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

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who worked long hours but didn’t want her staff to feel pressure to do that too? Here’s the update.

I did end up taking a lot of the advice you gave me. The first thing I did was start scheduling any emails to my direct reports that I sent after normal work hours to arrive in their inbox during the following work day, using Boomerang, which I think helped a lot. I also did take the time the next time one of them mentioned working extra to just say that I was working so much because of the odd situation we were in, and that it was important to me that no one felt they had to follow suit (actually, I pretty much just used the script you gave me, so thanks for that). I think it really helped! No after-work emails from them and the next time someone took a sick day there was no mention of trying to work from home instead.

The other thing I really took to heart was … that my own hours were insane. It was definitely fun and fulfilling for about a year, but I certainly started to feel it wearing on me. Luckily we were able to hire someone in to replace my colleague who left, and she’s been really up front with our board about how much work any one person can be expected to do, which has led to a restructuring that I think is really good and healthy for the team.

Also and not necessarily related to this at all, I went back to grad school, so I’m now working in a reduced role anyway — but the changes have certainly stuck, and my new boss is really good about making sure that I’m only working the number of hours that I can fit in with my school work, so maybe the lesson here is that it’s important to have a manager who cares about your work-life balance and can help you enforce it, even when your inclination is to work more than you, uh, life.

So thank you again!!

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. Avasarala*

    Glad you reevaluated your work-life balance, OP! I know many people get their fulfillment from work, and I certainly don’t want to get in the way of others’ happiness. But I really question whether people are always happy with that level of time investment in their work. Everyone wants to care about their job at least a little bit, but you can do that without working 100 hours a week. Especially if your employer doesn’t value your time and hard work (with proper pay and not firing you on a whim). If you build the workaholic habit and expectation in yourself at 20, it’s hard to reset at 40 when you have different life priorities. There is so much out there you could spend your time doing that really it’s a shame we have to use as much as we do just to survive.

    Especially as we wind down to the end of the year (and decade!), it’s a good time to reflect on what gives us joy, what makes our life meaningful. And next year try to do more of that and waste less time on drudgery, nastiness, and BS that won’t matter in 2030.

  2. Jean (just Jean)*

    Especially as we wind down to the end of the year (and decade!), it’s a good time to reflect on what gives us joy, what makes our life meaningful. And next year try to do more of that and waste less time on drudgery, nastiness, and BS that won’t matter in 2030.

    Avasarala, Thank you for this comment. I may tape this up over my cube at work and near my desk at home. Many of us work too many hours. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to an even-on-both-sides agreement.

  3. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Well THAT is a satisfying result! Good job all around, OP! I’m particularly pleased that your board understood how much is too much.

  4. bibliovore*

    thank you for updating. yes, this is my commitment for this new year. Work/life balance. I have not had a sane one for 30 years. I am making a list of projects for the coming year that can be shared with others or off loaded entirely. I am examining what I want to do, plan to do, can do in the hours that are not officially work hours/evenings and weekends that will provide engagement, peace and contentment for me and my family that are not work related. Healthy exercise and self care, writing, art, and perhaps a puppy in the future.

  5. Robbie*

    The update we all needed. Boundaries! Clear communication and understanding! Respecting that we are humans and not robots!
    Nicely done on your growth OP.

  6. Adnan*

    This may not be the OP’s situation but wanted to share my experience with a workaholic boss.
    I am the employee who recently got promoted to the position of the manager (Sam) that worked 365 days a year for the past 20+ years. He worked through all public holidays, when he was sick and on vacations. And he made sure to tell us repeatedly he did this so none of us would have to do overtime although the staff had room to take over a lot of the tasks Sam was doing.
    When I was offered the manager job, I made it clear to the grand boss that I will not be working the hours Sam was.
    We currently have a vacancy on my team as a replacement has not yet been hired for the position I vacated. My employees (formerly co-workers) and I went through every task and process that Sam had, simplfied/automated them and redistributed/delegated. It appears now none of us will need to work overtime except on the very rare occasion.
    If you are a manager like Sam please, please stop and think about the person who will be taking over the job from you who may not want to spend 365 days a year at work. Thank you.

    1. C in the Hood*

      I like how you & your team re-engineered Sam’s processes: it made things simpler & probably gave them a great sense of ownership as well!

    2. Mrs_helm*

      I can relate to the comment about the automation. We have grandbosses that used to spend whole days editing, categorizing, and copy/paste compiling 50 people’s reports into a single report for the higher ups. When our boss realized that would be his job someday, he set about to automate it. Those 30 report are now submitted online, automatically categotized, grandboss approves them, and then the system creates the report. It’s been a couple years, but grandboss recently exclaimed he couldn’t believe he used to do this by hand. HUZZAH!

    3. Sara without an H*

      Hi, Adnan,
      You make an excellent point about workaholism — sometimes, it’s about the workaholic’s need to feel busy/important/essential/whatever. That you and your team were able to simplify and/or automate much of what Sam had been doing speaks volumes.

      And btw, it was a fantastic idea to have your team work on that together.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I had a coworker who was in a similar position. Her predecessor had never wanted to inconvenience the staff, so she always gave herself the worst shifts and least desirable tasks, and put in a whole lot of extra hours. So when the new supervisor came on board and wasn’t willing to do that, she found it really difficult to form positive relationships with the staff. It put her in a position where she really couldn’t do her job effectively.

      OP, I’m glad you’re recognizing this and making changes.

  7. lilsheba*

    It would be nice to have that kind of work environment. My work says they care about work/life balance but they really don’t. They expect us to be in our seats 100 percent of the time and be like robots. If you aren’t you get questioned. Even if it’s something simple like using the bathroom or getting water. It’s called “adherence” to our schedule and it has to be 100%. It’s insane. I’m a human not a robot, and it shouldn’t be so hard to get holidays off and it shouldn’t be expected to work every holiday.

    1. Long time reader*

      That’s insane! We have a similar stat but we only expect 90% adherence to schedule because we have humans working not robots. In a standard 40 hour work week, that’s four hours not doing what’s on schedule. And it’s an average over a certain amount of time. Your standard is just not fair or feasible. I hope you are able to make things better in the new year (whatever you want that to look like).

    2. Anton*

      Did you also get accused of stealing time from your employer if you didn’t go to the toilet on a break? I had that happen…

Comments are closed.