I don’t want my long hours to make my team feel pressured to work late too

A reader writes:

I work a lot, and I am worried that my schedule is making my team feel like they have to follow suit. It’s fine for them to work 40 hours a week (which I definitely do not do) but I’ve noticed stuff like them staying late or offering anxiously to be available during times when they’re not obligated to be (for example, saying they’ll work from home when they are sick, etc).

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 101 comments… read them below }

  1. Chairman of the Bored*

    If this “extra stuff” was important then the organization would have resourced it accordingly.

    If they haven’t provided enough skills and people to get this stuff done within normal/reasonable working hours then they clearly don’t care about it very much.

    I suggest LW phrase things this way to their team, and make it clear that this extra work is something they’re choosing to do (similar to a hobby) vs something that is critical to the functioning of the business.

    1. Fox*

      With the possible exception of a small business where the person working the long hours is the owner.

    2. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      People may still hear “if you love your work and are passionate about it, you do extra hours, if it’s just a 9-5 to you, then don’t.”

  2. 3DogNight*

    Alison’s advice is spot on. I would caveat that with–In a healthy org. If your business is unhealthy in other ways, what you tell them about this won’t change anything. If it’s generally healthy, then this should work just fine.
    I only see my manager working long hours when I see mails from midnight, so definitely schedule mails, or send in the morning, if at all possible.
    Thank you for being considerate about this. Your team will see that and appreciate it, too.

    1. Sparrow*

      I think this is an important caveat. I had a boss like OP, and when we started working together, he acknowledged that he worked a lot more than most people because he loved it, but he explicitly said he didn’t expect that from me and he did not want me regularly working outside standard hours. And then – critically – he made sure that was actually doable. When I told him my workload was too much, he immediately sat down with me to discuss what I could off-load, and by the end of that day he was already reassigning projects.

      Saying he didn’t expect similar hours from me only worked because 1) he was committed to keeping the workload manageable, and 2) the larger office – including most of the leadership team – embraced work-life balance and worked standard hours, so it was clear he was the outlier, not the norm. If either of those things had not been true, I think I would’ve felt pressured to work a lot more, regardless of what he said.

      1. BellaStella*

        What a great boss. and agree Alison is spot on in a healthy org that resources and prioritises correctly.

    2. Ashley*

      I told my team when they started that I often send emails at weird times just because I like to send stuff when I’m thinking about it before it disappears from my brain (which could 11 at night, 4 in the morning, who knows). I made it very clear that I do not expect them to reply outside of normal working hours nor immediately when work starts (like, 8:01am), it’s just a quirk that works for me. I will make it clear if something is urgent/time sensitive, which is usually just me texting on Friday afternoon to remind them I don’t have a timesheet submitted from them so I can approve it.

      The truth is, I just have a habit of checking my email at random times and replying to stuff because it helps cultivate an image that I work a ton more outside of normal hours than I really do (because that’s the cultural norm for my position). I actually manage to get all my work done in normal times, I really have no idea why the rest of my peers can’t… I think it’s just a culture of martyrdom at this point and I refuse to do that but also need to keep up the image that I am so I don’t get dinged at annual review time ‍♀️‍♀️

      Thankfully my staff are hourly and only reviewed by ME so I they don’t have to participate in that BS.

      1. Mangled Metaphor*

        My boss has a newly added specific line in her email signature reminding us that just because *she* sends emails out of hours, she doesn’t expect us to read and respond out of hours.
        She let slip in a candid moment that one of her beloved pet dogs is poorly and has been waking her at about 4am for a wee. So it’s not a great leap of logic to realise she’s also checking her email while waiting for Gordon to finish his business.
        Hopefully this is a temporary state of affairs, but it’s reassuring to know we don’t also need to be beholden to Gordon’s bladder and can read and respond at 8am which is far more civilised

        1. EllenD*

          I had a couple of bosses who included this statement in their signature and they meant it, as they’d verbally repeat it. Each of them had caring responsibilities, that meant they might need to leave the office mid-afternoon, but they’d then work after children or sick relatives were in bed. We weren’t hourly paid, but still expected to respect work/life balance.

        2. Ape Seeking Knowledge*

          Most email programs (and slack) will let you schedule a message to be sent later. If your boss is worried that people will think they’re expected to send/read email during non-work hours, suggest that she use that.

          I frequently get a burst of messages from my manager at his 9am, so I know he’s doing this with his gmail.

  3. Problem!*

    If I end up working odd hours I’ll sign out of Teams so I don’t show as online and won’t send emails too far outside of business hours. This is pretty easy in a WFH job.

    For in-office jobs if I had to work super late I’d leave at a normal time and grab dinner or something then come back in after everyone else had left.

    1. kiki*

      Yes, I also work in “stealth mode” after hours when needed. It has two advantages:
      – my team thinks I log off promptly at 5:30 every day and I hope they feel they can do the same
      – people don’t message me on Teams so I can get a lot of deep work done interrupted

      I do worry, though, that it may give some folks the false impression that my job can be done in 40 hours per week. When I leave, I would hate to find my successor super surprised by the workload

    2. McS*

      Timed send is your friend. On Slack or email, you can write the messages as you think of them, but schedule them to send during work hours so you’re not making an example of working late.

      Also drop the ball sometimes. Being able to say to your boss, “I have too much on my plate and expect X won’t get done. Would you rather I deprioritize something else?” is also an example you should set for your team.

  4. Beth*

    I don’t think you can work long hours as a manager without your team following suit. You’re their model for success and professional advancement at this company–if you’re always on, then both the anxious and the ambitious members of your team will feel like they should be the same. No amount of telling them otherwise is going to stick when your actions don’t match your words.

    If it’s important to you that your team feels like they can have work/life balance, you need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. What would need to happen for your standard, non-crunch-mode work week to actually be around 40 hours? (At least, around 40 where your team can see you–if you’re logging in at home to do some additional solo work time, I guess that’s your choice.) When you’re in a crunch period, what steps can you take to model intentionally setting some balls aside, instead of forcing yourself to keep juggling all of them? When you’re on vacation, do you arrange coverage so you can truly check out, or is there always a “ping me if you need me, I’ll be on email” caveat to your OOO message?

    1. Cj*

      not only modeling what they think they need to do to be successful, but perhaps making them wonder if they want to move up in the company, seeing their manager have to work so many hours.

      1. Sneaky Squirrel*

        This. I look to my manager as someone that I’ll be growing from and know that some of their work will likely some day be my work as I take on more responsibilities. Even if my manager doesn’t pressure me to work late right now, it could be a signal to me that if I want to take on that increased responsibility, I may have to work late in the future.

      2. Loux*

        This, totally – some of the people above me, not just managers, appear to work very long hours, and I will not be moving up where I am if that’s the case. I’m fine at my current level but for advancement, I’ll look elsewhere.

    2. Ashley*

      I think this is really manager dependent. I have had managers putting in long hours where I would definitely offer to help especially in one off situations. I have had others that are terrible at time management so I had no guilt about sticking to my 40 hour schedule and not doing any extra because they brought on the chaos themselves by failing to plan.

    3. ErinWV*

      I don’t think this is necessarily true. I have been an assistant for almost ten years. My job exists for a busy person to delegate smaller, less-visible tasks to me. My boss has made it clear that I work a 40-hour week and am not expected to do otherwise, and I don’t get confused about her working much more than that. There’s no confusion about which one of us is paid better, either.

      Caveats: I am not ambitious. I also could not step into my boss’s job without many extra years of schooling and experience.

      1. Beth*

        Yeah, I think the assistant/boss dynamic is very different than the individual contributor/manager dynamic for this. When you’re someone’s assistant, like you say, you don’t expect to eventually move into your boss’s role! You’re generally on an entirely different career track.

        But at a lot of companies, moving into management is a common career progression path for individual contributors. Your manager is likely someone who used to be in your role and leveled up, which makes them a very visible model of how success looks at your company. Managers on a team like this should be considering that.

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, it can be very different, even within the same field/company.

          For instance: I’m a team lead. For that role, a PhD is required in my field. My team consists of technicians who are on a completely different career track than me. There is zero expectation that they’d move to a similar position as mine at any point – they’d basically need to go back to uni for 8-10 years for that. So if I worked super long hours and was very clear at the same time that that’s not expected of them, they’d probably be fine and just be like “aaah, weird people, glad I don’t have that job!”

          On the other hand, my boss has the same background as me and in that case, it would actually be a possible career option for me. So if he worked crazy hours, that’s what I’d think was necessary to succeed in that kind of role in my company. And if that was something I wanted for myself, that would be quite discouraging or make me consider leaving for something more reasonable. Because. you know, great that I don’t need to do that to be good at my current job but – do I still need to do it if I want to progress, then?

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Nah. I’m very explicit with my salaried team members that just because I work extra hours when I don’t have anything else going on and I prefer to remain vaguely available via email and Teams when I’m on vacation doesn’t mean that they need to do any of that, and three years of experience says they absolutely get it. (It doesn’t even come up with the hourly team members because they get busted if they work off the clock and they know it and don’t do it.)

    5. Snargulfuss*

      This may have already been said in comments further down, but the manager may also be creating a standard that will then be expected of the next person to fill the same or a similar position, which is unfair to others who may come into that role in the future.

    6. bamcheeks*

      This is absolutely one of the reasons I left my last job. Whilst there was no pressure on me to work more than my contracted hours, it was clear that I would never move up to the next level up a level because there was no way I could (or would) do 50 hour weeks. So I left.

    7. DrD*

      I’m a tenured professor. Before I got tenure, I mentioned to a colleague that I don’t work over 40 hours /week on average. Crucially, I don’t think this is at all possible for all academic jobs, and there is a huge component of my work that is reading/thinking that I don’t “count” and that cannot be meaningfully measured in hours. Even so, my colleague’s response: “Well, we’ll see how that works out for you!” kept me quiet about my refusal to work 24/7 until I got tenure. Now, I’m open about it: I tell students and colleagues that I only check email during business hours, for example. I think that if you have the seniority or the role (like LW), you should do everything you can to promote a healthy work culture, including scheduling emails, pushing back against unreasonable and unnecessary deadlines and work, etc .

  5. Liv*

    One other thing that can help is to be just as visible when you finish ‘on time’ or even early. That helps your team know that you’re not constantly working late and it genuinely is okay to finish early. So if you finish at a normal time, send a Teams/Slack/whatever message to everyone saying ‘logging off the day, see you tomorrow!’. Even if you know you might log back in again later, at least your team are seeing you finish work.

    Some other things I did with my team was give them concrete ways to set boundaries. So I told them explicitly to block out their lunch hours in their diary so people can’t put meetings them (and never scheduled meetings with them between 12-2 unless absolutely critical), made sure they claimed back time if they worked outside of their normal hours, let them take a Friday off without using up annual leave allowance every now and then, etc. The more you put in place to help them protect their own boundaries, the less your crazy hours will impact them.

  6. DisneyChannelThis*

    100% on the “rethink your hours” advice. There’s no way it’s not going to come off as pressure on your underlings. It’s going to drive people away who want to be promoted someday, if they think everyone at your level needs 60hr weeks. It suggests company doesn’t care about work life balance. If you verbally say it but don’t follow it, it just comes off like a polite lie.

  7. Lily Potter*

    This is not going to be a popular opinion. It comes from 30+ years of working salaried jobs. If you are an ambitious person, who’s looking to get ahead in the company, you’ll likely need to put in more than 40 hours in a week. One needs to go “above and beyond” in order to get promoted and get raises, and that usually involves working extra hours. Working a 40 hour work week will usually just get you a cost-of-living adjustment at review time and another year of being employed. And that’s totally okay! There were many years where I was perfectly happy to clock out at five o’clock and keep the status quo. Once I got on the management track though, I absolutely had to put in extra hours in order to be successful.

    I didn’t read the letter behind the paywall, but if I were answering it I’d tell the manager to get to know her team. Find out who is truly ambitious for more and who’s okay with being a worker bee. Make sure that the worker bees feel valued for their contributions and feel okay leaving the office at the office. The ambitious ones likely already know that they need to put in more time, and that needs to be okay with their manager.

    1. yeah ...no.*

      Nope. My coworker busts her ass and works stupid long hours and has nothing to show for it except grey hair and tension headaches.

    2. Kella*

      That is entirely dependent on the industry and sometimes the individual company culture, not a universal truth. My partner worked the standard 40 hours in his first year at his job and got a 12% raise at the end of it without even having to bargain for it. After another year in, he asked to go down to 32 hours and they let him do it because it was more important to them to keep a rockstar employee that was healthy and happy than lose one to burn out.

      If this manager is saying that it’s perfectly fine or even desirable for their employees to work 40 hours, we should take them at their word.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      It’s not going to be a popular opinion because this can be really company/industry specific but also because it reinforces really bad management styles and toxic org cultures. You shouldn’t have to work a million extra hours to be considered going “above and beyond.” I’m sorry you felt like you had to do this in the places you’ve worked.

      Workplaces aren’t — or at least shouldn’t be — the same as they were thirty years ago. It’s 2023. It’s time for this approach to be retired.

      1. Always a Corncob*

        This. I have purposely sought out a company where this isn’t the case, and it would probably reflect poorly on the workaholic, in fact. I’ve been promoted and given significant raises while holding firm work-life boundaries, with the encouragement of my boss and grandboss. It’s not a universal truth that more hours of work = more money/advancement.

        1. Della*

          There’s a big difference between being promoted to middle management and aiming for the C-suite, though. The latter is usually going to require more than 40 hours per week.

          1. amoeba*

            Which I’d argue is still not good practice as it means there will never be real diversity in the C-suite! Or at least it will remain heavily biased towards people with no caregiving responsibilities, disabilities, mental health issues, etc. Like, cis white men with a wife who takes care of everything with a few token, mostly childless women thrown in.

            (And yes, I exaggerate. But those are the people who actually profit from those expectations.)

    4. constant_craving*

      This is true in some fields but certainly not in all. And in most fields, there’s no reason it needs to be the case. In most cases longer hours actually mean lower productivity anyway.

    5. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I find it fascinating that you’ve been able to have so many jobs that you are certain your experience is the universal truth. (Yeah, yeah, you couched it as “likely”. It’s still clear you think you’re 100% correct.)

    6. Some Dude*

      Like others, I disagree with this. I try to work as close to 40 hours per week as I can, but I do indeed go above and beyond. That is proven by the amazing work I do that is constantly recognized and praised by my co-workers, management, and customers. If you can be a rockstar in 40 hours and your employer doesn’t recognize that, they suck. Extra hours are for emergencies and chumps.

      1. rollyex*

        Adding that going above and beyond a few times a year (specifics may vary, but say a couple 50+ hour weeks every four or six months, with a 12 hour day or two sprinkled in) for specific reasons can be far more noticeable than just trudging along being taken advantage of.

        Step up when there is a serious need that’s hard to control. Don’t be complicit in chronic understaffing or bad management.

    7. el l*

      A little more time? Yes, probably. (If you work for Elon Musk – yes, definitely, a lot more) And there’s times if you want to move up that you WANT to work more, because you find it interesting / feel responsible / similar motivations.

      But absolutely have to? Nah.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, like, sure, in a lot of jobs, you absolutely cannot close your laptop at 5 sharp when there’s an emergency happening or a deadline the next day. You need a certain degree of flexibility. But that’s not the same as having way more than 40 h as a “standard setting”.

    8. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, if your org has healthy habits, this is not what it bases promotions and raises on. People should be looking at outcomes. If you are working 60+ hours a week and someone else is working 40 hours a week and you are both getting the same amount of work done, I’m going to think you are not very efficient. I’m probably not going to promote you.

    9. Antilles*

      Three thoughts:
      1.) There’s plenty of companies and industries where working more than 40 hours doesn’t get you jack squat, except fewer hours of time with your family. Extra work in a lot of industries isn’t any clear correlation with extra success.
      2.) In well managed companies, productivity isn’t measured by the hours your butt is in a seat, it’s measured by what you do while you’re there. The company that’s promoting people because they’re the last person shutting off the lights every night is usually missing the picture…and also in my experience mismanaged in other ways too.
      3.) Going “above and beyond” is all relative anyways. I’ve worked at firms where everybody works 50 hours rather than 40 and guess what: Nobody gets praised for working extra, because it just becomes the expected norm.

      1. Frickityfrack*

        “There’s plenty of companies and industries where working more than 40 hours doesn’t get you jack squat, except fewer hours of time with your family.”

        YES. My boss is finally coming to that realization after 20+ years. I read the letter to my coworker and she was like, “Wait, DID our boss write this?” because it’s so spot on to what she does (though in our case, we’re mostly just offering to help because we’d love for her to go home at a reasonable time, not because we feel like it’s expected). And while she’s amazing at her job and makes a good salary, she’s realizing that her kids are adults and she missed a lot of time with them for the sake of an employer that doesn’t really care about her, at least not enough to demand that other people do their jobs correctly so she’s not her until 11 every night fixing their mistakes.

        For me, I’m happy to rearrange my hours to suit business needs, but it’s extremely rare for me to work more than 40 hours a week. My reviews are still great and I just got promoted, and that’s good enough for me. I know I’m not going to be 80 looking back and thinking, “gosh I wish I’d worked more hours,” you know?

    10. Lily Potter*

      To those of you that disagree with my experience (and it’s just that – my experience) I have to ask: how many rockstar employees have you known that clock out at 5 o’clock every day on the dot?

      There’s room for all kinds of employees in this world. Not everyone needs to work a million hours. Worker bees are essential. There are exceptions to every rule, and there are employees that have skills that are so in-demand that they can call their own shots. But overall, I can’t imagine a company becoming wildly successful when everyone from the worker bee on up to the CEO refuses to work more than 40 hours in a week.

      1. Chairman of the Bored*

        My “rockstar” employees are good enough at their job that they can clock out well before 5 and still get more done than their colleagues who work longer hours.

        1. House On The Rock*

          In my last job, my best employee had a 32 hour work week and she was vigilant about sticking to that schedule. She got so much more done, and of a higher quality, than people who at least claimed to burn the midnight oil.

        2. perstreperous*

          My best employee works a 3-day week. I actually put off some decisions until they are back in the office, and tell those wanting an instant decision to wait, because I greatly value their expertise and will not have them bypassed simply because they are part-time.

          (It’s interesting that this entire thread has implicitly assumed 5-day weeks!)

      2. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Lots? My colleagues who have been rockstars are are rockstars because of how easy they are to work with, how efficient they are at getting their work done, how well that work is done, etc. I can’t think of a single colleague who I thought was a rockstar because of the extra hours they put in.

      3. Double A*

        Plenty? Rock stars are efficient. Honestly working long hours often tells me someone isn’t very efficient and makes me question their competence.

        1. Always a Corncob*

          This. I worked under a director who was notorious for working ridiculous hours, and it meant that the organization took on more projects than we could really execute, because this one director thought she could do everything since she worked all the time.

      4. Kel*

        I am so sorry this has been your experience, it sounds like you’ve worked for some really brutal companies.

      5. House On The Rock*

        Almost all my rockstar employees? My rockstars are the way they are in great part because they know they have my support to set boundaries and be productive within the confines of a 40 hour week – with flexibility as needed! And guess what, when a push is required, those people are much more likely to step up and give a bit more because they know it’s NOT the norm and will absolutely be recognized by me and my leadership.

        I really am sorry that you’ve had a different experience, but it’s not universal, certainly not in high functioning, sane work cultures.

      6. Kella*

        How many examples would you need of rockstar employees that work less than 40 hours before you could acknowledge the degree to which this varies from company to company? (I know plenty.)

        Measuring “going above and beyond” primarily by hours worked rather than actual work performance or your ability to meet the demands of the job is a pretty inaccurate way to evaluate how good of an employee someone is. Companies that value their employees’ work/life balance are wildly successful.

      7. Lisa*

        Seems like an unpopular opinion, but I generally agree with Lily Potter. It depends on the industry of course, but “greedy jobs” are a thing. Of course working more than 40 hours a week doesn’t guarantee success – there are people who work a ton of hours but not effectively such that they don’t even do as well as the people who work normal hours.

        But all else equal, if you compare a very talented worker who works 40 hours per week and a very talented worker who works 55 hours a week – the latter worker is likely to be able to accomplish more. I don’t necessarily agree that a culture where people work more than 40 hours a week is toxic. In my personal experience, I generally prefer companies where the average workweek is more than 40 hours – not because I love working but because it usually correlates with other things like a fast-paced environment, interesting work, and highly engaged coworkers. This tradeoff is not worth it to everyone, but it’s worth it to most people at my company which is why we all chose to be here.

      8. amoeba*

        Clocking out at 5 on the dot is also not what we’re talking about here? Sure, in a lot of roles, some flexibility is needed. I’m in science and saying “nope, sorry, can’t run that experiment because it would run for 8.5 h and I only work 8!” is… not a good attitude. You can be flexible and still work roughly 40 h *overall* though.

    11. Baunilha*

      Eh. Like others said, it’s really industry and even company dependent.
      I don’t mind working extra hours in a pinch, but if it’s a regular thing, then either I’m being disorganized with my workload, or my employer is not giving me the resources I need to do my job within my normal hours.

      1. Baunilha*

        Also, my country’s labor laws literally forbid employees to work over 44 hours/week, and my employer considers doing so a fireable offense, since you’re opening the company to liability by doing it.
        So if I want to be a rockstar employee, I have to do it during my regular hours. If a company asks you to go over that under the table, they’re breaking the law and the place is likely full of other bees.

    12. Lucy p*

      In the end, it’s going to depend on the company, but I do think you’re right. In our busiest times, current company rewarded those who put in the most effort. That didn’t mean working a 60 hour week, but it did mean not standing by the front door at 4:59 or staring at your phone for the last 15 minutes of the day because you didn’t want to start a new project. It also meant being passionate about doing good work, even if you weren’t passionate about the work itself.

      In this company, grand boss ultimately runs everything. They start at 7 in the morning taking phone calls from international clients (which not everyone might realize), get to the office by 9:30, and then stay until 6:30-7:00 pm. Very few actually felt the need to stay late. Those of us who worked to ensure that deadlines were met and that the work product was free from errors (usually by fixing the errors of those who ran out the door at closing time) got the most reward.

    13. Dr. Doll*

      I agree with you. There is a very large margin between 40 hours on the dot and 80 hours of unsustainable expectations. We’re in a highly competitive field and resentful noping out at 41 hours just is not a path for career progression.

    14. House On The Rock*

      This hasn’t been my experience. When I worked in a high pressure, corporate, consulting environment I routinely put in extra time, cut vacations short, made myself available on days off, etc. All I got (aside from burned out) was a pat on the head while being told I couldn’t move up because I was “too valuable” where I was. When I left the company to work at a large academic medical center, I was offered more money, better benefits, and a much better work life balance. Twelve years later, I’ve moved up higher than I ever would in CubeLand and am now able to (generally) model a sane approach to work for my staff.

    15. Beth*

      I don’t think this is true! Across the companies I’ve been at, getting recognized generally involves two things: 1) general competence on a day-to-day basis, and 2) SELECTIVELY going above-and-beyond in moments where it will make a big impact. The first can be achieved in a normal work week. The second actually stands out more if it’s a less-common occurrence–getting a reputation for stepping up when your project is in a tight spot is better than getting a reputation for always being in the office.

    16. bamcheeks*

      I’ve been working 15+ years, and my promotions have come from being good at my job, spotting opportunities, building great relationships, great communication and creative thinking, all within 37 hours a week or less.

    17. Government Worker*

      Patently untrue. I *DO NOT* work over 40 hours in a week ever unless there is a very legitimate crisis (and I can count on one hand the number of times that’s happened in my last decade+ of government work). I have still received many awards/promotions (including having several management positions created specifically for my skill set so I could advance in my organization). You can be recognized for excellent work even if you strictly patrol your work/life balance. I put in better work than the majority of my colleagues even if they put in longer hours.

      1. Della*

        The private sector works differently. One reason people choose government careers is better work/life balance, but the tradeoff is often a lower salary.

    18. Kel*

      That’s not true at all! I get my work done, I do it well and quickly, don’t work overtime or extra hours and it has not once affected my career. Many people in my field are the same. Maybe that’s specific to the government and not the private sector, but work-life balance is actually becoming more and more of a priority I feel.

    19. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

      As Alison says, it’s probably going to be necessary sometimes, like when a specific project requires it. But not as standard practice. That suggests either poor time management, poor prioritisation skills, a poorly run organisation, or even a performative/martyrdom-over-results approach.

      Of course, it’s true in certain industries, like Big Law, but not in many.

      1. amoeba*

        Also, if your standard work week is already 50 h, there will *still* be crunch times and project deadlines where you’ll need to work even more. And then it’s suddenly 55 or 60 during those. Until that becomes the new norm, and then in the next crunch time… etc.

  8. el l*

    How much of the “extra stuff” is necessary rather than nice-to-have?

    And how much of the “extra stuff” can really NOT be delegated? Some great management thinking (suggest “Scaling People” by Claire Hughes-Johnson) suggests that you should as a habit delegate everything except items that are both important and irreversible. Remember, by delegating you’ll give them a chance to grow.

    If you’re working 60 and everyone else is working 40, suspect the answer on both is…not where it could be.

    1. BellaStella*

      thanks for this rec – will check this out. Looks like from the reviews this is a good gift too!

  9. happyhoodies*

    When I’ve seen a manager work long hours, as an employee I think “this is a busy time and maybe we need all hands on deck.” It would be immensely helpful to say to your employees how you’re balancing your workload, like “This month is busy for my position but I’m working reduced hours next month to compensate!” or “I flex my hours so I can come in late in the mornings”

    The other thing is to reinforce to employees what it does take for them to advance in the workplace, so they’re not guessing and trying to emulate you. Having proactive check-ins about their career progression and stating that they don’t need to work long hours to get promoted is also going to help them distance themselves from your work schedule.

  10. Ann O'Nemity*

    Is the OP’s big workload compensated? Is the extra stuff compensated?

    If so, I wonder if it would help to be direct about the money part. Such as, “I agreed to take on extra projects for a higher salary. That means I work longer hours, but I’m getting paid for it. This arrangement works for me. It doesn’t change my expectations for your workload or hours.”

    1. BookMom*

      Agreed! My company has pay range transparency by position, so I know my boss is making roughly double what I do, and I don’t feel bad when he’s putting in longer hours occasionally. Part of why he’s paid more is that he has final responsibility for our team’s work. That said, I’m not interested in climbing the ladder either — maybe I’d feel differently if I wanted his job in five years.

  11. Jaydee*

    Be really careful – it’s very easy for employees, especially specially newer/less experienced employees to see your hours and expect that they need to work similarly long hours.

    1) Be very clear that you don’t expect your employees to work long hours, work when they’re sick, check email on vacation.
    2) Make sure that you don’t give special preference to employees who work extra hours. Make sure you don’t give the good assignments, raises and promotions, and employee recognition to only those employees who work extra hours.
    3) If there is an issue of more work than can be done in 40 hours/week at current staffing levels, be very clear with employees that the only way to demonstrate the need for more staff is if they don’t let their hours creep up. If everyone starts working 45-50 hours a week, not taking vacation and sick time, etc. to get all the work done, and it all gets done, upper management won’t ever see a problem but employees will burn out. But if everyone sticks to their 40 hours and that means some work doesn’t get done, you can then go to upper management and demonstrate the need to hire more people.

  12. Lauren*

    My manager works 4 of his 5 vacation days. Does 12 hours and only bills 8. I had a family emergency, took PTO and was expected to make up the time. OP isn’t like that, but the perception is there.

    OP, you need to tell your team in very clear terms – heck say it at every monthly meeting in a dry monotone way. ‘Reminder – I’m a psychotic workaholic. Do not be me. This is me literally telling you. Do not be me! If you are sick, be sick. Watch Netflix, sleep, whatever. If you don’t want to use PTO, and just want to work through it – take breaks at least. You are not obligated to work beyond your scheduled hours unless a real deadline with a client is needed. We have a lot of work and not enough people or hours in the day. You are not obligated to work constantly. Never work on your vacations. Only respond to emails if it’s critical and you are the only one with secret client knowledge. Do not be me.”

    OP – Give this spiel during interviews and 1st day onboarding. I give a version of it for ‘I am not a mind-reader. You got to tell me things, I won’t notice if you are overworked or stressed over deadlines or can’t keep up or need someone to push back on your behalf. Tell me. Like for real. Tell me.”

  13. HonorBox*

    One other thing you can emphasize to your team is that the “to do” list is never going to be a “done” list. While there are priorities that do require some extra time and attention from time to time, there will always be things to do going forward.

    I think the LW is being a very conscientious manager with the worry. The advice is fantastic, and even a busy person needs to remind themselves of what I said above.

  14. TechWorker*

    I agree with this and clearly it would be better all around if everyone worked a reasonable number of hours. But – the advice is still somewhat contradictory… ‘as a manager you might sometimes have to work longer but make sure your reports know they don’t have to’ – clearly that doesn’t extend that far up the chain once you are managing managers… if you are one of those people who likes working long hours and getting things done would you be annoyed at your manager telling you to rein it in and just put in your 40?

  15. FashionablyEvil*

    Ah yes, expecting “Do as I say, not as I do,” to be an effective approach always works…

  16. not nice, don't care*

    I’ve worked in a few places where the explicit, overt messaging was that 40 hours was the norm, no overtime, no late nights etc. even if voluntary, only to see certain employees ignoring all that and reaping benefits.
    Unofficial permission to work extra was only doled out to favored underlings, while others were scolded.

  17. Bern Notice*

    My manager works a LOT of hours, however he is very clear with our team that he doesn’t expect the same thing. Obviously there are times where someone needs to work past their usual time or maybe get contacted when a customer is asking for something off-hours, or is asking to schedule off-hours support. But he truly means it when he tells us we are not required or expected to be working the kind of hours that he does. Thank God!

  18. BellaStella*

    I am not sure this is ok to talk about, OP, but what about the standard of a 40-ish hr week and workload and proper resourcing? Where I work a lot of the staff and managers work 50-70 hour weeks. Because we are understaffed. What about work life balance? Friends? Family? Hobbies?

  19. Turquoisecow*

    One thing I don’t see mentioned here but would wonder – if I want to move up in the company, am I expected to work long hours, or would it be a way to signal I want to move up? Would I be required or expected to work long hours, or would it be a necessity because management is overworked? OP might consider having a conversation with their direct reports who express interest in moving up (or OP thinks might be candidates for advancement) about what that looks like. I’m obviously going to look to my boss as an example of how an employee succeeds at the company, and if I’m thinking of moving up but see that my boss is overworked, sending emails at midnight and coming in later, I might decide to go elsewhere to advance my career.

  20. Cedrus Libani*

    Soon after I started my current job, I left work early and took the hour-long train ride to the city. There was a long, technical email that I had to write, so I did that on the train. I went to my event, caught the last train home, and then sent the email right before going to sleep…at nearly 2 am.

    The next day, my grand-boss checked in with me. She wanted to make sure my boss wasn’t pushing me too hard, because I shouldn’t feel obliged to be working that late. The group did indeed have a good culture around work-life issues, and much of that came from her.

    That grand-boss was a workaholic, though. By her own choice, she was effectively working two jobs – as an individual contributor, she put out as much work as the rest of us did, but she was also our grand-boss and doing all the management work that came with that too.

    What happened to her? She was unceremoniously let go. Apparently she was paid very well; she’d been there 20+ years, and her management knew she was doing way more than she was really supposed to be doing. This made her a juicy target to somebody with a spreadsheet at LargeCorp HQ.

    Moral of the story? Yes, you can foster a culture of work-life balance among your reports, even if you don’t practice it yourself. Just remember that we’re all disposable assets in the eyes of our employers; don’t overwork yourself out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, do it for your own self-interest or don’t do it at all.

    1. rollyex*

      “Apparently she was paid very well; she’d been there 20+ years, and her management knew she was doing way more than she was really supposed to be doing. This made her a juicy target to somebody with a spreadsheet at LargeCorp HQ.”

      I don’t understand. HQ wanted her out in part because she was doing too much?

      1. LJ*

        It sounds like local management knew she was doing a lot and tried to compensate her for it, but to HQ, it was a middle manager with above-average pay

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          This. I’m a llama groomer; my boss mostly supervises a team of us, though he will jump in and help with challenging cases. At least he used to. He’s now the Director of Llama Grooming and has too many meetings to get out to the barn very often.

          Previously, I had a grand-boss who was the Director of Grooming and a trained dog groomer. She insisted on assigning herself a full schedule of the fussiest poodles she could find, on top of her “real job” as Director, dealing with assorted corporate strategy stuff. Groomers tend to be somewhat allergic to bureaucracy; her reports were grateful to be able to focus on their role as team leads.

          Somebody, in a land far away, decided that our site wasn’t making enough money. They looked at the org chart, and thought it looked top heavy, so they pointed to my grand-boss’ job and made it go away. Big salary off the books, mission accomplished.

          Honestly, they may not have been wrong. There’s a balance to these things. If your team is too senior, as ours arguably was, you will pay too much for labor. You want the cheapest person who can do the work…but not cheaper than that. I’m just pointing out that “going above and beyond” won’t save you when the spreadsheet says it’s time for you to go.

        2. amoeba*

          Yeah, when you’re salary is high in comparison to people on the same level, that does tend to make you a very attractive target for layoffs…

  21. Just a Manager*

    I have to watch myself with this. I work in tech and love what I do – researching, finding solutions etc. I’ll sit with my wife watching TV in the evening and have a laptop on my lap doing work things. I manage a team of ten and don’t expect that from them. If you respond to an email, I’ll schedule it for business hours to send. I don’t answer chat after business hours.

  22. Safely Retired*

    I was never in management (for which the world should be as grateful as I am) so I wasn’t all that influential for any others, but I used to be in the office quite a bit longer than the basic day. I was in early, and out late, pretty much every day the last several years I worked. It wasn’t that I had mountains of work – I didn’t – but I liked to work at my own pace. And that pace wasn’t especially fast on average. I could be plenty fast when required, but when things were normal I preferred to relax. Now, getting in an hour early and leaving 60-90 minutes late might not sound like relaxing to most people, but it was for me.

  23. Non-profit drone*

    This is why I have turned down promotions to stay hourly (non-exempt.) If I work overtime, they have to pay me for it, and they are far too cheap to do so. My time is worth a lot more to me than a paltry raise to exempt status would be.

  24. alienor*

    I have to admit I’m not a fan of scheduling emails to send later. My boss does this at weekends, and it stresses me out a LOT when I get hit with 5-10 long, detailed, auto-sent emails full of action items at 9 am Monday morning. I know Boss has good intentions and wants to protect my time, but I wish they would just send the emails on Saturday and let me decide if I want to do anything with them then or save them for later. I might or I might not, depending how I feel and what my schedule is like, but at least I know what I’m in for when Monday rolls around.

    1. ButShesOurWitch*

      I came here to say this exact same thing. Delay sending 10 emails that all arrive in my inbox at 8:01 am on Monday morning is not helpful. I can’t even start planning my day early because my boss has chosen to work 70 hours a week and thinks that using delay send makes it all ok. They do it to the team I supervise too, and people are losing respect for them due to this behavior.

    2. amoeba*

      Huh, but that means you’re actually checking your email on the weekend then? Because otherwise it wouldn’t matter, they’d hit you Monday morning, no matter what… and I get the feeling that the LW want to discourage people from doing things like that?

      But yeah, anyway, 10 super detailed, long emails full of action items on a Monday at 7.30 probably make it very obvious that these were scheduled, anyway. So that’s something I’d avoid in any case. Although I’d still argue it would help to train people out of checking their inbox on the weekend, because there won’t be anything in it.

  25. Yours sincerely, Raymond Holt*

    If people want to progress, they may feel that to be seen as a potential manager or in a leadership role, they have to demonstrate a similar approach to working hours that you are showing them.

    It can feel like you’re saying “don’t worry, it’s OK for you to work your assigned hours only, because you’re more junior.” If that’s not how people want to be seen, they may feel pressured to follow what you model – and they may even feel it to be almost condescending, depending on the tone and how it lands.

  26. Lurker Who Comments*

    I’ve thought about this a lot and am now straight on the side that it’s really unlikely that a boss be able to work lots of extra time without it impacting the organization, and this very much even if everyone’s perfectly clear on “it’s just them”. Managers’ work is too “others-focused” for them to be able to inject “stealth time” without indirectly skewing others’ expectations of the unit as a whole, and within the unit.

    There are a few tangible ways this can happen:
    1) The boss is doing regular employee work they like doing. This is the most obvious case – it’s like an invisible employee, so, say, 10 hours extra a week equal 0.25 full-time equivalent in output that’s not shown anywhere on staffing rolls. Good luck then justifiying more hires when everyone’s used to seeing the work of that 0.25 person.

    2) The second case is less obvious but also real: the boss is doing extra general management and planning work on their own (succession planning, financial forecasting, risks analysis, strategy). Sounds harmless enough, but odds are this extra planning WILL result in higher expectations during the “normal day” (e.g., follow-up questions, general expectation of higher rigor), which no one else can match without adding extra time themselves. And it means other units and bosses will start thinking it’s normal for a manager to be able to achieve this level of analytics within hours.

    3) The third sounds routine and even well-intentioned but it’s harmful too: the boss is spending their extra time reviewing / commenting on / approving more products from the team, or requests from help from other teams, budget ideas, etc. What’s not to like? Doesn’t it make others’ jobs easier? Yes, but at a cost: normally, a boss’s availability acts as a natural moderating agent on for workload, and now the bandwitdth is artificially higher. If you’re an employee, why produce one extra proposal this week if the boss will only read it next week? If you’re a manager colleague with a partnership idea, why approach the unit now if they’re swamped already? Etc.! But if the manager now CAN look at that extra proposal… CAN review that urgently-written memo… CAN give far more thorough attention to this regular product… Then everyone gets used to it.

    So that’s why I’m coming down far more now in favour of bosses being rigorous on keeping their own hours under control, and I wish the common response to that kind of issue were more akin to “knock yourself out! here are a couple volunteer organizations you can go help”.

  27. Blue Horizon*

    I’ve previously delivered this message in a way that implicitly celebrates the behavior even while asking it to stop. “It’s great that you’ve been doing all this extra work, and I appreciate it, but I’d like you to cut down.” It never works. Advancement is competitive and often governed by unwritten rules, and people notice what you do as well as what you say – especially if they are different.

    What does work is framing it as a negative. “I’ve noticed you working a lot of extra hours, and I appreciate the thought. When you do that, though, it undermines the expectations I’m trying to set for the team around work-life balance. Unless it’s genuinely needed and we’ve agreed on it, I need you to stop doing that, please.”

    For the OP I’d suggest delivering this speech to a mirror first, and then reflecting on it.

  28. Zee*

    This topic has come up many times here, and I’m always bewildered by the concept… I have never looked at a boss of mine who was working long hours and thought to myself “that must mean I’m supposed to work long hours too.”

  29. Silverose*

    This letter could have been written by my supervisor….but he’s actually doing pretty good at making it clear that his hours are because he is management and it is not an expectation of staff. He also uses delayed send on both email and Teams, if staff end up working late unavoidably, he insists they flex off elsewhere, and generally tries his best to not let the staff he manages know what hours he’s working (more doable in a situation where everyone works at different locations). He also encourages staff to use their vacation and sick days, even if the sick day is for mental health “I just need to take a day” reasons.

  30. KC*

    UG, this was my nightmare scenario! I was a young professional working for a workaholic manager. She never explicitly told me not to work long hours, but I had learned to mirror the professionalism in actions of my supervisors, so I assumed that meant I worked long hours too. I grew to resent her, and my job, as my anxiety grew. Even if she had told me not to work long hours myself, I would not have believed her, since she continued to do so. I strongly believe that managers should set good examples, and as Alison mentioned, perhaps schedule emails to be sent at a reasonable time, or have conversations with employees who do end up working longer hours so that their actions back up their guidelines of a reasonable work day. As a favor to all the young professionals out there who are anxiously trying to figure things out, managers, take this to heart!

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