my constantly available coworkers keep commenting on my healthier work-life balance

A reader writes:

I work in an organization with a culture of constant availability. It’s sort of prestigious to work outrageous hours or join calls en route to a vacation. My manager was sending emails from his wedding, for example.

This isn’t for me so I don’t do it. I’m not sure if I’m unusually gifted at time management or extra speedy at my work, but I am able to complete my job in my working hours 95% of the time. Often I have extra time left over. I only work outside of my usual hours if I have something urgent to complete or if I have meetings with different time zones — these meetings are usually once or twice per week. I don’t mind enforcing my boundaries so people generally know that I’m not online during the night, weekend, or on my vacation. I’ve never had a work or performance problem as a result of actually having private time. If anything, I feel that I’m more streamlined and more able to triage and prioritize than my overworked colleagues because I have firm boundaries, and I’m mentally refreshed and well rested enough to give work my full attention each week. So it’s great for me!

But one thing — I’ve gained the reputation in my wider team of having this “great work-life balance” and I occasionally get comments that are along the lines of “oh, I wish I had the work-life balance you do!” or “I wish I worked less than X hours every day like you!” or “you’re an example of how we should be working!”

I don’t really know how to respond other than, “Yeah, I need my own time or else I’d be useless” or something like that, but I usually leave those exchanges feeling a bit paranoid. Are these people hinting that I’m viewed as a slacker? It’s really not that hard to decide you’re done with being available at ridiculous hours, so these comments seem weird to me. I’m wondering if there a better way to respond that reminds people that yeah, I have free time but I also do my job well? Or am I reading into nothing?

I suspect the comments are sincere, not snarky hints that you’re not pulling your weight. (The exception to this is if your organization’s culture is snide and underhanded, but I assume you would have mentioned if that was the vibe.) Most likely, people are looking wistfully at your schedule and thinking it sounds nice … without thinking more critically about whether they could have it too.

And they probably could! It’s possible that you are indeed unnaturally fast and that’s the only reason for the difference (some people genuinely are faster than others), but a lot of people who work long hours are doing it at least in part because they’re not working as efficiently as they could be and/or they’re convinced the culture demands it of them (whether or not it really does — it can be an Emperor’s New Clothes thing, where everyone thinks they have no choice, which reinforces that belief in all the people around them, whereas if they just put up boundaries and stuck to them, it would actually be fine) and/or at some level they like the “prestige” (or what they think is the prestige) of seeming busy and indispensable.

That’s not always the case, of course. There are cultures that really do demand this and penalize employees who won’t play along, with some exceptions for people considered high-status enough to opt out (and that could be you). It’s also possible there’s some other very practical difference, like that you’re more disciplined than they are about refusing meetings that you know won’t be useful (and have the capital to be able to do that) or that their managers pressure them to work longer hours than yours does or so forth.

But when people make comments about envying your work-life balance, I think you should use it as an opportunity to set an example of healthier behavior. I don’t love your response of “Yeah, I need my own time or else I’d be useless” because that makes it a quirk about you rather than signaling that it’s something they could think about doing as well. For example:

* “I think it’s healthier for the organization when we have better boundaries around time off.”
* “If you ever want to talk about setting those boundaries, let me know — I’d love to see more people do it.” (This would be weird to say to someone more senior than you but you could say it to a peer or someone more junior.)
* To people who say “you’re an example of how we should be working”: “I agree. I think it’s better for the organization when people have real time off and space to recharge.”

Maybe you’ll plant a seed in a coworker or two that makes them think about getting some of this for themselves.

Read an update to this letter

{ 209 comments… read them below }

  1. High Score!*

    I just found out one of my coworkers is working insane hours and that’s not it culture at all. From the top down, we are encouraged to have a healthy work life balance, work reasonable hours, take our vacation time and stay home when sick. I thought about emphasizing this to my coworker but there’s no way she missed the message. Work life balance is even part of our required annual training.
    Maybe working insane hours just makes some people feel important. ???

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Or they have no life, or a terrible one, outside of work. There are people like that, whose sense of self is entirely wrapped up in their job.

      1. Lite-Brite-Expert*

        Yep. I had a co-worker once tell me that when your personal life is crumbling that suddenly your word productivity gets real good. Not a hard and fast rule, but a lot of times when people feel out of control in their personal lives they throw a lot of energy at work where they can have some control.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I can see that. I find that a great time to clean and organize my room is when I’m angry with something I can’t change. I’d guess that’s the same thing.

          1. Iroqdemic*

            Oh I never clean more thoroughly than if I’m rage cleaning. That’s the only way my baseboards get cleaned or the grout gets scrubbed, TBH.

        2. Angstrom*

          I’ve been there. Might as well stay at work because there’s nothing you want to go home to.
          Or WFH: depressed, nothing appeals, might as well log in to work…
          I doubt that my productivity in output per hour was high, but there were lot of extra hours.

        3. Jackalope*

          I remember once when I had a family member who spent a couple of weeks dying by inches. I was getting constant msgs from family members as well since I was a long ways away and had to figure out when to travel there, so I couldn’t get away from it. Meanwhile at work I’d picked up a workload a few months beforehand from someone who’d been really behind, and I’d never managed to catch up. Part of the problem was that much of the work that needed to be done to move things to the next step was dull. Well, all of a sudden dull was my friend. I spent hours frantically moving through this workload, unable to focus on anything that required actually thinking…. and came from behind to get completely up to date on said workload before he died. It was a lousy way to do it, but I managed to stay on top of things for the rest of the time it was mine. So yeah, this tracks.

        4. Beth*

          Heck yes! Getting stuff done at work can be the only sense of accomplishment and empowerment available, when life is being a particular kind of chaotic.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I’ve had several male coworkers at various companies who disliked their wives and used work as a way to avoid them. In each case they also had at least one kid. Their wives were SAHMs, which the men used as a reason to contribute minimal childcare. The situation seemed sad to me but I saw it over and over. I guess they didn’t want to divorce because their wives didn’t have current jobs. But the existing situation didn’t seem much better. They rarely saw their own kids and hated their home life.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          They might like their wives better if their wives ever had a break from the kids and time to recharge for themselves… which would mean having energy to put into the relationship with him. (I mean, yes, they might some have somehow married women they never liked in the first place, but presumably this is a person they used to enjoy being around).

          I know there’s nothing you can say to them nor is it your place to fix this, but when I’ve seen a situation even slightly like that, it’s always sounded to me like they’re creating exactly the problem they’re avoiding.

          1. Crooked Bird*

            Basically work-life balance is a thing for SAHMs too, is what you’re saying. And I agree. I always do better, whether it’s at my job, parenting, or relationship stuff, if I’ve had a bit of a break.

            (And I’m grateful to have that, as a part-timer now who shares childcare time. And incidentally, I’ve never put so much into a job while I’m present as I do at my current one, which is part-time with significant responsibilities. You really bring your A game when you only have to do it 3 times a week!)

            1. Lenora Rose*

              Having been both the SAHM and the worker while spouse was SAHD, my reaction when working was to feel guilty on the days I did have an activity for myself because I knew it made him have more time with the kids with less break. (We did have more reliable child care support from family and friends at that point than we do right at this moment, but kids are also now in school so it’s a different set of concerns.)

        2. bamcheeks*

          I had a colleague who boasted about doing this to a room full of women and we all just stared at him with blank faces. Like, read the room, dude! It was not just staggering that he thought this was something to boast about, it was that he thought we’d empathise / laugh along with him and not think, your poor wife, what a dickhead.

      3. Hannah Lee*

        I used to have a boss who worked late most days. It was annoying to me because he’d sometimes call impromptu meetings at say, 4:45 or 5:15pm which would invariably drag past people’s normal departure time.
        But most days he’d just putter around, work on stuff, or shoot the breeze with another manager whose softball league started later so he’d hang around at work before heading out (rather than leave and go home, or leave and hang out somewhere else)

        Then one day I overheard him talking to another manager he was friendly with. He mentioned he’d be at the office late, if the guy needed him to do review something before a meeting the next day. “No problem; I usually stay until 7 … that way by the time I get home, my wife has already fed the kids, and pretty much got them prepped for bedtime, so I can just eat my dinner and have a relaxing night. heh heh heh She just *thinks* I always have to work late” Note, his wife also worked full time. My respect for him and tolerance for his impromptu meetings or mentoring beginning as my normal shift was coming to an end completely plummeted that day.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, well. A husband like that is worse than useless, and since the wife was working FT as well, divorcing would’ve probably meant a drop in her standard of living, but probably not actual poverty. I wonder if they’re still married or if she wisened up and kicked him out. Better to be a single parent *de jure* as well if you’re already one *de facto*.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          Reminds me of this guy I met while correcting the state exams who basically informed us he was doing it so he’d be “too busy” to help look after the kids during their school holidays. He…didn’t return to correct the following year. Presumably he realised it wasn’t such an easy way of avoiding childcare as he thought!

      4. Flash Packet*

        I used to stay at work 12-14 hours a day just so I wouldn’t have to go home to my now-ex.

        At least at work the goalposts didn’t move minute-by-minute. I could be consistently “good” by behaving X-way; whereas at home I was consistently “bad” no matter what I did.

      5. Ellie*

        Yep – we had to have a conversation with someone at our work who was working insane hours, coming in on weekends, trying to work overnight on his own, etc. Its a big deal at our work because its considered a security risk. It turned out he was going through a divorce and was using work as an escape.

        I’d love some advice on what to do when that’s the problem though. The type of work we do is important, it can easily give someone a sense of purpose that the rest of their life is lacking. Its not healthy but it also seems cruel to take that away.

    2. Anon all day*

      Some people definitely have a martyr complex. I have a coworker who loves to complain about how busy they are and the crazy hours they work, and I honestly don’t understand it. Volume wise, I definitely have more work than them. It’s possible there could be more complexity in some of the things they do (our assignment system is somewhat random with regards to that), but I still don’t know where work comes from for them. I used to offer to take on some stuff from them, but it would be like talking to a wall, so now I just “uh huh” them when they get going.

      1. Lizzo*

        Oh lordy, I had a boss (for a very brief time, thank goodness) who would always comment about how I was leaving right on time, but she had to stay late because she had sooooo much work to do. Well, gee, if you didn’t take 2-3 hour lunches and spend most of your day socializing, you could probably go home now too!

        1. Jellyfish*

          One boss made a huge show of always staying late, putting in more hours, etc. Our jobs very rarely had anything truly urgent or required long hours.
          Then one day, the night security guard mentioned that Boss always left the office about ten minutes after the rest of us. It was all an act.

      2. anonymouse*

        I have this coworker. She doesn’t work insane overtime, just the same hours we all do. But somehow she is always “so busy” and has “so much” to do.
        The one coworker who fed into this, “omg, if you left, nothing would get done. You do everything!”
        Which left her with us, who again, do the same work, and our manager, who started out as a contributor in our group. So the end result is that management thinks she’s a tiresome martyr and goes out of their way not to give her cool special projects because it’s not worth the histrionics she goes through AFTER VOLUNTEERING.

      3. This is Artemesia*

        There are jobs where people really do work flat out for crazy long hours – but in my experience people who are always there, carry stuff home, work weekends and whine endless about it, are not productive people. They fool around all day and then get in a rush at 4:30 and ‘have to’ stay late. They produce less in 10 hours than well organized efficient people do in 6. And I suspect a fair number just don’t want to go home for lots of different reasons.

      4. StellaBella*

        Activity does not equal productivity. Just because they are doing stuff does not mean it is the right stuff etc etc

        1. La Triviata*

          At a previous job, I came in early and left “early” (we officially had flexible hours and I did put in the required time and did a lot of work, but efficiently). Another woman, who came in later, took a two-hour lunch and spent a good deal of time wandering around the office chatting with people, or calling her adult daughter, or working on personal projects. would frequently see me leaving at my normal time and say something loudly about, “I wish I could leave early.” I resisted the temptation to tell her to come in early, take a shorter lunch break and spend all her time on the work she was being paid for and she could.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I used to leave early to pick up the kids, I wasn’t paid well enough to justify paying someone else to pick them up. There was always someone who’d remark that they’d like to leave at four too. Yeah, are you willing to take the corresponding cut in pay? bearing in mind that part-time workers don’t have to be paid as much, it’ll end up being more than just on a pro-rata basis…
            And fact was, I was more productive, by dint of working flat out all day instead of … whatever they were doing.

    3. Oxford Common Sense*

      ** Maybe working insane hours just makes some people feel important. ???**

      Ding ding we have a winner. Lots of people do this for precisely this reason.

      1. KRM*

        Or they think if they’re seen as hard working or indispensable, then only good things can come of that, or they won’t get laid off if there is a need in the company.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Some people prefer to work too many hours to unemployment. I’ve found myself on both sides of the equation.

      1. Anon all day*

        But, at functional workplaces (and despite reading about only bad ones here, probably the majority are functional), those aren’t the only two options.

      2. The OTHER other*

        This applies to some awful workplaces that are chronically understaffed, or that demand huge productivity (Big Law) but it really isn’t the case for most workplaces. Some people have poor work habits and so it takes them a day to do a morning’s work. IME the people talking about how much work they had to do and how many hours they were working etc were rarely the most productive people in the office.

        Other workplaces definitely make it a cultural thing to work long hours, it something people are perversely proud of. When I was job hunting years ago I interviewed someplace where people were bragging about how long it’s been since they had taken a vacation. Another place was trying to pretend they did NOT have this kind of culture and the interviewer was telling me he had just taken time off last week. Digging deeper, he was talking about not working on a Sunday. I did not pursue things with either of them, needless to say.

        I wonder what would happen if the LW responded to these “we should all work that way!” exclamations with “why aren’t you?”.

        1. Koalafied*

          My workplace was chronically understaffed for many years (which has finally been remedied in the last year) and if anything it just made work life balance more of an obvious choice. I could have worked 60 hours a week and still not gotten everything done that ideally would get done. It felt like the small dent my overtime would make in my work was not worth the huge dent it would make in my well-being to feel like I needed to work 45 or 60 hours every single week by default.

          I planned around a 40 hour workweek. I set reasonable expectations with others for how much turnaround time I required for different requests, and I got ruthless about consciously choosing to spend my time wisely and to avoid spending my finite hours on activities that wouldn’t produce enough practical value to justify the time spent on that instead of something else.

          I’ve definitely had coworkers who I know could have worked much less than they did without penalty, and always wonder about it. Could be for any number of reasons but I always hoped it was at least a conscious choice they were making and not something they were feeling pressured to do.

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah, I have a friend who works as an EA and she’s seen some insane working practices. At one company people would almost compete to see who could send the earliest and latest emails to the boss/team, just to prove they were working crazy hours. The company was spending a fortune on pizza and takeaway because the rule was if you were in the office past 9pm, you could order dinner, so of course everyone stayed past 9pm (often until 10 or 11pm) and of course they were all back in the office at 6am just so they could show how dedicated and hardworking they were. This was a big finance company so it’s not surprising – it was all cutthroat and competitive cock-swinging. Sounded absolutely awful but these guys were being paid a fortune so I guess that made up for it. Most of them planned to do it until they were 40 or so and then retire or do something else. Personally I’d prefer my own crap salary and actual 9-5 job!

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Rewarding people for staying late is the most godawful stewardship if you want productivity. It always makes me think the people in charge are the type of parenting avoiders mentioned upthread who just want some company over pizza.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              I agree. Most people cannot sustain that sort of rythm long term, so their productivity per hour drops precipitously and they start making stupid mistakes. Better to have someone sharp at full productivity for 8 hours than a zombie for 15 hours.

    5. Meow*

      Yeah I also have a coworker who’s been “bragging” recently about how he’s so busy he has to work Saturdays. None of our work is time sensitive, he is the only person I’ve ever heard of here who felt the need to do that. Frankly I’m surprised management let’s him – I kinda wonder if he’s even clocking his time. Before this, he was always talking about how much time he spends studying for certs and stuff.

      Also he has 4 kids and a wife and rarely says a word about any of them. I don’t know what his reasons are but every time he thinks he’s bragging, it just makes me feel bad for his family.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I may be totally off base, but I wonder if he’d rather study or work on a Sat than wrangle 4 kids or do housework.

      2. Box of Kittens*

        I have a coworker who loves to talk about how much he loves his wife and kids and then in the same breath turns around and brags about how he’s been working 12-14 hour days, plus weekends, for months. Super rubs me the wrong way, not least because he gives off some very #tradwife vibes and likes to talk about how his kids are homeschooled, etc. Makes me feel bad for how much dang work his wife must be doing while he’s at work talking for hours about how hard he works (:

        1. Kimmy Schmidt*

          I’m in higher ed. Nothing enrages me more than the academic (usually white, usually male, usually tenured) talking about how easy it is to conduct research and add commitments while they have a stay at home spouse taking care of all the LABOR.

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            Or that they found the answer to a work problem when their wife was IN labor?
            He called it multitasking; my grad school advisor called it a spin-cycle in a septic tank.

          2. ferrina*

            Meanwhile I’ve had to write surveys from 8pm-midnight because I worked 8-5, then had to stop to pick up my young children, feed and care for them, put them to bed, make sure the house wasn’t filthy, then finish my work.
            Rinse, repeat for about 4 months.

      3. JustaTech*

        I had a coworker, who, among his many, many, many other quirks, came in to work most Saturdays (and possibly Sundays).
        This was an academic lab, but even the post-docs didn’t work all day both weekend days (or if they did, they did it from home), so it wasn’t like he had work that needed to get done over the weekend. (If anything he did less work and consumed more resources than anyone else.)

        When pressed he finally explained that his wife worked weekends (in a different lab) and that she would only pack him lunch if he went to work, so rather than learn how to make himself lunch he would come into the lab on the weekends.

        He was *very* odd.

    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      I feel like for some people it becomes habit too and they just don’t really consider the possibility that they could stop.

      I work in an industry with busy seasons and there are a few months where long hours are expected and then during other times you’re encouraged to sign off at reasonable times and take lots of PTO. I have noticed that my team in particular seems to have a lot of people who make themselves far more accessible than they should on a general basis. I seem to be a bit of an outlier going as far as to refuse to put Teams on my phone (I’ve told my boss that if something ever came up where they needed me to see something urgently at a time when I’m not online they can text me and let me know to log on as soon as I can, and they have never needed to take me up on that!)

      So far no one has pushed back on my boundaries so I try not to care about everyone else’s lack of them, but I do find it baffling. We just finished one big seasonal project and were told by our bosses basically “great job everyone, take some time to recharge, make sure to get plenty of PTO on the calendar” and yet in our team meeting today one person was talking about work things they plan on getting done this weekend. Why!!?? There is literally no reason for her to be working this weekend. Nothing is currently urgent, we have switched into long-term project mode until the next busy period. And our bosses are both out today and weren’t even on the meeting so it’s not like some thing of trying to make herself look good to them. I think these are literally just habits she picks up during the busy times and then never bothers to put down during the slower times and I will never understand it.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        I have a “busy season” in my work (and even then, I seldom work beyond a normal week because I work quickly and efficiently and have boundaries)–I will say when I come off a busy period, I have a really tough time adjusting to “slow season”. I have plenty of things that I can do/read/etc, but I feel guilty and out-of-sorts for a little while.

      2. JSPA*

        Some people love the feeling of getting a jump on (any) project, and only fully relax after they have some extra, early efforts “in the bank.”

        Also, if there is any creativity or style involved, the first person to start in on a project can often gently mold the direction it will take. It’s a way to make your input the default, against which further suggestions will be measured.

        Or just, yknow, a habit of brown-nosing.

      3. miss chevious*

        This is definitely the case with some people I’ve worked with. I’m a lawyer, and often our early careers have insanely high hours expectations. Once you get a little seniority or, like myself, move in-house, those expectations become more normal, but I’ve still got people on my team who operate like they need to be available on weekends (very rarely) or late at night (very rarely) or on PTO (nope) or sick days (nope). It’s habit, and it’s hard to break, even though as their boss, I tell them to be off AND model the behavior of being unavailable on PTO/weekends/etc.

    7. River Otter*

      Leave it. She’s got exactly the balance she wants, so just leave it.

      Sometimes I think complaining about a coworker who works a lot just makes some people feel important.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        I don’t know… my coworkers who seem to be working extra long hours — especially if they seem to actually work during all or most of them — never seem *Happy* about it. They always seem to talk as if they wished for more free time. So I don’t know if I believe people have the balance they want if they’re talking so often about how very busy they are.

        (The exception to this would be the guys — discussed several times above — who seem to be taking time at the office as a way of avoiding taking responsibilities at home with their kids, but they’re rarely the ones who seem to actually *be* working all their hours in the building.)

    8. Anonym*

      Some of us have what is temporarily (hopefully) a doubled workload, and are resenting the ever-living hell out of the situation while trying to keep initiatives we care about afloat. I try to keep my management chain aware of the issues and how much I’m doing, while at the same time trying not to model or contribute to a culture of overwork (i.e. I will totally email my boss and their boss at whatever ridiculous hour I’m doing the thing, because it’s on them that we’re understaffed and I refuse to hide that, but I try to use delivery delay on emails to other people, because this is Bad and Abnormal).

      I’m definitely also the person commenting to my colleague who has much better work-life balance! I tell them that I appreciate their modeling it, and I’m trying to get back there. It’s 100% sincere, and I’m really grateful that someone on my team is standing up and holding firm! That person is a bit of a beacon for me right now, and a reminder of where I want to get back to. We’re all overworked, but for reasons of specialization/skillset I have it worse than my colleague just now. It really helps to have other people to look to when it feels impossible to you in the moment. So thank you for the way you work, OP, and for showing the rest of us the way!

      1. Anonym*

        It’s also hard to know how to talk honestly about the situation without being perceived as someone with a martyr or “look how important/hardworking I am” complex, especially when it affects deadlines and partners. I’m trying as I note above, but would not mind tips if anyone has any for gracefully managing expectations without sounding like a whiner or an unreliable jerk. (Unless this is too off topic, in which case please disregard!)

      2. Healthcare Manager*

        *here here in healthcare*

        I do find the comments in this thread calling everyone who does overtime a martyr difficult. Some of us are just trying to keep a sinking ship floating during a difficult time that (should) get better.

        1. Lizzo*

          I’d wager a guess that many of the folks making the martyr comments work in office settings, with (mostly) salaried jobs and a fair amount of control over time management at the office. Healthcare–especially patient-facing healthcare–is a whole other ball of wax.

          All that said, THANK YOU for all your efforts to keep the ship afloat.

          1. Ellie*

            Yes I think in most occupations (especially office ones), the only tangible benefit to working overtime is to line the pockets of the shareholders. So it absolutely isn’t worth it. But there are a lot of fields where you genuinely can be letting people down if you leave on time – healthcare, emergency services, social services, etc. That’s a lot harder to deal with. And there are people who just really love their jobs. I am in engineering, and when there’s a crunch we’re inundated with volunteers who are quite happy to work insane hours to get something over the line. They love it. Trying to get the balance right can be hard.

          2. OP*

            OP here- yes, this is an important distinction to make. I work in corporate IT, so we have busy times around releases or refreshes or unexpected failures where it is necessary to put in extra time, but we also have quiet times where it’s easy to compensate for the extra worked hours. And no one is going to die if you don’t answer their email within seconds.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          “Overtime martyrs” are definitely a white collar office-specific type of issue, and this discussion pretty definitely does not apply to healthcare.

          Or to teaching, factory work, warehouse work, fast food and restaurant work…

          And as noted, is not the same even as office work with high pressure crunch times and balancing down-times.

        3. Anonymity*

          Healthcare is its own beast. I’ve been practicing medicine for 25 years. It will never change. We aren’t martyrs. But we can’t stop in the middle of patient care and just leave. If I’m out within an hour and a half of my shift end, I consider that lucky.

          I’m this case of the OP I would NOT jump on the Norma Rae let’s get everyone life balance. It could backfire and is not her job. I’d simply answer “It works for me” and change the subject.

        4. t4ci3*

          if the comments don’t apply to you, then they don’t apply to you and you don’t need to pay any attention to them. If I tell you about how this ridiculous customer today tried to return some dirty lingerie that had clearly been worn, and got upset when told they couldn’t, this is not a cue for you to talk about the jerks at the store who wouldn’t give you a refund on some lingerie that, one you got it out of the box, turned out to be mislabeled and the wrong size so you never got to wear it. If it’s not about you, then it’s not about you.

        5. Ellis Bell*

          I think most people have caveated that the work is not time sensitive, or burdensome and that the people staying late are doing more bragging than working. I don’t think anyone would say that about the healthcare field. When I have worked with office martyrs, my internal monologue is “good grief it’s not life and death”.

    9. Sloanicota*

      I think this is true. Some people get an ego boost out of feeling critical or their anxiety pushes them to be always “on” or both (recall that “insecure overachiever” was the personality type targeted by big firms for a while). The problem is that having a coworker like this pushes the culture, especially if they ever get promoted. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy in that you will end up “needing” to do this type of schedule to succeed.

    10. Some Dude*

      The examples I can think of are either people who a, take much longer than most people to do their work, b, have anxiety issues so overwork because they have anxiety around their work (which is related to a), or c, have way too much on their plate and can’t/don’t know how to get stuff off of it.

    11. Iris Eyes*

      It is likely something they have been trained in their whole life. If as a child you go to school (work) for 7 hrs, then have homework, plus 2-3 extra curricular where is the work/life balance? Then over the summer vacation you have supplementary workbooks, camps, etc. There are some people who are adults and have had almost no opportunity for unstructured free time. Even their play was in the form of sports or activities or video games with specific expectations and progressions. They literally don’t know how to not work all the time because that’s the only thing they have ever known, even their bodily functions have been regulated and scheduled. Only things that they were extraordinarily passionate about gave them any incentive to place boundaries between what they wanted to do with their time and what was expected for them to do with their time.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and I feel so sorry for all kids who go through that wringer. The one essential ingredient in creativity is occasional boredom. These kids turn into perfect robots who don’t know what to do with themselves unless their time is scheduled and structured. I’m so glad I escaped that as a kid.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          As a teacher, while I usually roll my eyes at “kids these days,” one thing that DOES seem to me to have changed is how a number of kids seem to struggle to entertain themselves at all. I have students who HATE free classes, ten or fifteen minutes into one and they start complaining “how long is left?”, “what do we DO?”, “can you organise a game of hangman/charades/something for us?” I have no problem with doing the last but…when I was at school, we’d have HATED if a teacher did that. Free classes were a chance to relax or get some of your homework done so you’d have less to do that evening or to chat quietly with your friends if the teacher supervising wasn’t too strict.

          We even have some kids complaining how long is left in break because they are bored and I do think part of it comes from that constant scheduling. Also probably partly due to the internet and if I let them “go on their phones,” the complaints about being bored stop pretty quickly.

    12. Irish Teacher*

      It’s possible they just really enjoy their job or that they are a perfectionist or have anxiety. I think there are loads of reasons and if it’s their choice and they don’t seem to be bothered by it and they aren’t stressed or their productivity isn’t declining, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. It might be but it might be that they actually enjoy what they are doing.

      1. anonymo*

        THANK YOU!

        The office martyr is a real and problematic thing, but there are ALSO plenty of people who work long hours with many of the quite different things mentioned here — what type of business they are in, looking for a distraction for a short-term reason, need to concentrate and not be at home while doing that deep work, perfectionistic, and so on.

        And as Alison pointed out in her reply, some people really do have an easier time setting boundaries than others.

        1. allathian*

          Yes, all of that is true. However, I’m glad that I work in an environment where those who work extraordinarily long hours aren’t seen as the heroes. Employee well-being at work is one of our five core values, and our flexible working and opportunities for good work/life balance constantly get the highest scores in our employee satisfaction surveys, and for good reason.

          In general, we don’t attract the work to live folks, because they don’t get any kudos for how much time they spend at work.

          1. allathian*

            Or for constantly complaining how busy they are without even attempting to do anything about it, even when their manager tries to help them prioritize better.

      2. Polly Hedron*

        It’s possible they just really enjoy their job or that they are a perfectionist….

        I was like that before I retired, often working long hours. In jobs where I loved the work, I couldn’t tear myself away until I had made it perfect. My pace was slow so, even with the overtime, I finished less work than my peers, but I got away with it because my quality was excellent.

        I didn’t feel like a martyr. I never mentioned my long hours. But sometimes people noticed, and then I was glad I was exempt. (What would I have done if I hadn’t exempt? I might have sneakily taken work home.)

    13. Elle*

      We had someone in a position without loose boundaries, with the one boundary being not too work more than 40 hours a week. He could never do it, and it was mostly because he had his hands in all sorts of things that weren’t remotely close to his job description. He constantly just made life harder for himself, in an effort to prove himself in his new role, which, duh, had the opposite effect.

  2. Lite-Brite-Expert*

    “It’s really not that hard to decide you’re done with being available at ridiculous hours, so these comments seem weird to me. ”
    This is the sentence that really stood out to me and why the LW thinks that people maybe are viewing them poorly. The LW doesn’t recognize that they are *unusually* good at establishing and sticking to boundaries. Yes, in theory, these things are easy to do. In reality they are very difficult for many people which is why I think Allison’s advice is on point–people genuinely are expressing some envy and wistfulness in wanting what the LW has. People often want to please bosses, be viewed well, and if they feel insecure in job performance, are new and are unsure what they are doing, etc.–they attempt to make up for deficiencies by making themselves extra available. And when the work culture reinforces this and supports blurred boundaries as well, it only gets worse. Then those poor boundaries carry on even after they become more secure, knowledgeable, etc. and then don’t know how to pull back without feeling like they aren’t pulling their weight any longer. Most people don’t have the skills or the resolution to set boundaries like that and stick to them (I say this as one of those people with poor work/life boundaries…).

    1. Cora*

      The thing is, having the ability to set boundaries doesn’t come about by magic. I’ve worked at it, and gotten used to it, and used some therapy skills – and now it sticks. Everyone can at least try to have boundaries – I understand that some bosses or clients will be harder to work with than others for sure.

      1. Lite-Brite-Expert*

        Oh absolutely–I don’t disagree with that at all. It’s more natural for some people but most people have to be taught it to some degree. I think LW’s assumption that boundaries are easy suggests to me that they are someone for whom boundaries are most intuitive than for most without realizing that what they do naturally is very hard for others.

        1. Anon all day*

          As someone for whom boundaries like this come naturally, I think I’m definitely more of the outlier from what I’ve seen. I think part of it is that, at least for me, the qualities that lead to me having a good work life balance (which is seen as a good trait to have) are traits that definitely have a more negative slant. While I’m very conscientious about doing a good job, I’m also willing to be selfish and not automatically volunteer for everything (possibly not being the best possible “team player”) so I don’t make my life harder than it needs to be. Also, my self confidence definitely veers into ego, so I know I do a good job, and I don’t feel the need to work harder to prove myself unnecessarily.

          1. My Useless 2 Cents*

            I have never had to struggle with work-life balance as it has always come very naturally. I agree that main trait I have that allow this does have a negative slant. While I don’t think of myself necessarily as selfish, I am inherently lazy and it just doesn’t occur to me to stay late to finish something. I actually start wrapping up things 20-30 minutes before I clock out for the day and it is rare indeed that I don’t clock out on the dot.

            On the topic of finishing up something I’d like to note that the happiest work time in my lift was a job I had where I literally had a two foot stack in my inbox. I loved knowing I had plenty to do and the days flew by. The amount of work never stressed me out. (Disrupting my workflow, AKA coworkers or customers not following or trying to bypass the established process, stresses me out, but a sh!tload of work…bring it) But I have no problems leaving the work for the next day and that lazy side of my personality just can’t wrap my head around *having* to finish everything that day.

            1. Dwight Schrute*

              Yes, same here. I have good work life balance because I’m too lazy to work late to get it all done when I can finish it tomorrow

              1. allathian*

                Oh yes, I feel this so hard. The thing is, my to-do list is never finished, and if it were, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with myself. As long as I’ve had an office job, my to-do lists have been bottomless, so I learned early that I’m not expected to complete my to-do lists.

                I’m not in the US, so the exempt-unexempt rule doesn’t apply. I have a certain number of minimum working hours I have to do every quarter, not every week, and I can set my working hours pretty freely, as long as I attend the meetings I’ve promised to attend. During particularly busy times I might work a couple 50+ hour weeks, but when things slack off, I can work 30-hour weeks instead, and pretty much at my own discretion. My manager is required to intervene if I have more than 80 hours banked, but she’d probably do it earlier than that.

                1. JustaTech*

                  It was really interesting to discover that my MIL thought that everyone in the working world had a to-do list that could and should be finished every day, and that my husband was not being a good employee because he didn’t finish all possible work every day.

                  We had a long conversation about the difference between daily/ time-sensitive tasks and bigger projects that could take weeks or months or years, and the idea that you would be doing many of these projects at the same time and be waiting on other people to move to the next step.
                  She had always done all of the administrative type tasks for my in-law’s small business, so her day really was broke up like that – Mondays were reconciling accounts receivable, Tuesdays were for placing orders, Thursday were payroll, etc etc. She had no concept of things like “first day of experiment is Monday, second day of the experiment is Wednesday, and no, you can’t do it Tuesday” let alone things like a multi-year change to a supplier, or all of the constant support work involved in being a manager at a medium-to-large company.

              2. Florida Fan 15*

                Yep, I’m one of these and I agree with the (seen as) negative traits line of thinking (I don’t think they’re actually negative but I know others do). For me at least, part of it is that I don’t care all that much about being liked. Of course I care somewhat, who doesn’t, but it’s lower down my list of priorities than the average person I know.

                Plus, I’ve gotten pretty good at not taking personally what isn’t personal. Comments like OP is getting are more about the person saying them than about OP. To the extent they’re about OP at all, they’re about how OP’s way of being reflects on the other person’s self-image. Say they did think OP was a slacker. Chances are they don’t objectively care; it only matters because a) seeing OP as a slacker enables them to feel superior, or b) they’re afraid others won’t see OP as a slacker and then why are they trying so damn hard?

                OP’s doing a good thing by setting and holding boundaries. They just need to do the next step, which is to internalize the right to have those boundaries and not second-guess themselves. You don’t need other people’s understanding, acceptance, or permission to do what you think is right for yourself. But you do have to hold firm when it feels like they’re pushing on you to stop.

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          The Rutherford Falls Season 2 episode 1 has the best exchange about setting boundaries by someone like the LW and I and someone who struggles to do so. I’ll link in next post

      2. Clorinda*

        I work closely with someone who maintains these boundaries and is very open about her limits. It has taken me about a year of close cooperation and teamwork for me to pick up what she’s been laying down.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Oh interesting. What exactly did you need to see more of, or did you just have to get used to seeing it over time?

    2. metadata minion*

      It’s also likely to be much harder to scale *back* to reasonable hours once you’ve set a precedent for working longer than it is to start fresh with firm boundaries at a new workplace. It can look and/or feel like slacking off to start working fewer hours, even if objectively you recognize that you’re undoing an unhealthy pattern of overwork and are quite likely performing better in the hours you are working once you make more time for yourself outside of work.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        Add to that the remote work zeitgeist, and there’s yet another challenge for people trying to establish or maintain healthy work-life separation (ask me how I know…).

        I’ve been working remotely since before the pandemic, and I continue to struggle with clearly delineating my on/off hours – mostly because I’d get distracted during the day doing stuff around the house, and then have to finish up my work in the evening, which really does NOT work for me. Recently, I’ve found that creating an evening routine of stuff I enjoy and look forward to (in my case yoga, shower, and reading) has made me protective of my personal time – which has forced me to work more efficiently during the day.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      That line struck me too. I am like the LW and very, very, very good at setting boundaries. Don’t know how, don’t know why, so I never notice I am doing it. It is like being a naturally faster runner. It took me until well into my 30s to realize that for most people it isn’t easy, it isn’t natural, and I needed to be more understanding of the people around me who struggle with it. It is a gift, LW!

    4. Anonym*

      Yep, it’s certainly a work in progress for me. When I set a boundary with work or attempt to stick to one, it’s against decades of assuming I’m the problem rather than the work/boss/culture/situation being unreasonable (thanks, ADHD!).

      I said the same above, but will do again: thank you for keeping to your boundaries, OP! People like you give me proof in moments of doubt that it really is okay to push back and follow the better, healthier path. I’m willing to bet many of those comments are coming from a similar, genuine place.

      1. ferrina*

        YES. ADHD is definitely something that impacts boundaries, because my ADHD has set a different standard of normal for me. I’m slow at the “easy” things and fast at the “hard/impossible/inconceivable” things. And growing up I was told I was wasting my potential and needed to “focus and work harder” (yeah, not actually good advice for ADHD. We’re usually working extremely hard already, but in a different way). ADHD research has also shown that ADHD kids also get waaaaay more criticism than their peers, which also messes with your sense of self-worth (which can make you question if you can/should have the boundaries you need). Add that with the ADHD “ooh, this is interesting so I’m going to say yes without considering how it ties in with my other work”, and you’ve got a rough situation. I’m also less likely to give up on a project because with my ADHD creativity, there’s always another solution I could try.

    5. Jackalope*

      It’s also important to add that if the MANAGER is having such poor boundaries (see: texting work during his wedding!!), then it makes it that much harder for everyone else to set them up. We’ve seen so many letters here from people who got negative repercussions from setting those boundaries, whether being fired for not being a “team player”, fewer bonuses, not getting promoted, etc. It sounds like at this LW’s job the boundaries are okay to set, but that’s not always the case.

      1. I Need Coffee*

        EXACTLY! Just because the leader is fine with no work-life balance does not mean it should be imposed on everyone else down the line but that is exactly what happens at my company. The negative repercussions are ridiculous.

      2. allathian*

        Definitely this. I’ve been fortunate in my work life in that I’ve never had a manager who’d penalize me for not working extra long days all the time. Of course, I’ve thanked them by working longer days without complaint when it’s been absolutely crucial, because I’ve been able to trust that the long days aren’t going to last forever.

    6. Flash Packet*

      I met with my mentor yesterday and this topic came up. She said that her husband only sleeps 2-4 hours a night, has all his life, and fills his “extra” hours with work. So there are those people.

      And she said that she was a workaholic when she first entered the professional world and thought that’s just what people did to get ahead and be valued.

      Then she had her first child, followed one year later by the second, and she said, “Eff this,” to voluntarily working 60+ hours a week. Now she only does it in situations that truly warrant it, even though her kids are teenagers. She also said she wished she could go back and work less but, back then, she didn’t even know it was an option.

        1. Pencil*

          A rare few people really do naturally sleep like that. They’re the far end of the bell curve, but they exist. Dolly Parton, IIRC, is another one

          1. allathian*

            Yeah, they do exist, but they’re few and far between. The key is whether or not the people who sleep only half as much as most would consider normal and necessary, actually wake up feeling rested or not. If they do, sleeping only a few hours isn’t a problem.

      1. Ali + Nino*

        I really hope her husband, who somehow only needed max 4 hours sleep, shouldered at LEAST an equal share of the baby-care burden in those early, sleepless years…

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, so do I!

          My husband sleeps about as much as I do, between 6.5 and 7.5 hours a night. Because he can fall asleep within 5 minutes of his head hitting the pillow, he slept in the same room as our son, and brought him to me to be fed at night for those feeds when I nursed him, otherwise he warmed up a bottle of formula (our son was born hypoglycemic and underweight, and wasn’t allowed to lose any of his birth weight, so exclusive breastfeeding wasn’t an option for us). By the time I put our son back in his cot, my husband was always asleep again. And then it’d take half an hour at least for me to get back to sleep… We did this even when I was at home with our son all day on maternity leave and my husband was at work. But it was certainly a relief when our son started sleeping through the night.

    7. OP*

      OP here- I guess I’ve never considered that I’m particularly good at setting boundaries, but these comments have certainly opened my eyes to how challenging it can be for others. Thinking back, I never “pulled an overnighter” in college- I always knew that it’s better for me to quit, get a decent night of sleep, and get back to it with a fresh mind. But I also set my self up so I’m very rarely in a position that if I don’t power through, the work won’t get done on time- I’m able to control my deadlines and build buffers so I’m “over delivering” in a majority of my tasks. Thinking about this all reminded me that in high school, I had a rule that I could enjoy Friday afternoon and evening but then I couldn’t get out of bed on Saturday morning until I’d completed my homework (lol!) which sounds silly, but worked well for me to have an enjoyable free weekend with “work” taken care of. I will keep in mind the next time a coworker wistfully sighs over my free time that it might truly be hard for them to see how it’s possible.. and consider offering some concrete advise when appropriate.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        I am pretty good at going home on time, and not giving a frack, but I do think you may be unusually good. The stand out sentence for me was “This isn’t for me so I don’t do it.” Like, you just completely skipped over worrying that your works-at-his-wedding boss would expect a similar level of availability.

  3. Falling Diphthong*

    I think there’s a lot to the bit about 20% more hours not necessarily meaning 20% more useful output is produced. There’s a point of diminishing returns, and often a point of actively going backward because you never recharge.

    1. Alexis Rosay*

      Right, or not working super efficiently because you’re already thinking you’re going to be working until 7pm anyway. Like OP, I’m usually very fast, very efficient, and I have very good boundaries. But on the occasional day I know I have to stay late for something, I don’t bother trying to work as fast—I mean, if I don’t think I can sign out at 5, what’s the point of finishing on time? This can become a self-perpetuating cycle.

      This isn’t to say it’s always a *them* problem; sometimes the amount of work is just more than the amount of work hours.

      1. Relentlessly Socratic*

        Alexis Rosay, I do tell people (like jr. staff) that if they give themselves permission to work on the weekend, then they’ll always be working on the weekend. I used to let work eat up a lot of my life, because I was always saying “Oh, I’ll finish this on Saturday/Sunday/this evening/whathaveyou.” About 9 years ago I switched fields and simply made working outside of normal hours something that would happen under exceedingly rare circumstances, and (I mean, lucky me!) it stuck.

      2. KRM*

        This reminds me of grad school (in life sciences) where I literally had a professor say to me, as I was talking to her about doing a lab rotation with her, that “people were leaving at 6 and she would have to have a talk with them about how that was unacceptable”. I had worked (in academia, even!) for a few years and knew that an 8-4 schedule is perfectly compatible with good output and data. And honestly, if grad students are expected to stay late and work late, what they do is take a long lunch or a 2 hour coffee break in the middle of the day, so that they have something to do late at night.
        That’s not even getting into issues with students who have families, etc. Very toxic. Luckily a lot of my cohort are not following that model with their own students, but it’ll still take a long time to change.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Even though I’ve never framed it that way, it’s definitely true for me that if I did work longer hours regularly, I would not necessarily be any better or get a lot more accomplished – my brain just kinda shuts down after a certain period.

      1. KRM*

        Yep. I work great from 7:30 when I get in to about 2. Then I start feeling a little tired and I can do some data analysis or reading papers. But after about 3:30/4 I’m not really good for being Productive! anymore.

        1. allathian*

          I’m very similar. When I’m WFH I frequently start work at between 6.30 and 7.30, usually by 8 at the latest. On my office days I try to get there by 8 at the latest. I go to the office mainly to see my coworkers in person, which typically means taking at least an hour for lunch, sometimes 90 minutes. At home I usually make do with 30 minutes for lunch. But unless I’m working to a strict deadline and running on adrenaline, I’m unlikely to be productive much past 3 pm, so that’s when I stop working when I’m WFH. At the office I try to stick it out until 4 pm. In environments where working hours are less flexible, our normal is 8-4 rather than 9-5. If I couldn’t start until 9 I’d feel like I’ve wasted two of my most productive hours (and 7-8 is productive because there are few interruptions, most of my coworkers aren’t online yet.

    3. Snow Globe*

      Example: I started a new job last year, and since I was new, I started out checking/answering emails that came in after work hours. There usually aren’t more than 4-5 per evening, but it felt like I was always at work. Sometimes I’d need to open up my laptop to search for an answer. After a few months I turned off the email alerts, and now answer 1st thing in the morning-and it usually takes less than 5 minutes to respond to everything. Five minutes, vs several hours of being ‘on call’ previously.

      1. allathian*

        Yes. Thankfully this concept is taken for granted at my org, I’ve never had to set any work/life boundaries at my current job. It’s probably one of the reasons why I’ve stayed 15 years…

  4. JSPA*

    “Some days it’s daunting to power through everything during work hours, but I love keeping work and home separate.”

    This emphasizes that it’s the result of effort, planning and choices, not some special reduced workload, flakiness, or what-have-you.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      It’s not always the case but it can be. At times, I work weird hours because I just can’t focus on Friday and make it up on Sunday. Sometimes it’s a choice I make intentionally. But I also know it’s possible to make different choices — after years of evening/weekend time-bleed (and thinking that was inevitable for me) I changed my patterns and was able to things done by 5 when I started a serious relationship so that our time was our time. After doing that successfully for a bunch of years he’s gone, and I’m back to time bleed. It’s not right or wrong, it comes down to how I prioritize.

      1. allathian*

        Sometimes working on days when everyone else or most others aren’t, such as on a Sunday, can be the only way to get some time to focus without constant interruptions.

  5. Be kind, rewind*

    Yes! There will definitely be some people who unnecessarily feel as though they have to be always available, and using one of those scripts will prompt them to put in place better boundaries. In fact, if they’re being genuine in their desire to have more work/life balance, your explicit support in that could be the nudge they need to reexamine it for themselves.

  6. Elizabeth*

    My response would be something like, “Employees have the right and also the responsibility to disengage,” but I suspect that’s not a common belief in the US. In Canada, some provinces are legislating that right.

    1. Anon all day*

      I don’t know why this has to be a US versus the world issue? Assuming that OP is in the US, clearly OP has that belief (and so do the powers that be, as OP isn’t being penalized for it), so I’m not sure why your broad brush stroke of Americans is relevant.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Salaried-exempt work is much more common in America than most other countries, as I understand it. There’s less room for this kind of culture to spring up when overtime affects the budget.

        1. Anon all day*

          Do you have a citation for this? It could completely be true, but I wonder where it’s coming from.

      2. JSPA*

        It IS relevant that in some places, disengaging is required BY LAW, not merely by custom or personal preference.

          1. Global Cat Herder*

            For a lot of Americans, salaried-exempt means “you’re salaried so you work more than X hours a week” and I think that’s what ecnaseener means.

            I am the only American on my global virtual IT team. My colleagues work in 11 different countries and they are not legally allowed to work more than X hours a week (which varies by country). If they do work more, they either get paid the overtime or they take comp time in a certain short period of time, in accordance with their country’s labor protections. The US is literally the only place – in my team of 11 countries – where “you’re salaried so you work more than X hours a week” is LEGALLY POSSIBLE.

          2. JSPA*

            Where it’s not legal–which is much of the world–or highly frowned upon, officially–another large chunk of the world–it’s also a vanishingly rare personal opinion that it’s desirable.

            In Brazil, the security guard would give us serious side-eye for stopping by the government lab to pick up an item after hours or on weekends…until he realized we were from the US, at which point, it all made sense. He still thought we were crazy–but not bad-crazy, just sociologically warped.

            I say this as someone who’s easily distracted, and who loves to work evenings and weekends rather than peak hours, and to fritter more distracted daytime hours nominally at work, but really, on the internet. So there’s no way this can be construed as “dumping” on the idea of spending extra time at work; it’s purely a sociological reality that for much of the world–even places where people may work three jobs on different shifts–working extra hours outside of one’s shift, voluntarily, is a weird american thing.

      3. Elizabeth*

        Government legislation wouldn’t be needed if it wasn’t an issue here, one that employees are pushing back against. Not to mention, At-will employment is a thing, no? It’s not a dig to make a connection between workplace culture and job security. Why would you feel affronted by that?

    2. River Otter*

      I don’t know about it being a responsibility. Why should a person cut back their hours bc their coworker feels insecure about how much they work? It’s on you to manage your feelings about your coworkers’ hours.

      If somebody working more hours actually negative impacts another person’s work, which can happen in my field, then it’s up to that person’s supervisor/project manager to tell them to cut back. But telling a person to cut back just bc Elizabeth has feelings about it? No.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Employees have a responsibility to their co-workers to be fit for duty, which includes not being fatigued. We also have responsibilities – by law in Canada – to take reasonable precautions to ensure workplace safety, as well as others. OP’s letter was about how to respond to people commenting on their boundaries – I’m not walking around telling people to work less unless they specifically ask me about my work-life balance.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        It being a responsibility as well has nothing to do with someone else feeling insecure and thinking it does seems kind of strange. The closest place where the responsibility not to overwork is related to the feelings of other people in the office is in making coworkers or subordinates feel like extra hours are an obligation because their job will be at risk, or because they are overworked to the point they literally cannot clear their desk otherwise.

        Mostly, it’s a responsibility to the worker themselves, not to anyone around them, because the cumulative effects of exhaustion end up ruining either the work itself or the willingness to do the work.

        Truck drivers, airline pilots and train conductors aren’t supposed to work past a certain number of hours because of fatigue and the dangers inherent in operating a large vehicle without rest. Nurses, doctors, and all the other medical staff SHOULD have that same right but because their job involves patients they haven’t been allowed to draw that boundary, which has led directly to the current medical care crisis as they burn out and quit instead.

        Working in an office doesn’t have the same level of urgency. But doing it continually without rest still has detrimental effects both in sloppy errors in work and in physical and mental health; it just takes longer and isn’t as dramatic.

    3. Melanie Cavill*

      As a Canadian, I have definitely struggled to disengage in a healthy way from a workplace that relied heavily on me. I feel it stems more from industry and management than it does the country of origin.

    4. StellaBella*

      Well I work in Europe and most of my team works 12 hours days and check in even when on holidays. But I also know that our work place is understaffed and stretched and we do not have a union for workers and well, the culture where I work is not good at balance for work and life. And I do work with some martyr types too but this is not a US problem

  7. OutofOffice*

    I agree with Alison, but there’s one additional thing I’d consider: Are the workloads truly equal across the board? Do some of those team members have more on their plate and/or different expectations for their roles (things like dual roles, more meetings, more operational tasks, more/challenging direct reports, special projects/development work, SME responsibilities in different high-demand areas?)? If so, it can be harder to strike a work-life balance even if the colleague is super efficient. If a colleague has back-to-back meetings from 9-5 and then actual work that needs to get done, they’re going to need to work longer hours until the culture (of their role, or top down) changes, and it can be such a challenge for an individual to push back on that.

    1. OutofOffice*

      I also just considered that industry may play a role here. Non-profits skew this way pretty heavily, especially if there are aspects of an emergency response component (and also have a tendency to have fewer staff resources!). IT can skew this way, too, especially if there are on-call needs.

    2. My Useless 2 Cents*

      I used to fall for this line of thinking a lot and truly believed I was missing something because everyone around me was talking about how busy they were. Some staying late or working a few hours on the weekend (at a company that *really* discouraged overtime). Yet, I had no problem leaving on time or getting all my work done. I got so insecure that I ran the numbers and found out that my work output was 25% higher than the closest coworker. We were all doing the same job. Literally pulling from the same pile. I later found out coworkers were even cherry picking the *easy* jobs. I didn’t understand why they were struggling and it took years to wrap my head around the fact that some people just work at different speeds. I picked up the speed a little just because I could and dealt with the boredom when we “ran out” of work and they were all still plugging away when we hit a slower period. Well, until I found out about the cherry picking, that didn’t sit well at all.

    3. hbc*

      I think it would be reasonable to fold that into a response to those comments. When they say they wish they worked less, OP can say, “What’s stopping you?” Not snidely, but showing genuine curiosity.

  8. WellRed*

    I wonder how long OPs manager’s marriage will last? It’s work, people. Has anyone in the history of working for “the man” ever declared, “I should have worked more.” No.

    1. Carol the happy elf*

      Thanks for that! I had a boss who told me that, on their deathbed, nobody ever wished he had spent more time at the office. And nobody ever said, “I’ve seen too many sunsets with my family”.

      If anyone gets that, it’s this group.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I wonder the same thing! Giant side eye to that manager and maybe he’s the problem, or at least a big part of the problem.

  9. Language Lover*

    Part of it could just be jealousy of your ability to hold firm or even the willpower to do so.

    I have coworkers who almost always adhere to not working in the evening or on the weekend except in very limited emergency situations. I’m a little jealous.

    I have weak boundaries. If I’m on my computer, it’s just so easy to check my email or see the Skype message that pops up. And once I do, I feel like I should address them immediately. I’m in education so I feel for the students who often are doing their work outside of their daytime jobs and want to help them. Their deadlines so often happen when I’m technically not at work.

    1. Combinatorialist*

      If you can afford it, a separate work and “not work” computer can do wonders here. If you want to help your students, you could also plan to schedule work time for you around their deadlines and still have separation

      1. Language Lover*

        I do have separate computers…now. But I still find it too easy to check my email out of curiosity.

    2. tessa*

      To your last sentence: how is the conflict between students’ deadlines and your work schedule yours to fix? The students will live without your help, and come to understand that the world doesn’t stop to accommodate them. That’s what growth means. Don’t deprive students of it. So they get a C. So what? They’ll manage.

  10. EPLawyer*

    Texting from his own wedding? yeah NO.

    That’s a sign of a sick culture. OP you are limited on how much you can change the overall culture. BUT, you can start by saying that having a healthy work life balance makes everyone more productive. I mean how much did that guy REALLY accomplish from his wedding? How much is being accomplished if you a call while traveling on vacation? You don’t have what you might need right in front of you, or in a good place to concentrate. So a lot of this is performative. Don’t SAY that of course, but really lay it on about being actually productive by setting a work life balance.

    1. Zap R.*

      This is such a good point. Calling in from the cottage/campsite/airport terminal/moving car doesn’t work for anybody and nobody’s really accomplishing anything of value.

      Also, if my husband was texting work during our wedding, I would break the record for world’s fastest divorce.

      1. Jackalope*

        I”m suddenly reminded of a week or so before my wedding. The now Mr. Jackalope’s boss had forgotten about the wedding, and something came up for the week after we were getting married. His boss said, “Well, I guess Mr. Jackalope will have to take care of it.” Another co-worker gave him major side-eye and said, “He’ll be on his HONEYMOON that week.” My now husband added, “Yeah, I’m getting married on [let’s say August 11, 2022]. Since I don’t want to be getting divorced on [August 12, 2022], I’m going to have to pass.” Readers, he did not do that thing, and the business survived. (And his boss was fine with that once he remembered that Mr. Jackalope was off.)

        1. Waiting on the bus*

          I was the maid of honor at a wedding recently. As the best man, groom, bride and me were on the way to the wedding, about 10 minutes before we arrived, the groom’s boss called with a bunch of work related questions. For the whole rest of the ride, the groom tried to cut his boss off by telling him that he’s literally on the way to his wedding and can’t check whatever boss wanted him to check.

          No idea what the boss was thinking but the bride was this close to either break down crying or completely blow up. We were already late at that point because the groom and best man forgot the rings. In the end the groom had to hang up on his boss and turn off his phone *as we were pulling into the driveway of the venue*.

      2. Global Cat Herder*

        There’s a movie on Netflix where this is the premise. Kristen Bell is texting work as she’s walking down the aisle, her fiancé says oh hell no, and she goes on her now-cancelled-but-paid-for honeymoon cruise with newly reunited absentee dad Kelsey Grammar and learns the value of family and work-life balance.

        And I might have been working at 2am when I had this fluff on in the background, because “we can’t take orders” needs fixed right away, but I took all the comp time for it.

    2. WellRed*

      I was so irritated the most recent time my boss’s boss decided to weigh in on a weekly news wire proofing (I didn’t need the help) while on the road on PTO. I said “great,” politely, and then she “disappeared” for an hour because she was in a flipping car in the boondocks and lost WiFi. I could have wrapped an hour earlier for the week!

  11. El l*

    The best response to those comments is – delivered in a curious tone – asking,

    “What’s stopping you?”

    Look, even within a corporate culture every job is different, not least because as Alison pointed out different bosses often drive workloads.

    But the question will illustrate the bigger point: Too many people just haven’t thought about what boundaries they are willing to stick on work, and to stick to those boundaries when challenged.

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      Oh! I like the ‘What’s stopping you?” question … maybe said with a smile and a little laugh, just to make sure it’s not coming across as accusatory.

      As a follow up question or add on to the ‘What’s stopping you?” I might also add something along the lines of … “Try it for a month and see what happens.”

      1. ecnaseener*

        I might go for genuine curiosity rather than the little laugh, because maybe there’s a reason (heavier workload than you, manager pressure) and you don’t want to come across as flippant about that.

        If you ask genuinely, and the response is “I don’t know, I’m scared it’ll look bad!” then yeah, go for the kind laugh.

      2. El l*

        Yeah, this is one of those cases where your tone* is at least as important as your words.

        *Here, soft and rising

  12. PinaColada*

    I love Allison’s answer and I would add, it’s worth having some conversations to see if you can impact the culture at all! Whether you are in a leadership position and you are able to discuss it at top levels—or in a lower position and you bring it to your managers attention— I have found that doing a simple Internet research and having some articles to cite, helps me say things like “Hey, I’m concerned about what I’m perceiving as a culture of not having boundaries between work and life. Here are some examples of what I mean: [x,y,z]. Here is some data that shows why these boundaries will help us be more productive and help the bottom line. Here is what I propose: [x,y,z].”

    Not guaranteed to make a difference, but if you haven’t tried then you don’t know.

    1. OP*

      OP here – I recently told my manger I really dislike the culture of constant availability and he (the guy who worked through his wedding) said ” I don’t feel that pressure.” when I reminded him that he is in fact constantly available, his reply was “Oh… good point.” It comes up a lot in the discussions after the annual employee survey, but never makes it past the ” this is an issue” stage.

      1. Sylvan*

        He worked through his wedding. Oh my god. Okay. That’s why your coworkers are weird about this.

      2. PinaColada*

        Dang it, that’s frustrating! We’ll then I think the recommendation from Allison is spot-on. I would also add this as an option when people comment on it:

        “I find I’m a lot more productive when I only work during business hours. It might sound crazy, but there’s a lot of science to support it! When you give your brain a chance to unplug, you get better at getting things done efficiently during the day.”

        ^or some variation of this.

      3. ecnaseener*

        Bwahahaha. “I don’t feel pressured to be constantly available, because I caved to that pressure long ago! Problem solved!”

      4. allathian*

        Yeah… And I’m really curious about the wife, because I can’t understand the sort of mentality that would put up with her groom texting work from their wedding…

        1. OP*

          From what I’ve heard, she’s of a similar mindset, but now they have a 1 year old and she’s been home on maternity leave. My understanding is they have a very traditional “mom cares for kid, dad goes to work” setup. I am a woman in IT and most of my coworkers are male, and out of all the dads on the team, only one of them seems like he’s making an effort to be an equal parent. Having kids for them seems to be no big deal- because their wives stop working to become the domestic caretaker who moves into a different bedroom with the infant and allows them to continue work and hobbies as if nothing much had changed.

          1. kiki*

            Ugh, also a woman in IT. I have a couple coworkers who are immensely dedicated dads, but so many more use work as an excuse to get out of parenting. One of my coworkers came back into the office TWO WEEKS after his child was born because “the baby was crying and it made it hard to nap.” (Our office building has nap pods.) So he left his wife alone with the newborn so he could come into the office to nap. Does she get to come into an office to nap? He definitely had at least 8 weeks of paid paternity leave to use. I work remotely now, but it was frustrating to me to see him hanging out in the office, playing pool, shooting the breeze, just generally not getting much done, so he’d have to “stay late” and avoid being with his new family.

            1. OP*

              Oh what a gem that guy must be… makes you wonder how they managed to find a willing partner in the first place..

          2. Emmy Noether*

            I know exactly what you mean. I’ve definitely lost a lot of respect for some coworkers because they are taking full advantage of the priviledges sexism affords them with regards to childrearing and not blinking an eye. Not cool.

      5. kiki*

        I think part of the problem is that some people really do enjoy working more than most other things. Or if not actively enjoy it, get more satisfaction from it working than other things. So for some people, it’s not a pressure, it’s what they really want to do. Unfortunately, a lot of people like that end up getting promoted, so they set the tone for constant availability without realizing that informs the actions of others. A lot of the people I know who have the worst work-life boundaries don’t have a Devil Wears Prada-type boss demanding that of them, they just do it.

  13. kiki*

    A pernicious thing about being always available and having poor work-life balance is that it begets worse work-life balance. I feel like a lot of folks experienced this during the pandemic, or at least I did. I used to have pretty strict time barriers because I was either in the office or I wasn’t. Once I was at home all the time, I was always sort of working instead of really focusing and finishing work in 8 hours. And it spiraled from there because my habits and ability to focus got so out of whack. Because I was never truly resting, my ability to really focus disappeared– I needed way more breaks during the day. It took a 2-week vacation for me to truly reset.

    That being said, LW should keep in mind that they may be unusually fast or more capable of sustained focus than the average person, especially if they offer to give advice about work-life balance to other folks. I’ve definitely worked alongside some folks who basically become machines during their workday and hammer out in 2 hours what I, at my best, would take 3 to do.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, I think that what saved me was having a family I needed to be available to after work. Even when we were at home all the time, except going for walks or bike rides during the day, and not seeing anyone outside the family for months, I never found it difficult to stop working because I had other things to do. And my main hobbies, i.e. reading and binge-watching TV shows with my husband, and where appropriate, with our son, were things I could do just as easily during the worst of the pandemic as before.

      I guess it also helped a bit to told at work, over and over, how important it was to remember to disengage from work even when we were in Covid lockdown.

      I think disengaging would’ve been a lot harder if I’d been single with no family commitments.

  14. Miss Suzie*

    Did I write this letter? I am the only person on my (salaried) team that does not work at least 60 hours per week. I get all my work done. Everyone else is always complaining they have so much to do and no time to do it. However……they spend a lot of time on Facebook, Amazon, etc. and I just… my work. Except when I am on this site. :)

    1. OrdinaryJoe*

      Yes! Someone who works for me is constantly complaining how busy they are, overwhelmed, overworked and yet still has time to talk constantly to co-workers. It’s amazing how much you can do by mostly working at work :-)

  15. ThatGirl*

    I relate to this; my work culture is not THAT intense and I don’t get a lot of the “oh I wish I had your work-life balance” but I never feel any guilt about stopping earlier than my coworkers, I enforce the hours I’ve set for myself (barring major project or important meeting) and it’s never affected my job performance or review. I simply refuse to let work take over my life. So when I hear my coworkers talk about their long hours I sometimes wonder – am I doing something wrong, or are they?

  16. itsame*

    I wonder if framing this as something that you specifically work at might help get your point across in an effective way. If someone praises your work/life balance, responding with something like “yes, I work really hard to maintain a healthy balance!” or “it takes a bit of conscious effort, but I find I’m a much more effective employee if I maintain a strict balance!” If nothing else, I feel like framing it as an intentional, positive choice would reenforce the idea that a healthy work/life balance makes you a better employee, not a worse one, and at best it might let people who prioritize working hard over all else that “maintains a restful work/life balance” isn’t just a personal goal but an actual work goal to aim for.

    1. LegalEagle*

      Completely agree with this! It also reinforces that this isn’t something that only OP can do because OP is special. It takes work and I’m sure OP encountered some light pushback for structuring their work they way they did. People may look at OP and think they have some supernatural ability, but being clear that it’s something that’s important to you, and you prioritize it even when it isn’t easy can show people that it is possible!

  17. CorpGirl*

    I’m in a similar situation! I wouldn’t say it’s seen as prestigious to work long hours at my current job (it definitely was at my last one), but I see my coworkers doing it a lot. It’s not uncommon to receive emails around 8pm, and I’ve gotten them as late as 2am. There’s no expectation to respond at those times, but it definitely made me scared about the workload when I started… until I realized I could almost always get my work done within a 40-hour week.

    While I don’t get a ton of comments about my work-life balance, I’ve definitely set boundaries around it and noticed certain coworkers start going out of their way to tell me how late they’ve worked. It’s never in a snarky or accusatory way, but there’s an undertone of “why aren’t you working late too?” (context: we all have similar workloads). Our company does not always operate very efficiently (fully remote with a WIDE range of working styles), so depending on who I’m talking to, I’ve responded in a few ways:

    “Wow, that sounds like a lot to manage. Last time I had a project like that, I found it was really helpful to block off a few hours a day on my calendar and turn off my email/IM alerts to focus. Have you tried something like that?”

    “I feel you – it’s hard to get anything done when you’re in meetings all day. Honestly, I think we bring too many people to meetings sometimes… do you think you could ask someone else on the team to cover a few of them for you?”

    “I should be done with the project I’m working on soon, let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.” (I only say this if I really do have free time, but I think it’s the reason nobody has actually questioned my work ethic)

  18. blink14*

    I work at a university, and the work culture can vary department to department, but it seems that the “norm” is to work through your lunch and often work overtime. This is not how I work, and it is not a sustainable way for me to work. When I started my job several years ago, I made it a point to always take my lunch, stay within my work hours, not check my phone or email at night, etc.

    Essentially I have trained my co-workers that I am always reachable and dependable during work hours, but I am not available outside of those hours, and especially on vacation. There are a handful on instances every year where I will work a bit longer or check my email over a weekend if a major deadline or event is going on. But generally speaking, my job duties can be done well within my work hours. And if we’re being really honest, I do not get paid enough to work my hours. The result of this has been maintaining my work life balance, but also having other colleagues take tips from me. Even just taking their paid lunch break.

    I completely understand the common expectation that in higher level positions, you’re expected to dedicate more time, or in a certain industry you may have slow periods and busier periods. Some of this is about interpreting your work culture within the larger industry.

    If a healthy work life balance is seen as a negative and against the organizational work culture, the problem is within the organization, not with the employee. Whether that’s adjusting expectations, hiring additional employees, etc. If you’re not an industry that is dedicated to health and safety, there rarely is anything that such an emergency it cannot wait. But work culture in the US, particularly, has created this idea of instant response, where in most cases, it’s not necessary.

    1. atmosphere26*

      I just started a job at a university last year, and the round-the-clock availability in my department has been such a culture shock. I feel like I did my due diligence by asking what the expectations were for my position during the interview stage, and I was assured that evening/weekend responsiveness was not expected for my role. I’ve held the line, and my performance reviews have been glowing, so it hasn’t been a problem so far that I don’t respond to emails after 6 or over the weekend. But I do feel extremely out-of-step with my colleagues, who seem to work from 8am – 8pm most days and over the weekend. It’s not unusual for me to check my email when I log on at 9 and see I was copied on (non-emergent) email exchanges that happened at 11pm or 3am.

      1. blink14*

        Coming back to respond to you! I’m in a central office that provides support to faculty but we do not work for the any of the colleges nor any specific faculty member. What I’ve found in my time in this job is that some faculty just work 24/7 and others expect staff to be working 24/7, and both scenarios create a situation where there is perceived or real pressure to do so. It’s a known fact that many faculty look down upon staff and don’t value their time. This creates a systemic issue in the organization where often times the staff responsibilities are understaffed to begin with and now there’s pressure coming from the faculty and from above to work non-stop.

        It’s completely fine to do what you are doing – you’re getting great reviews! What I would keep in mind is that if you are looking to be promoted or to move into a position where there is a bigger expectation that you are available 24/7 and you can’t avoid it, to really think about whether or not you want to do that. Some of that expectation can be managed by setting out strict boundaries from the start. It is a fact that most academic organizations are understaffed, and sometimes there is a point where depending on the position there simply isn’t enough time in the set work day to get everything done. But far more frequently, it’s really just people giving into this idea that being available well outside work hours is what the job calls for, and unless you’re in a very high academic position or do something like lab safety, there really isn’t a need for that.

  19. MicroManagered*

    I sometimes work what would be considered “longer hours” and my reasoning is a bit different – I tend to go easier on myself during the day and work a bit later to make up for it. By “longer hours” I mean that I might work till 7-7:30 some evenings but the reason is that this can sometimes be really productive time for me. During the normal 8-5 work day, I get interrupted frequently and so after completing a task, I take more of a break than I would if I were an hourly employee who had to power through until 5. Case in point, I’m posting a AAM comment after the meeting I just have instead of immediately starting on the next task. I think things like access to work email outside of the building you work in and remote work have made this more workable for me.

    1. Esmeralda*

      Yes. Especially on WFH days — I take a longer break to knead some bread dough or do some chores, or just lie down and listen to a podcast. Then I make it up after dinner when I get my second wind.

  20. I AM a Lawyer*

    Our current work paradigm doesn’t fit with everyone’s personality. When the pandemic hit, I was really struggling with focus and working enough hours, and I ended up going to therapy to work through it. My therapist basically said that I can’t and don’t need to work 8 hours a day because I’m very efficient, but only for short spurts of time. So, I was sometimes working 12 hours a day to capture the time that I was efficient but not taking breaks when I should have been. I ended up leaving my law firm job to take an in house position because billable hours was never going to be a concept that worked for me. I wish there was more flexibility in the work world so people could work to their personalities, but if an 8 hour day does work for you you’re probably working as much or even more as people who are sitting at their desk for 12 hours a day.

  21. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

    I so hear this and I get the comments, too. But the bottom line is: I’m willing to set my boundaries and adhere to them. When comments like this start to chip away at my resolve, I look at the crazy-making habits of my coworkers to remind me why I hold the line. I’m not extraordinary: I’m pretty sure many of my coworkers could get their work done in fewer hours and have the same free time I do. But the conditioning to respond-respond-respond is so deep with some people. Most of my coworkers are intelligent, diligent people, but boy are they marks. So easy to manipulate and while they may know it intellectually, they don’t have the emotional ability to handle the little comments.

    1. OP*

      OP here- your comment resonates with me. I have encountered a few people who skew to performative overwork because they’re insecure, but in my current team, my colleagues in question are excellent people and I don’t believe they’re putting on a show. I think they’re truly stuck with bad habits and an established reputation for being online.. and they don’t like it but seem to be unable to escape- hence the wistful sighs about my free evenings and real weekends/vacations.

      1. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

        I think you hit the nail on the head with “established reputation for being online.” You have an established reputation for being productive within regular business hours. People know they can expect your work done right and on deadline, even though you’re not answering emails at 9pm on a Friday. But if you are known for being always available, it IS harder to pull back.

  22. Esmeralda*

    OP, seems to me the real problem is your manager who worked during his wedding… (All I can say is, if that was my spouse, I’d be royally p.o’d and maybe he wouldn’t be having as much fun on his wedding nite as he expected)

    He’s setting a tone and a standard. Hold out against it. Because even if he says, that’s just me! you all should not be working outside of hours…your colleagues are getting a different message.

  23. Meep*

    From experience, it is because there is an expectation. I wonder if they are actually working more than 40 hours a week or are they just appearing like they are because they are available outside of those 40 hours. I will sometimes answer emails after hours, but I have noticed that coworkers who humblebrag about working 50+ hours a week aren’t really. They are just giving the appearance of it because they are answering emails at 7 PM to look like it.

  24. jord*

    One my most effective colleagues was very strict about work/life boundaries. She was exceptionally competetent, and she consistently produced high quality work products. She never worked evenings or weekends, but it didn’t matter, because she was so productive during regular work hours. The rest of our team worked more often on weekends/evenings, but never resented her because she was honestly more productive than us and delivered more, better work product – just only limited to work hours!

  25. Just Me*

    I have found *personally* that a lot of people who end up working extra hours either a) have way too much work to begin with, b) do not manage their time well, or c) want to be perceived as people whose work is earth-shatteringly important and therefore take calls/emails when they’re out in order to feel like things CANNOT GO ON WITHOUT THEM. I feel like it’s kind of a back-handed compliment, because they for whatever reason end up sending urgent emails at 11 o’clock at night or working when they should be on vacation and it’s their way of saying, “Looks like YOU don’t do the work I do,” not realizing that other people’s managers have reasonable expectations of their workload or don’t spend three hours every day talking about their kids or their dog before they answer emails or things can actually just wait until they get back.

    1. Florida Fan 15*

      I see you’ve met my coworker Jane. Everything she does is calculated to make her look indispensable. It used to irritate me. Now mostly what I feel is pity — I finally saw there’s a giant hole in her where her self-esteem should be, and she tries to fill it with busy work and the bones of her colleagues.

  26. Irish Teacher*

    Yeah, my guess is that they just genuinely envy you. Or they simply think they are giving you a compliment by pointing out something you do well. It may seem easy to you, but it might not be to them.

    I wouldn’t THINK you need to remind people that you do your job well and also manage to make free time for yourself, not unless something else like their tone is giving you the impression there’s an undercurrent. My assumption would be that that is exactly what they are saying, that they are really impressed that you do your job well and still manage to have more free time than them and they wish they could be as efficient.

  27. sofar*

    Could be the difference between LW’s mindset of “I’m ON during work hours but OFF nights, weekends, vacations” and the mindset of “I prefer more flexibility throughout my day and am ready to jump on whenever.” I’m the former (I’m butt-in-seat during traditional working hours, but I can basically be considered deceased when I’ve booked PTO, and on nights & weekends).

    Meanwhile, some of my coworkers will work in “spurts” and go to the gym during the day, pick up their kids at 3, run errands, etc. And so they feel like they need to be “available” at all times to make it clear they’re of value. For example, taking calls on the treadmill, responding to emails at 9 p.m., “popping in” to Slack channels on weekends, signing on from the waiting room of the Doctor’s office, and attending meetings from vacation.

    Like LW, I need dedicated OFF time to recharge. But a lot people thrive in the state of “I jump into work at any/all times and would prefer that over having to focus for 9 straight hours.” It makes it seem like they’re “always available,” but in reality, LW might actually be dedicating more hours to work.

    1. River Otter*

      But a lot people thrive in the state of “I jump into work at any/all times and would prefer that over having to focus for 9 straight hours.”

      Yes, and we should just let those people thrive in their chosen hours without trying to “fix” their work-life balance.

      1. Ricama*

        It could also be reinforcing loops. What I mean is you work normal hours, disconnect fully from work so you are more productive during your work hours, whereas your coworkers are caught in a vicious cycle of overworking themselves so they can’t relax and can’t get ahead of the curve because they are hurting their productivity.

        Your success could be an example of the benefits of a healthy work life balance.

  28. Rich*

    In your situation, I try to tell people “It’s not balance. It’s choices.” That both generally stops the conversation (which, honestly, is fine), but also reminds them they _could_ have your “balance” if they decided they wanted to.

  29. Luna*

    Employees need a mandatory class to take called How To Say No, Because You Are Allowed To.
    No to working on your vacation or past your ‘business hours’, unless it’s a necessary requirement of the job or it’s a real emergency.

  30. Spicy Tuna*

    If the culture in OP’s industry or specific company is to be constantly available and she is not, then the comments from her co-workers do mean that they think she’s slacking. Even if she’s getting all of her work done and being super efficient, if the culture is for “face time” then no matter how much work she gets done in a 40 hour work week, she will be seen as not contributing. Ask me how I know this! ;-)

    OTOH, if the comments are coming from a handful of people that lack boundaries or do not work efficiently, then I agree with the advice given by Alison and the other commenters.

  31. Van Wilder*

    As this sounds similar to my workplace, I couldn’t help but read the comments as half-sincere/half-hinting. I’m both impressed by and resentful of my colleagues that assert healthy boundaries.

  32. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    If ever someone from HR makes one of those comments, OP, you should offer to do a training course to help people achieve the same goals. With emphasis on the fact that working fewer hours usually leads to higher productivity of course, so the bosses won’t complain.

  33. David S*

    It took years, but I finally found a boss who was in sync with my work style. I’m full time remote and have been for years before the pandemic. I left previous jobs because of tracking software that would alert my boss if I was away from my keyboard for more than 10 minutes. As a software developer, it was easy to get around this. I just wrote a bunch of macros that scrolled through email, opened and closed files, etc and made it look like I was always at my computer. Over time, this annoyed me because my work was very mentally intensive and required periods of time where I wouldn’t be at the keyboard–I would be sitting and thinking about how to solve a problem. Apparently, at my old company, thought wasn’t something they valued.

    I realized that the complete lack of trust and expectation of constant work and monitoring wasn’t for me. I flat out told my new boss, at the risk of not getting the job, that my work style requires me to take a lot of breaks. She is fine with it. My typical workday is 7-10, then some errands and an early lunch, then 12-3, then two hours of biking and dog walking, then 5-7, then an hour for dinner and VERY occasionally some later work. As long as I complete my projects on time, attend my weekly 1:1 and our monthly all-hands meeting I can set my own schedule.

    My boss flat out told me that she is not impressed by people working 10, 11, 12 hours a day on a regular basis because it indicates someone is disorganized. I fully agree.

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