I’m working very long hours. How do I achieve a more reasonable work/life balance?
Most people are willing to stay late or work longer hours if there is an emergency or an especially tight deadline for an important project. However, when staff are routinely expected to work very long hours then this can be very detrimental. We all need time outside of work to rest and recharge our batteries, connect with loved ones and friends, have fun. Otherwise we can seriously compromise our health and well-being and that is no good for us – or the employer.
1. Give yourself a reason to leave the office on time
Sometimes it’s easier for parents to avoid presenteeism, as they at least have the excuse of needing to pick up their kids. If it helps, give a reason you need to leave e.g. you have caring responsibilities, a particular train you need to catch, you’re meeting someone, or going to an event. Give yourself a reason to get out the door and go.
2. Turn off your tech
Leave your phone and computer alone when you are outside of work. Otherwise you'll never switch off especially if you work for a global organisation where emails are coming in at all hours. Problem is if you start responding to these emails then other people will feel they need to respond too – and then everyone is working outside of work. If it’s a real emergency they’ll ring you. Mostly it can wait.
3. Agree priorities
If you are resentfully working long hours just to get through the workload, then go and see your manager at least once a week to agree your priorities and discuss what you feel can reasonably be achieved in the time available. Most people don’t mind working extra hours occasionally but continually working long hours just to keep the day to day workload under control is untenable for you – and the organisation.
4. Assertive but helpful
If your boss is insistent you stay late then you may need to be assertive – but try to be helpful at the same time. Offer to look at it very first thing in the morning, guarantee they’ll have the work by lunchtime or suggest that you go back and re-negotiate the deadline. Show you won’t be coerced and they are likely to back off. Your career prospects are unlikely to be harmed as long as you show that you want to be helpful and continue to do your work to high standards. Interestingly, it may even enhance your career prospects. Being assertive and dealing positively with a potential conflict situation illustrates your leadership potential far more than someone willing to be a doormat.
5. Virtual presenteeism
Organisations are moving increasingly to virtual working where staff work wholly or partly from home or other location. Research shows that those who work virtually often work the longest hours of all – finding it difficult to switch off and over-compensating for their absence from the office by wanting to be super-productive to prove their worth. Especially important that virtual workers give themselves a “home-time” too.
6. It’s good for everyone
Probably everyone is hoping someone will go home first – including your manager. It’s okay to have a life. Your employer should want you to have a life – if nothing else because miserable employees are unlikely to be engaged high performers, let alone good ambassadors for the company so it’s in their interests too.
7. Be clear on your own boundaries
It may be that you’re happy to work late at home as long as you can be home for the school run. Negotiate your own “on” and “off” times but be clear about keeping them distinct. There is always work you can be doing, but apart from emergency issues, most things will wait till the next day
8. Think about leaving
There are some organisations where the long working hours culture is deeply ingrained. It’s hard as an individual to challenge a whole industry or organisation’s norms of working. So if this is causing you serious difficulties, you may need to think seriously about changing sector or job if you want to have a reasonable life balance.
Corinne Mills is Managing Director of Personal Career Management, the leading specialists in career management and outplacement services who are the official Career Management partners for the ACCA.
As part of ACCA Member benefits, Personal Career Management offer ACCA Members a free career conversation and a 10% discount off any career coaching or outplacement programme.
If you are looking for help in reaching your career goals, or assistance with a practical job search strategy, then call Personal Career Management on +44 1753 888 995 for a confidential discussion or fill in their online contact form