinking of my company where we have about 10 departments, and the manager for one of them is a long-time beloved employee (he was my first manager here) who is undergoing chemo treatment and has been bouncing in and out of the hospital for the past month after surgery and having problems stabilizing. People want to pitch in if his team needs anything or he needs help so that he does not have to be concerned about being here and stuff falling through the cracks if he isn’t. At the same time, nobody expects him to be out enough that it makes sense to hire extra coverage/make other arrangements because bringing in more hands from outside – they’d be gone by the time they were up to speed and it would just create more work in a different way for those who’d need to bring that person up to speed.

        Reply
  6. PLJ

    I struggle with this as well. Part of the reason is that I’m the only exempt person on staff- so I don’t have to worry about triggering overtime if I feel like I need a few extra hours. And it means I can require my staff to stop working after they’ve done the hours they’re scheduled (which can be a problem in itself sometimes) because the budget doesn’t allow for overages. It’s probably harder to encourage a 40 hour workweek if they ARE exempt, though, and I find myself constantly reminding my staff that everyone needs a vacation sometimes, they’re allowed to take mental health days, and they don’t need to check, much less respond to, email from home.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Ugh, I HATED being the only excempt one on the team – it meant that 100% of extra work got dumped on me and there was nobody who could take anything extra off my plate (or cover any night / weekend responsibilities) because my company was not willing to pay overtime. I should have demanded a LOT more money than I did under those circumstances, as I’m sure I made less per hour than everybody else on the team.

      Reply
  7. Blue

    As someone who used to work for a workaholic, I fully second Alison’s advice! My boss was very explicit and direct in saying, “You know I work a lot of hours. I like doing that; it works for me. But I want to be very clear that I absolutely do not expect you to be staying late or working from home.” Being able to think back to that really unambiguous statement made a big difference when things were swamped and I was feeling a bit torn between “must help boss” and “must get away from work for my own mental health.” And when things got to the point where I had no choice but to work longer hours, he followed through and redistributed some of my workload. That made it really clear that he wasn’t paying lip service to work-life balance – he truly didn’t want me to feel obligated to work the kind of schedule he preferred. (Thank goodness.)

    Reply
    1. Zeldalaw

      I think this is really key. The follow through is also just as important, if not more so. I’ve had bosses give the same lip service, but then the people who ignored it and did the “butt in seat” thing (staying late, coming in early, but not really being more productive) got the promotions and accolades for being team players. What a great boss to see that there can be multiple ways to work!

      Reply
      1. EventPlannerGal

        Yes! Agreed so much.

        OP, it sounds like you’re being very thoughtful about this and if you’ve only just taken over the team this might not even be applicable yet. But when it comes to the time for evaluations/bonuses/layoffs/assigning interesting work, I think you need to be really conscientious about whether you’re (unconsciously) favouring people who do stay late. Even if you honestly don’t want them to match your schedule, it’s really important to ensure that you really are following through on that, and not considering people who don’t to be less reliable or hardworking or committed.

        Reply
    2. TootsNYC

      I tried to be this kind of workaholic boss.

      I even went so far as to stress that my report’s insistence on leaving on time when there was no deadline was something I valued, that it was part of their high rating. (This guy also stays late voluntarily if there’s a genuine need–but he’s got a well-calibrated sense of “genuine.”)

      Though—I found I did have to fight for him during a convo w/ my boss, when my boss said he didn’t seem to be that invested or work that hard. Trigger a 5-minute rant about how he’d planned to give up a company holiday because of a deadline, without needing to be asked; how he would ask before leaving if things seemed busy; how he stayed as late as NEEDED; and how I valued his sense of proportion.

      That opened my eyes to one of the problems when part of your team is working late–it can make the people with a healthy schedule/workload/priorities look bad by comparison, if only because there’s a vague “she’s here but he isn’t” perception that isn’t informed by hard facts about the time of day, etc.

      Reply
      1. Seller of teapots

        Ugh this is so frustrating! I had a somewhat similar situation. One of my remote employees isn’t quite hitting he numbers we’d expect and I know he’s out there busting his butt because we talk every week, so I’m trying to assess if it’s a skill issue or strategy issue, maybe something time management related?

        Anyway, my boss he other day just dropped that she assumes it’s because he’s lazy and my heart sank. Because that is NOT what’s going on, and it didn’t feel very clear how to show that to my boss.

        Reply
    3. CM

      I was also in a situation like this as the employee — and for the first few months of seeing her work around the clock, I would offer extra help just like the OP’s reports. I remember telling her that I understood it was a busy time and if she needed me, I was happy to pitch in more and stay late or work from home as needed. Part of being a good employee is seeing what the team needs and proactively trying to help, right? But I was very grateful when she assured me that she didn’t need or expect me to work more, and that she appreciated the offer but wanted to make sure that we stuck to the schedule we agreed. I thought back to that conversation a lot when I felt guilty that she was working so much and I wasn’t.

      Reply
  8. Zeldalaw

    Are you sure your staff (at least some; probably not all!) aren’t similar to you? I’m wondering if some are wanting more responsibility and see their manager as super busy and are really asking because they WANT to take on extra work, not just because they think they should. It could certainly be the case that it just isn’t an option to transfer anything to someone else and that’s totally to be expected sometimes, but I would look at maybe someone is actually looking to move up and that’s what they’re really getting at and seeing you with so much work is making them think that’s an opportunity. Maybe one (or some!) of your staff are like you and are actually thinking they would like to work more?

    Reply
  9. Leela

    This is extra complicated if you’re working with anyone who’s had passive, untruthful, or underhanded managers in the past, people who were often told one thing and shown another. It’s a very difficult position to be in as an employee, just expecting to hope for the best and while in an ideal world they could take you at their word, I think it’s very overly optimistic to assume that people who come to you have been shown that they can take their managers at their word and wouldn’t worry in this situation.

    If I was your employee, I would definitely be wondering if I was expected to stay late. If you were telling me not to worry about it, I’d be wondering if you told everyone else the same, and if a layoff is coming, if I’m going to be screwed because I hadn’t been putting in the extra hours, even if I was told not to. Seeing my manager work very late and being told “don’t worry about it” isn’t something I could do, given my experiences with past managers who almost always tell their staff not to worry about things no matter what they are or how much they should be worried about it. I wish it wasn’t the case but I think it would be for a lot of people!

    Reply
      1. Sloan Kittering

        Urgh going through this now, as all the new people on my team like to come in before the start time and linger in the evenings. Suddenly I worry that my former hours now make me look bad to m boss :( You know it’s bad when you’re lingering just to linger and you’re playing around on line.

        Reply
    1. Karyn

      I agree with this! It’s kind of like, when someone will tell me No, they don’t want to do something, I know that I can trust their Yes.

      Reply
  10. Kaitlyn

    I think it’s also important to model time away from the office, if you can. If you’re clocking in hours left and right, and your office is flexible, it’s so easy to stay late just to do “one more thing,” but then take a regular day or half-day away. You could even work from home on some of those bigger, no-need-to-be-in-the-office-for-this, projects. Work-life balance can be modeled in lots of different ways: four ten-hour days in a row, WFH days, regular vacations. Your staff will do as you do, like it or not, and setting up a culture where you, the workaholic, can do what you want, and your staff still have a good role model is super key.

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      That’s a really good point! It would help me as the employee if I saw that my boss worked long hours but also took a lot of WFH or lots of vacation. (My old workaholic boss definitely used to use vacation / sick leave in order to work from home because our company didn’t allow that perk. Baby steps I guess?)

      Reply
  11. Bibliovore

    yes and…
    work/life balance is out-of-balance and also the manager. My job is amazing, terrific, and I would rather be working than anything else.(well except playing with the dog) I work from home. Early mornings, nights, weekends.I am well-compensated- my reports are not and I can’t do anything about that. I make sure that they take comp time. Stay late, come in late tomorrow.

    What I have learned- I keep regular at-work hours for the most part. (I used to stay to 7 or 8) I may roll in 45 minutes late (with notice to the staff by email) Yes, I probably was knocking out emails at 6 and 7 am. I don’t talk about working “all weekend” or “until 11, last night”

    I am super aware that if I am asking them to do something near their end-of the day-time. I might say, you leave in ten minutes right?

    I NEVER come in when I am sick.

    Reply
  12. Zack

    As a lifetime non-manager, I’ve always found it incredibly condescending to get a message of “do as I say, not as I do” from managers who work very long hours. Usually, the manager got to where they are by going above and beyond. Oftentimes, the case is that working 9 to 5 or 6 isn’t objectionable, but also won’t put you on track to get promoted any time soon; it’s frustrating when managers aren’t frank about this dynamic, or worse yet, are worried that your working long hours would jeopardize their success.

    Reply
    1. Bibliovore

      If you love what you are doing so much that you lose track of time. Be my guest, stay late. If you are ambitious and this position is a stepping stone to bigger, greater, more independent work, money, and status. Yea! Let me mentor you. But if you are hourly or resentful or have other things to do or are stressed, staying late isn’t going to be a good thing and I am not “holding you back” or being disingenuous.

      Reply
      1. CRM

        Exactly right! Not to mention that there are plenty of very good employees who have no interest in a management position. Having a boss who understands, respects, and acknowledges this goes a long ways towards boosting moral.

        Reply
        1. Pudgy Patty

          So many bosses DON’T understand this, though, because they think everyone is like them. My manager keeps saying I’m “destined for big things” and will be “leading teams,” despite my explicitly saying I have no interest in that work. I don’t want his life! I honestly believe most people don’t understand this concept in general, because I would say 85% of people I work with are gunning for the next highest position. It is very weird out of norm in our culture to say, “I’m actually fine where I am, thanks.”

          Unfortunately, I worry about being this person at 40-50-60, because ageism in the workplace likely means I’ll be the first to get cut, but I guess that’s the downside of being content with where you are.

          Reply
        2. SavannahMiranda

          Yes! I had a boss who really wanted to grow me into a supervisory role. I have no interest in that. Zero, zilch. It’s one of the reasons I left the job actually! Not the only reason, but one of them. A vague sense of pressure and dissatisfaction from above, combined with the feeling leftover from childhood that you are disappointing a parent by not living up to expectations. No, thank you! Let me be a good worker bee. Pay me well for that. Let me crank out my reports, filings, and work product. Set high goals for me and help me exceed them. But please for the love of god don’t make me supervise anyone.

          Reply
      2. gmg22

        Apologies in advance if I misunderstood this take. But my concern is that this framing can be read as if working extra long hours more often than not is the only possible route to advancement at work, and that anyone who doesn’t want to do it must lack ambition (“ambitious” being presented here as the counterpoint to “hourly or resentful or have other things to do or are stressed”). What if people want both to achieve cool things at work AND to have sufficient time to enjoy themselves when they leave the office? What if that is exactly what their work/life balance looks like? Consider an example of a strong performer who mostly gets things done in the allotted time, and who is willing to pull extra hours when it’s really necessary but is not interested in a paradigm in which “when it’s really necessary” equals “most of the time.” Is that person automatically taking themselves out of the running for a promotion? I guess it depends on the workplace, but seems to me ideally the answer would be no, they’re not.

        Reply
        1. SavannahMiranda

          Well, this may be unpopular or a minority opinion, but in the States, working additional hours often goes hand in hand with doing whatever it takes to work with your team and other teams to get projects out the door, which is what typically qualifies a person for advancement. I know it’s not like that in every locale, and that the US is often criticized for this culture, so that’s kind of US-specific.

          The culture is changing, largely due to new generations of workers being unwilling to put up with that jazz. But also because of the ability to work remotely, be constantly on call, and have company email apps on our mobile devices. Many of us are working when we’re not at work, and not always logging that. It’s work-creep.

          There’s really nothing wrong with going the extra mile, or expecting your employees who want advancement to go the extra mile. As long as the existing work culture is not already one of being overworked, or excessive work-creep. When going the extra mile is the straw that broke the camels back, or when it’s expected of employees who aren’t trying to get ahead but simply trying to keep their jobs, that’s unfair. But when it’s not, I honestly don’t see anything wrong with it. And going the extra mile does not always mean butt-in-chair. It can take a lot of different forms.

          The most clarifying thing I was ever told about the work world was when someone explained to me that advancement typically goes hand in hand with increased freedom, increased release from restrictions, increased trust, and increased creativity. That all the things I complained about not having, and wanted more of, could actually be acquired by working harder to rise up the ranks from the highly-supervised lower level roles I was occupying. I didn’t need to change careers or industries. I needed to show some ambition in order to rise to a level of trust.

          The person was right. It worked. I’m not interested in being anyone’s supervisor, but I now have flexibility, creativity, and trust. And it’s because I did put in extra hours, I did go the extra mile, I did take informal leadership roles in projects, and I did see things through to completion. Sometimes that meant butt-in-my-chair, sometimes it didn’t.

          I think a lot of people think the way I used to think – that remaining low level will prevent being ‘owned’ by your job. Frequently it’s actually the other way around. At least in healthy workplaces and industries. Investment equals increased freedom from your job. At least from the aspects that make it feel like a “job.”

          Reply
          1. Bibliovore

            Life is not fair. If you are going up for tenure,those nights, weekend,etc are your work week.That is the minimum for advancement. That 40 hr week is a myth. If you are a teacher, grading papers, prepping lectures, advising students, service are all part of you job and aren’t going to fit into your day hours.
            These are the facts.

            Reply
    2. Spooky Cheese

      Yeah, this is where I really come down on the side of managers needing to just not work like this. If 1% of people really love work and thrive on long hours and have nothing else they’d rather be doing, that becomes the standard. Those are the superstars, but it’s not necessarily correlated with talent; you may or may not be able to compete at 40 hours a week as a high performer with someone who is working 80 hours a week and is a fine performer. If that 80 hour a week person is *also* a high performer, as I’d imagine a disproportionate number are, it’s just not going to be possible to compete.

      It’s hard to blame organizations for taking that work when it’s offered, but again, that becomes the bar for “superstar” at the org. It reinforces a culture where younger/newer ambitious people must work 80 hours a week in order to “pay their dues” and advance, and that means that it’s necessarily going to exclude people who, say, cannot work 80 hours a week because they need to spend 20 or so a week caring for an ailing family member (which, btw, those folks are disproportionately women and people of color!).

      So if you’re concerned about diversity & inclusion at your workplace, and have a culture like this… it doesn’t really matter how those high-performers feel about their hours, it contributes to a culture that gives certain groups a competitive advantage and that’s gonna play out the same way it’s played out at countless other organizations.

      Reply
  13. Nice Going Angelica

    To Alison’s suggestion, Outlook has the functionality to schedule your emails built in natively, while the Boomerang add-on for Gmail allows you to do so in that platform. While it’s a small thing, it’s such a glaring reminder to see “3:41am” as the timestamp on an email from your boss. And even though you communicate clearly that you don’t expect a response in the middle of the night/on the weekend/etc., you are setting a tone. As a senior person in my organization, I never EVER talk about being busy or over capacity and never EVER say I can’t do something because I don’t have time. I always try to model how I am making conscious choices about how I use my time and prioritizing rather than just trying to do more.

    Another dimension of this that you should think about, especially if you work in a mission-driven organization, is that telling your employees that you need to work late but they don’t can have the unintended consequence of sounding like “I’m important and you’re not; my work is critical and yours isn’t; I’m the only one who can do this.” I’ve seen this happen at some point in most mission-driven organizations I’ve worked with. This dovetails with animaniactoo’s point above. Your employees may also be passionate and excited about their work, and eager to take on more responsibility or just help the team. I would adjust the script from “Where can we adjust things so that you have your evenings free?” to something more like, “I noticed you were online last night. I trust you to manage your time, but if there’s anything that’s feeling out of balance, I would be happy to help figure out how to reprioritize. How is your workload feeling?”

    Reply
    1. pleaset

      “I never EVER talk about being busy or over capacity and never EVER say I can’t do something because I don’t have time. ”

      I don’t understand this. If I saw a senior person never feeling stressed I’d think she was superwoman and perhaps that’s what’s needed to get ahead.

      Reply
      1. triplehiccup

        Same. I’d appreciate if senior employees modeled that – and therefore made it an acceptable thing to say. Workplace culture starts at the top.

        Reply
      2. Nice Going Angelica

        I always avoid the “AHHH I’m so crazy busy!” mindset and instead model “I have a couple of big priorities on my plate this week, so I can’t get to that til Wednesday. Does that work for you?” or even sometimes, “This is not a priority for me right now. Let’s figure out another path forward.”

        Reply
    1. restingbutchface

      Is it just the hours or do you get the feeling you’re behind (or your manager thinks so)?

      And is it just your manager or does the whole business work long hours?

      Reply
      1. fawn

        the company is new so there’s only my manager, me as admin, a surveyor and a yard man. i’m supposed to work 8-4:30 but my manager usually lets me go at four.
        i’ve started coming in earlier just to make up that difference but sometimes the surveyer and my manager stay late and i feel like when i go early it looks bad even though he’s either let me, it’s my time to finish anyway or i’ve finished my work for the day.

        im new to the role and company so i feel like i’m behind and also that he thinks i am

        Reply
    2. Nice Going Angelica

      Make sure you are clear on what you are expected to accomplish and make a plan for accomplishing it by your deadlines/benchmarks. If your deadlines are reasonable and you’re meeting them the vast majority of the time, you’re probably good!

      Reply
    3. MissDisplaced

      Next time you have your one-on-one with your manager ask what the expectations are in regard to overtime and work hours. Is it work late ony when absolutely needed, or something more regular? And how much, like an hour or burning late nighters? Every place is different.

      Reply
    4. Kaimana

      I’m in your boat, fawn. The two things I’m trying to learn are
      1. figure out what part of this is just me misinterpreting things. Has my boss ever mentioned or insinuated that I should work longer hours? Has she done so to anyone else? Are my concerns justified?

      2. make sure my boss sees my hard work and accomplishments in other ways. Do my weekly status reports indicate how much I’ve gotten done? Can she evaluate me fairly based on things besides working hours?

      Reply
  14. TurkeyLurkey

    I relate to this hard right now. I’m working on a project with company data for my masters which means a lot of time on my work computer outside of business hours. Trying to refrain from looking at email/Slack/etc. during “school work” time, but it’s been tough. I’ve definitely been giving people who work with me frequently the head’s up that _I’m_ the one working odd hours and they shouldn’t feel the need to respond.

    Reply
  15. LadeeDa

    Thank you for the fantastic responses! I struggle with this constantly too- most of my direct reports aren’t in my same country, let alone time zone. I am also part of a global team so I have to be available in the middle of the night sometimes. I can be seen online and sending emails from ridiculous times, and some of my direct reports feel like they need to respond on the weekends or late at night, and that isn’t the case at all. My direct reports can set their own schedules, and I never expect them to respond to me on the weekends or not during their regular hours.
    I sometimes work because I am obsessing about something, and it is better for me to just get it out of the way than wait for a “normal” hour. *I* may have an emergency or critical issue to deal with, but they don’t.
    I am going to use some of these responses to make sure they know I don’t expect them to work as I do.

    Reply
  16. restingbutchface

    Been there, done that OP. I didn’t realise the impression it was having on my team until a couple of them raised it in their yearly reviews. They look had great work ethics so felt they could/should be doing more.

    Here’s what I did:

    – turned my email sync off between 7pm and the next day. Recieving emails at 1am can be super disheartening as Alison says.
    – more working from home. God, I got so much done between 8pm and 2am. #nightowl
    – took my annual holiday allowance and made sure the team did too
    – enforced a message that if you were sick, you should call in. I only had to send one shaking, greenfaced employee home at 9.10am for the message to sink in
    (Appreciate these two are not always possible outside the UK)
    – made sure I was doing good work, not just work for the sake of it
    – talked about what I was doing and made sure I knew what my team were doing. Even today, I left around 7pm and my youngest employee was still online so I asked him, “whatcha doing? Yeah, that can wait, walk to the station with me?”
    – timesheets. Yeah, nobody liked it but if they were working stupid hours I wanted to know why – because I obviously wasn’t doing my managerial job well
    – stopped mentioning I was tired, even if it wasn’t work related. I never want anyone to think that tired and overworked is what a leader should be
    – if people had to work late, I’d ask when they were taking the time back in lieu as if it was normal and expected
    – started letting everyone go at 3pm on Fridays if the work was done. Funnily it always was and I got to close the door, put my music on loud and smash through my to-do list. Plus my team were so delighted with the early finish :)

    – finally, I got better at active and public praise. I realised some young members of the team were staying later hoping to impress me. In fact they had already impressed me, I just wasn’t good at saying it

    Good luck and well done for being so empathetic and thoughtful. You’re obviously a great manager.

    Reply
    1. Anancy

      These are great suggestions! I especially like telling people to go home sick/3pm Fridays/end of day. Explicit permission (command?) from my boss to go home really reinforced that I should, well, go home.

      Reply
    2. Mystery Bookworm

      YES! I honestly think taking your annual holiday is a really good idea, evne if you have to force yourself a little. It sets a great example and, frankly, sometimes it helps to put some effort into rounding out your life a bit.

      Reply
  17. Wakeens Teapots LTD

    Ha, yeah, I might know something about this. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    My people are great; they get it. My closest direct reports have been with me a long time & think it’s probably due to them that the habits for everybody (well except me) working a healthy 40 hour week are ingrained. The only price anybody ever has to pay is the occasional Email Bomb Monday Morning but I am polite and apologize for it and it seems to work out fine.

    I don’t know what I would would do if I ever had an employee who picked up even half my patterns. Would probably deliver a very long and very hypocritical lecture! But it has never happened so thank heavens.

    Reply
  18. T

    I had the opposite, my old boss was a self described workaholic, but she arrived every morning after everyone else and then stayed late. She would boast regularly that she was working 11 and 12 hour days, it was lame. She looked down on everyone that left on time before her, even though we were putting in 9 hours minimum each day. Some of us just stopped caring (me included) and left when we needed. Really a cause for drama for no reason and just bad management to passively aggressively try to make everyone stay until 8pm each night.

    Reply
    1. LDP

      My boss is kind of like this. She shows up late, doesn’t even start up her computer until after 10 most days, takes long lunches, etc. She’s the boss, so it’s her prerogative to handle her schedule however she wants. My problem is that I’m hourly, so I’m expected to be here on time, only take 1 hour for lunch, etc. As great as getting overtime pay is, it sucks that she tries to keep me late multiple times a week. I think she doesn’t care that I’m hourly, and shouldn’t be staying late. No one’s ever told her to make sure I’m only working 40 hours a week, so it doesn’t impact her. It drives me nuts because it seems like she has ESP and knows what nights I have plans and need to leave on time. That’s when she chooses to start working on some big project at 4:30 p.m. and needs me to help with it. I’ve tried pushing back, especially when she got into the habit of calling me after I had left work for the day, and we had a long discussion about what it means to be a team player after that.
      I know I need a new job (believe me, working on it!), but anyone have any advice in the meantime?

      Reply
      1. Bibliovore

        oh, your ” It drives me nuts because it seems like she has ESP and knows what nights I have plans and need to leave on time.” made me remember one of the worst boss’s I ever had. I was too new at the job and the lowest of the lowly and didn’t have the guts to say directly that I was off the clock and if I miss my bus, I need to wait a half hour for the next one as she droned on and on about her complaints about the administration. To make it worse I could look out the office window and see my bus come and go. And yes, she came to work hours late, took long lunches, and breaks.

        Reply
      2. Asenath

        Are you getting paid overtime? I mean, if you can put in for the evening phone calls and the working late, at least you’ll get a little money. It doesn’t sound like she’s the kind of person who is susceptible to reason, but having to sign off on overtime might make her realize you work 40 hours a week.

        I work in a place where some of us (like me) are theoretically working specific hours, and others (the more senior category) work all kinds of weird hours, including overnight. Some of them do have a habit of dropping in right as we’re due to leave, but at least they’re generous about unofficial time off in lieu of overtime, and no one expects you to respond to middle-of-the-night emails until the next working day.

        Reply
      3. TardyTardis

        One thing a manager did at ExJob was to explicitly canvass for an employee to come in late and stay late (SOX requirements, snip medium-sized story) to match her schedule so the rest wouldn’t feel they had to stay late because she did. (naturally I jumped and shouted ME!, Because Swingshifter, and my email to her left my computer in about two seconds after getting hers–and I adored that schedule from the bottom of my heart, because the rest of the company culture was Dawn Patrol From Hell. Farm country). This worked out well for just about everyone.

        Reply
  19. TootsNYC

    “if your mail program allows it, set the email to send on its own at a more reasonable time. “

    The very first email program I used would allow me to set the time to send the email.

    And none of the ones I’ve used since will do it. All kinds of bells and whistles, but not that one.

    Reply
    1. Asenath

      Mine does. I use that feature extensively – not because I work late at night, but because I set up email reminders and welcomes when I set up events, and they go out shortly before said event. I currently have over 30 waiting to go at the right time. I don’t think many people in my workplace do this – in one case, the worker couldn’t get it working and IT couldn’t help.

      Reply
  20. Friday Nights

    You’re their manager, so it’s fair that you may put in a little more time, but do schedule your e-mails so they don’t show up at all hours – regardless of what you say – if you e-mail you’re employee at 7 pm, the conscientious ones are going to respond in the evening, even if they don’t want to..
    However…. I think modelling the behaviour for your employees is the way you need to go.

    I think Allison’s points about ‘what if you can’t continue to put in all the overtime’, and ‘you’re messing with people’s expectations’ are good ones. If you really want to be productive/keep working – do it for your own projects (even if they’re related to your profession). Try to build something of your own that’s related (unless you’re covered by non-compete or something).

    Reply
  21. Brett

    You manage the team.
    Kick them out of the office. Tell them directly to go home.
    Friday afternoon, do a walkthrough and directly ask people if they have already worked 40 hours, and, if so, tell them to leave and enjoy their weekend.

    I have a team of workaholics, and that is what I do with them. I even explicitly tell them not to answer messages/email nor work from home after hours (because they will do that too).

    Reply
    1. Sloan Kittering

      Personally I think this would only work if you *didn’t* sit down yourself to put in another several hours on that Friday afternoon after you’ve kicked out the staff!

      Reply
      1. Brett

        Oh, that is certainly true. You have to be willing to put on your jacket and pack up your stuff too sometimes to be taken seriously when you tell people to leave.

        Reply
      1. Brett

        I could see that if working excessive hours was not a chronic office-wide problem like it apparently is here (and is in my office).
        But when it is a clear chronic problem, that makes it easier to both apply the policy in a uniform way _and_ to address individual behavior that is contributing to the problem. Obviously the LW makes it worse by being one of the people who work excessive hours, but they still have to address the problem with their team.

        Reply
    2. Go Home!

      I have a very small team of entry level folks who are not paid enough (non-profit) and I feel like a crazy person trying to convince them to take their lunch breaks and leave at the end of the day. I do tend to stay a bit late as do most of the exempt folks. I have been very clear that I do not expect any of my people to stay past their schedule hours and that they need to take the break they are entitled to at midday, even if just to avoid burning themselves out. I’m glad they want to support our mission, but I need energized people who prioritize their own wellbeing over trying to accomplish low priority tasks well into the evening.

      Reply
  22. John

    This person is describing the traits you typically see in a “leader” versus a “manager”. When you see a leader whose job is their life, you tend to understand that comes with the territory and don’t feel the need to match that pace. However, when it’s someone who is your direct manager, and has your fate in their hands, it becomes much more anxiety inducing.

    I feel this is a result of a change in corporate culture where people managers have been replaced with mini-leaders whose sole focus is to climb the ladder. Therefore, it becomes the job of the worker to make their manager “look good” which is why will feel compelled to match their manager’s work style.

    As well, many companies have a team structure where you have this mini-leader, followed by 1-2 full timers, then the rest of the team comprised of contingent labor. This further increases the anxiety around wanting to look the busiest because now, if you’re a contractor, you’re gunning just to get converted and want to show you can keep up with the hectic pace.

    Please, bring back the people managers, and I guarantee you will have much better atmosphere and won’t have to worry so much about morale.

    Reply
  23. Karen the rock whisperer

    Back when I was a team leader of a large team, I worked insane hours. I was the lead engineer and the architect of the system we were making, and I was not only coaching junior engineers but trying to get some engineering work of my own done. The worst of it happened when our senior management, under pressure from our military customer, declared we would work three shifts so the equipment would be under test continuously (we had to share the large system, of which our piece was a part, with other groups). Because I was so involved as a technical lead, and my team were spread across all three shifts, I generally spent about two hours before and after my own shift working with the folks on other shifts. That made for 12-hour days. Also, shifts changed every two weeks, so all engineers were equally inconvenienced. It essentially meant we were all perpetually jet-lagged.

    I remember one morning, exhausted at the end of my long worknight, I called my manager with a question at about 10 am. He answered my question, then said, “I thought you were on graveyard this week.” I answered in the affirmative, and the next thing he said was, “Then what the hell are you doing here? Go home!”

    Reply
  24. AnAcademicLibrarian

    I have a colleague that has a message as their email signature that you may receive emails outside of the traditional work hours but that you shouldn’t feel that you need to reply outside of your own working pattern. When I first read it, I really appreciated the sentiment.

    Reply
  25. Jennifer

    Can you type up the emails and save them to send out during business hours? I used to be kind of freaked out when I signed in to my email in the morning and see several emails from my boss from the 2 and 3 am.

    Reply
    1. pleaset

      7:00pm would freak me out more than 2am. 2am is so outside of expectations for others, that it wouldn’t be a problem for me.

      Heck, not replying to a boss’s email at 5:20pm would look bad in some places. Not replaying at 2am? Of course the recipient wouldn’t reply.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        I’m not saying they would feel pressured to reply but it gives the impression that your boss works many more hours than the rest of the team and that I’m not doing enough.

        Reply
  26. Noah

    I sometimes work long hours I used to always do so because it was part and parcel of my old job, so it’s not a huge deal for me. As a practical matter, when I work long hours, the alternative is I work slightly less long hours and 2-3 other people work the same slightly less long hours. It’s just the nature of how our group is structured and who else will do the work if I’m not doing it. I’m not really sorry if the people I’m saving from the long hours are feeling pressured by my working long hours because I am doing it substantially for their benefit.

    Reply
  27. Delta Delta

    I worked for someone like this. It was terrible. There was this constant un-said pressure to work late or work weekends or work on vacation (I am still mad about that one). This person also once expressed the following sentiment, “I don’t get why the support staff thinks they get lunch breaks. I never take a break for lunch.”

    People were afraid to leave at the end of the day. Or not check email over a weekend. Or go on a honeymoon. If anyone ever said anything to the manager, his response was to say, essentially, “oh, that’s silly, of course you should {fill in whatever}.” But his actions were so much clearer that he meant something else. It eventually drove away more than half our team. That’s really too bad because it was a nice group that did good work. We just…couldn’t anymore.

    Reply
  28. Lucille2

    I have worked for bosses like you and here are a couple of things they’ve done that helped reset my own perception of what hours are expected of me:
    1. Have a standing personal obligation that you prioritize like taking your kid/nephew to soccer at 5pm every Thurs. Or a standing weekly happy hour with friends, or you always take your mom to a movie on Wed evenings. Scheduling work around a routine personal appointment will give your staff permission to do the same.
    2. Provide backup or delegate work to allow employees to attend to their own personal obligations or vacations. If Jane has been planning a trip to Hawaii for months, help her plan her workload so she can be disconnected during that time. Make sure she feels safe to truly disconnect and enjoy personal/family time.

    In a nutshell, make a point to emphasize that you see your staff as humans with rich lives outside of work and you respect the need for people to disconnect from work.

    Reply
  29. Cathie from Canada

    Every job I ever had, there was 5 or 10 per cent of the “listed” job description that actually doesn’t need to be done or at least that nobody will miss if you postpone it. But it usually took me a year or two to figure out what these non-tasks were, and in the meantime I was working longer hours. So chances are the overwork situation will ease once you can figure out how to work your job rather than having it work you.
    Also I found that people who arrive early to work – what a go-getter! – get more credit than people who stay late – she can’t get all her work done! So maybe arriving early is a better choice because it is seen as more of a personal decision.

    Reply
  30. AnotherKate

    The best boss I ever had worked 9 to 5 with a 1-hour lunch. Period. If she was working from home she’d log on precisely at 9 and log off precisely at 5. There were a few exceptions, of course, but only when there was an emergency. Every once in a while it would be evident she’d logged on on a Sunday to make sure our work queues were full and well balanced. She’d inquire if she saw us staying past the normal time and tell us to go home.

    Her behavior gave me the confidence to assert my own work-life balance once she moved on and I took over her role.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Doll

      I bet she could do that because she actually buckled down and WORKED those 7 hours. Most of us (ahem, self included) are capable of frittering away at least three hours a day.

      Reply
  31. Zephy

    “What about the poor person who replaces you and discovers they signed on for a job that’s way more than full-time?”

    This so much. I once had a manager that was like this–she was excellent at her job and clearly loved what she did, but she worked so much more than I think anybody but me was aware. I think she’s planning to retire this year and I don’t know what the organization will do when they realize just how deep the rabbit hole of What All She Does really goes.

    Reply
    1. Bibliovore

      I’ll tell you what happens. They hire two people to do your old job. My old job grew and grew and grew. And I loved it. Previously I had never made it past a 5 year mark. But because there was always something new and interesting and challenging, I stuck around. I was aware that this position was tailored to my interest and skill set and helped create two job descriptions for the replacements.

      Reply
  32. Fried Eggs

    My boss tends to work late hours. One thing she said that really made me feel comfortable leaving on time was something along the lines of “I like staying late because I really get in the zone when I’m the only one here. I’m so much more productive after hours in an empty.” It made me feel like by staying, I was interfering with her productivity. Now I only work late in the rare instances whatever I’m doing is more urgent/important than what she is.

    Reply
    1. Drago Cucina

      Oh this is me. My hours on Sunday afternoons are always the most productive and of the week because no one is calling, emailing, stopping by my office. I’m not a morning person so I balance it with coming in late some days. People know I’ve worked at home or in the office out of hours so it’s not seems as the boss slacking off.

      I have also told people they cannot “volunteer” hours or when people call at home and ask them questions about books, programs, etc., they shouldn’t go beyond a 1-2 minute conversation. They’ve gotten good at dealing with this. “I’ll be glad to talk about this Monday. Give me a call. Oh, the library will have to pay me overtime if we spend anymore time talking about it.”

      Another organization in our city has just gotten into big trouble with the DOL for having employees work on a volentold basis.

      Reply
  33. AdvertisingAce

    I relate to this except I don’t really like working crazy hours, but I still do because my boss (the VP) demands it. I’m better at enforcing a reasonable workload for my team but it means I have to argue harder for their raises because “40 hours means every hour costs more than if they worked 60”. I don’t want them to feel bad about my hours, but I also don’t want to sugarcoat it…. To move up in our company means sacrificing a personal life. It’s a difficult position to be in as a manager.

    Reply
    1. Dr. Doll

      The people who make the raise decisions are shortsighted at best! Good lord, it only costs less per hour for 60 than 40 is the *quality of the work* is comparable, and man, it ain’t!

      We have “summer schedule” which is a 4/10. So we work from 7 am to 6 pm (lunch break), and productivity *drops* by a good 30% overall. Yes, people are working their same total hours per week, but those extra two hours are a total waste.

      Reply
    2. Didn't get there

      If it’s the industry that I think you’re talking about, you are absolutely right about long hours/no personal life. I wanted to be in that industry all throughout college but was unable to break in, even at entry level. I wanted to go into account management.

      Looking back, I’m so glad nobody gave me that opportunity because knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have liked it.

      Reply
  34. CK

    I love my job and have peaks in which I’m working extra hours. (It helps that I receive comp time for any time worked over 40 hours, which is a very nice added benefit) I manage an office of four people and have tried to be very cognizant of working extra hours and the impact it has on my staff. I have two young children and value my time with them so it’s not uncommon for me to leave work by 4:30/5 pm but to do work late in the evening. Or come into the office on the weekends when my kids spend time with their grandparents. It’s so much quieter and with a busy office, I get so much work done outside regular business hours. I do some of the same things already suggested, especially delaying email sending to the next day business hours.

    Reply
  35. Wintermute

    Please, PLEASE let them know directly! Also, please take a long, hard look at whether this is a situation that is temporary and gets better and whether you’re taking on too much.

    The first red flag at ExJob was that the management always looked like the walking dead, yawning, having trouble staying awake. I at first concluded that I wouldn’t take a management position even if begged, shortly after that I realized that this WOULD trickle down on us eventually– and guess what, it did, including mandatory double-shifts.

    You’re signalling a lot to your workers, every day. Right now you’re not just telling them they’re not holding up their end (through no fault of their own and even though you are volunteering to shoulder the load) you’re telling them that your workplace doesn’t treat people well (because they’re not treating you well) among other things. So be very clear if this is temporary, share all you can, before people start running for the hills for good reason.

    Reply
  36. Mellow

    I am a librarian in a university and the dean of libraries often sends email time-stamped late at night or on weekends.

    While I don’t feel intimidated to respond or acknowledge those messages until I am at work, she gives the impression she doesn’t manage her time well. Just not a good look.

    Reply
    1. Bibliovore

      Oh please. The impression shouldn’t be that she doesn’t manage her time well. It is that her time is probably filled with meetings and fires and the only time she has to do those things are weekends and evening.

      Reply
  37. CandyCorn

    It has never once occurred to me to stay late just because my boss does. Why? Because they make more money than I do! No way am I going to try to mimic the hours of someone at a pay grade above mine. Why would I?

    Reply
  38. Jane

    I like working long hours because I often break them up with walks, errands, etc. But I don’t think my colleagues or boss realize that I’m probably not spending more time overall working…I just pop in to my email or sometimes do the work when the mood strikes.

    I’ve definitely gotten comments like “Go home already!” or “Get off slack! You’re done for the day!” or “Why are you emailing on the weekend?”

    I find it much less stressful to just address stuff as it comes up and live my life with work buzzing in one ear but the rest of my life buzzing in the other. It was a huge relief when I moved from an hourly position to a salaried one and could organize my time this way.

    Reply
  39. babblemouth

    Can you make sure to not send emails outside of work hours? My manager is an insomniac, and she used to send emails at 3am. Even knowing she didn’t expect us to be awake and working at that time, it was… weird. And stressful. I didn’t ever feel comfortable bringing up my workload issues to her because I felt so much that I was underachieving compared to her.

    Reply
  40. CM

    I have a natural desire to work too much and I actively try to comat it. A few reasons:

    – employment laws about pay and exempt/non-exempt are more confusing where I live than in the US, and a lot of the received wisdom about them is wrong. It also becomes a weird status thing where people want to believe they’re on salary when they’re not and it only ends up fucking them on payroll. I don’t want to create a situation where work hours are slippery and people can be led into doing unpaid work.

    – I also don’t want to get led into a situation where I’m working for free.

    – it took me a while to understand this but, if your team sees you carry 85% of the work yourself and tell them not to help, it stops feeling like a group effort and starts to feel like your ideal situation is to work alone and, in your mind, they’re just tagging along.

    – I realized that part of the reason I worked so much was anxiety. I’d have a spike of stress about some project & feel like I needed to resolve the situation immediately so that I could relax. That’s not a healthy approach for me, so I try to use other anxiety management techniques when I can remember to.

    Reply
  41. Katy

    Here’s another aspect of this that I didn’t see in any previous comments. A colleague once told me that she changed jobs because she realized she didn’t want her manager’s job one day. If OP works on the kind of team where your employees would have OP’s job as the next direct step in their career path, then they might be looking to OP to see what that job looks like. I work on this kind of team, and I try to be aware that they might be looking at me to decide how long they want to stick around. For example, I try to balance between sharing good things and bad things when we’re chatting casually in the hallway, and I think it’s a good thing if I’m not the last one to leave every day.

    Reply
  42. Excellent is a habit

    But bigger-picture, I urge you to rethink your own hours.

    I disagree with this (and am speaking from European perspective). If the writer is ambitious and wants to be a star/gunner for C-level posts, she can and should work as much as she wants. I understand that not everyone is a Type A personality, but those who are should not be held back by the Type Bs.

    Reply
    1. gmg22

      But the OP also has a responsibility to the people she is managing, to help set the tone of the work culture. Once you become a manager, you have to think about the well-being of the people you report to, not solely the next best steps for your own career. That’s the larger point Alison is trying to make. It’s also why the next-best option to rethinking her hours is the recommendation of switching up a few of the things about the way she works (like scheduling the emails rather than sending them at midnight, etc) to lessen the pressure on the people who report to her, but still allow her to do the work she loves on a time frame that works for her.

      No, “Type B” people should not be “holding back” the “Type As,” but nor should the Type As feel entitled to force everyone else into stress and overwork for their own benefit, as if that were the only possible way to work (or to achieve anything at work — “quality, not quantity” is, or at least should be, an option here).

      Reply
  43. Cristina

    I’m the subordinate in this situation, and I hate it. I understand that some people really love their job, my manager is one of them. I love it too! It’s just not the only thing in my life. I believe my manager when he says he I don’t have to stay late and work weekends, and I don’t except for exceptional circumstances, but it really bothers me.
    It sets unrealistic expectations: I’ll never be able to match his output, when he works half as long as I do. How is that going to make me look when I do work for other teams, for example? I will look like I’m underperforming, when I am just working normal hours. His extra hours are not reflected in the final efforts, so future estimates will be wrong, and will keep requiring evening work to achieve.
    Also, we are somewhat understaffed, but we are not going to get a new team member soon, and part of the reason for that is that he picks up all the slack, so nothing shows that there’s a staffing problem.

    Reply
  44. JR

    I am a big fan of the ‘schedule send’ option that most email applications now have for this very reason. When emails are received late at night and on the weekends it puts pressure on the recipient to respond. By scheduling emails to send on the next business day morning it allows me to catch up on work, on my own time, without pressuring any reports or colleagues to work off hours.

    Reply
  45. Indie

    I find it stressful to have a boss who appears overwhelmed and like they don’t have boundaries or clocking off deadlines because I am waiting for the burn out to happen. On some level I am wondering if I am still going to like the job when they fall off their perch and be replaced by goodness knows who. There’s always a feeling that it’s not the most…efficient, well delegated way to work too.

    Reply
  46. Allonge

    For everyone saying that the workaholic boss should work from home, schedule email delivery so it does not look like she is working at all hours etc.: was it not the case that the underlying problem is “I had bosses who lied to me about not needing to work as late as X to be considered a good worker”?
    Why is the fix: Lie to me, boss, hide your working hours, fake it! How will that lead to trust?

    Reply
  47. lasslisa

    Are there any behaviors you want your employees to do, that you could make sure to demonstrate? Show them how you prioritize your work and that some things get missed or that you choose to let less critical deadlines slip, because you only have so much time in a day. Let them see how it’s okay to go to your manager and say “project 1 is taking longer than expected because of this issue, so we can’t complete both projects on the planned timeline. Which of these would you like me to work on first?”

    I had a great manager who did that excellently and led by example plus words.

    If that isn’t true in your organization, then don’t martyr yourself for your team. They aren’t asking for that from you.

    Reply
  48. TardyTardis

    Just a thought that’s already been expressed, very likely–work more hours from home but don’t dump emails and such in the middle of the night. And don’t overwhelm people with 50 emails when they first get to work as well. If you’re not in the office all the time, the people there won’t feel like they have to be.

    And take the occasional day off. You could be heading towards burnout yourself and not know it.

    Reply

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