This issue has cropped up in those ‘Can I just ask you something…? ’ moments at the end of workshops a fair bit lately. Usually the questioners are in the early stage of their careers, don’t know who to turn to and what to say.
It’s a tricky one for us trainers as:
- We don’t work at their employer so only have the employee’s side of the story to go on, and
- it may not be appropriate for us to say “do this/that” as it oversteps ethical/business boundaries, and at the same time
- our instinct is to help people.
So typically my response is to ask questions to help the person focus on what’s really going on and what they can do about it.
All the time? Every day?
Let’s get clear on whether the problem is permanent or temporary. It may be that now’s a particularly busy time or there may be holidays to cover. If that’s the case, we all have to do our bit.
How do you know your boss expects you to work late?
“They just do” doesn’t really answer this question, sorry. How do you know that? Does your boss tell you that you’re going to have to work late? When do they let you know? Or is it that they give you heaps of work and a deadline without understanding your workload? Your answers will suggest different ways to respond.
What hours does your boss typically work?
If your colleagues, including your manager, generally put long hours in then I’m afraid this is a case of ‘welcome to your job’ as that’s how things get done round here. If you don’t like that, then you have a choice of course. I’d suggest you don’t give up just yet though.
What have you tried to resolve this?
Invariably, the answer is nothing. Don’t play the victim, or sulk, or leave. If you do, you’re guaranteed a repeat situation in a future job. So deal with the issue.
Try one or some of these steps:
Ask – you may have joined a particularly long-hours culture, or it may simply be normal in your sector. So ask around: peers, friends in other similar employers, people you know in different sectors, so that you can get clear on what ‘long hours’ are.
Talk – to your boss about the hours. Don’t position this as some poor-little-me whinge-fest – be grown up about it. Say that you need some advice and guidance on the hours you’re doing. Is this how it is round here all the time or just right now? Explain how the hours affect your performance at work, for example if you have to re-check things the next day. Offer suggestions for getting stuff done more effectively.
Prioritise – you may inadvertently be your own worst enemy by working to the wrong priorities, so it’s worth checking in with your boss on what you see as being the ‘must do’ jobs and getting their input.
Speed up – you just might be taking too long to do things. If a job’s worth 10 minutes, get it done in 10 minutes, not a gold-plated 20.
Get a life – “I can’t work late this evening as it’s a friend’s birthday party / I’ve got film tickets / my brother’s in town from Australia / I’ve got a class” You may need to repeat this if the message doesn’t sink in first go. Don’t overplay this card, particularly if everyone else is working late.
Haggle – “I can’t do it by tonight, but I CAN do it by tomorrow lunchtime”, or, “Sure, so long as you let me know which task to drop so I can do that instead”.
Shameless plug alert – there’s more on managing upwards in my book, which is out now.
Dawn is the author of ‘How to be Zoomly at work’, available on Amazon.