Why Do We Glorify Working Late?

There are options—here are some ways to make change.

Wistful man with documents at table in dark room
Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava in Pexel

It can be exhausting, especially if you are an organized individual, with daily productivity targets, to land under a leader that glorifies overworking or worse: that praises colleagues that you know deliver less in the same amount of time but work longer hours so look more dedicated!

Every time you go to a family function, there it is: the topic about working long hours and the constant expectation of doing so. The frustration this brings and how unfair it sounds when you finish on time to still have a life and yet, it just looks not good enough!

When I came back to work after my second maternity leave, everything was new! New country, new company, new leadership style, new project challenge. A breath of fresh air but at the same time, trying to make the best impressions from the set go! Regardless, I was a new mum and the Kinder closing time made me have to accommodate the previous work lifestyle I had prior of working late when needed. So, on my first day, when it came to the end of day (to what I perceived was the end of day and I had ticked all the boxes of my TO DO for that day), I stood up to leave. My new boss started sizing me up and asked where I was going to be packing my things. Very politely I explained I had to pick up my kids from kindergarten. Her reaction to this comment made me question if that was at all the best career choice I have made. She simply looked at her wrist watch and said “Well, we all need to make choices and you are clearly making yours.”

Let’s explore this for a second: back in the 80’s, in an episode of Seinfeld, George Constanza gave us his tips on how to get promoted without doing absolutely nothing! Those tips ranged from always walk in the corridors rushing with several folders under your arm (to look stressful, extremely busy and involved in many aspects of the business), all the way to always having two sets of coats to leave one in the back of your chair constantly (that way it looks like you are the last one leaving for the day and the first arriving).

Fast-forwarding 40 years, we still have some leaders that would clearly fall for that! Seriously scary!

Back to the future

Not all leaders are like this thankfully and, as a contrast to that experience, I also had the opposite happening and I have learnt with it to spot signs of process failure, leadership issues and unproductivity.

I was a consultant in a firm and, coming from a country that glorifies overworking, my thoughts to please the new boss would be to stay later and start on my to-do list for the next day. After 30 minutes of what was my expected leaving time, I was tapped in the shoulder and asked why I was still there. The person asking me was a partner in the firm so I got anxious. After my reasonable explanation (so I thought), he said there are only three possible reasons that justify anyone staying later than requested:

  1. The workload was poorly distributed within a team – and if that was the case, it should be revised;
  2. The employee haven’t received enough training – and that was on the team leader or area manager to ensure the team members are ready for the amount of workload given;
  3. The employee was in the wrong role to his skillset and that would be a recruitment process casting issue.

He added that being late results in extra costs on electricity that could be saved if I were to keep to scheduled hours.

All of that were good arguments and made me rethink the amount of leaders I knew that would still feel better with George Constanza’s approach!

“Working longer hours doesn’t ensure better results”, Frank Sonnenberg

Question Status Quo

As a transformation agent, I learnt how to use these experiences to detect inefficiencies, toxic work environments and obstructions in workflow that can affect the client experience. So I will share here some thoughts on how I question status quo to learn more from a particular work environment. This can be helpful for anyone embracing a new role or even to access their current work environment.

For illustration purposes, let’s call George the leader that relies on loyalty and long hours to promote versus Jennifer, the leader that promotes against established productivity targets and department realistic goals.

There are a couple of things you can ask in a job interview to prevent you from landing in a role under a leader like George or to access how many George’s or Jennifer’s your current work has. Here are some ideas:

1. How is individual success measured? Does the company have individual and department indicators? What are they: Financial targets? Productivity? Quality?

A company without yearly targets, measurable results against those targets and accountabilities, it becomes a vulnerable performance system and may lead to a culture relying on a leaders’ interpretation to what success should look like;

2. How long has your future boss/ now boss been on that role and how many people under his/her leadership have been promoted?

The time it takes to be promoted on average in an organization and how your new/current department trends against that average may show some inconsistency and leadership alarming signs.

3. Does the company have long term planning / goals?

Having long term planning shows a purpose and actions in the day to day are more likely to be aligned to those goals than to urgent popping up needs. Prevention rather than reaction. If a company only plans for current year or doesn’t plan at all, it’ll be constantly reacting. This means there is a fair chance of unplanned requests taking place and the “North” be constantly changing directions…

If you already have a boss like George, perhaps it’s time to rethink careers as you will always go at the pace that he/she wants you to go.

If you are lucky enough to be in an organization that praises logic, measurable realistic results, then Jennifer’s will be easier to find than George’s. Although you will find George’s everywhere unfortunately!

If you found this article useful, maybe you will be interested in finding out more about other aspects of leadership that can lead to toxic work environments. If so, read my latest article on Micromanaging here!

Disclaimer: Apologies if some interpretations may offend a reader. I do rely on literal translation at times since English is a second language. My intention with this article is to spread awareness. I welcome your feedback to ensure I will not be constantly making the same errors in translation.

I also write about my own life ,professional experience and learning curve. I am a continuous improvement learner so I welcome you to share extra information and spread awareness with me if you have other ways of analyzing the same issues or you have value-added information to the readers of this article. Thank you for reading.