When you often over-work yourself.
Working after hours – is it good or bad?
Doing stuff you’re not supposed to do – is it good or bad?
Well – the short answer is that it depends. It depends on your personal will and your scope of responsibilities mainly. But there are some other considerations that you might consider in such cases.
So yes – today we’re going to discuss the main motivations for working hard and when it’s the time to put some boundaries. Understanding these motivations, and how to handle each will help you put your extra energy only when it also serves your well being and personal evolvement.
[Originally I also wanted to discuss how to set boundaries for yourself or for your workplace, but this post became too long as it is – so I’ll postpone the latter to a different post :-)]
Why people work hard
Sometimes you can find yourself working often after hours or on the weekends. Sometimes you can find yourself doing a lot of stuff you are not supposed to do and never signed up for. Sometimes, and very often (because the two are correlated) – it’s both.
Why is this happening? I’ve identified several motivations for such cases, based on my personal observations:
- You believe in what the company does, and you believe that by working harder or doing stuff that falls out of your official role – you can actually make an impact and move the needle.
- You would like to gain more experience either in what you’re already doing, or by expanding your scope of responsibilities.
- You’re enjoying every moment of it!
- You’d like to get a promotion and believe that by showing your devotion you’ll get noticed.
- You are the type of guy/girl who would step into a vacuum when they see one. The feature won’t go out because some people are not doing their job, or some roles are missing and hence nobody is going to do it? No problem! You’ll step in without even being asked – because this is who you are.
- You’re being asked to do so, and afraid of getting fired if you refuse.
- Everyone around you is doing so and you don’t want to be tagged as a ‘parasite’ or ‘not a team player’.
- Psychological reasons and ideals such as believing in hard work, preference over being at home or just not sure what to do in your free time.
Some of the reasons above are totally legit, some are legit to an extent and some are simply wrong (in my humble opinion, of course). And by ‘wrong’ I mean that I personally don’t believe you should keep doing it, and something needs to change.
How to address each motivation
We can divide the list of motivations above into ‘self empowerment’ reasons and… fears. The self-empowerment reasons are usually good reasons for justifying the extra work/responsibilities. The fears, however, are not. Let’s go over each and see how to address it.
Self empowerment reasons
If I believe in what the company does, and in my ability to make a difference in a good way – then it’s perfectly legit to take more on myself. In a way – in such cases you should see yourself as an ‘investor’. Instead of money you are simply putting in your time. I would just recommend making sure you have some meaningful equity in such cases, because otherwise – if the company does succeed – you won’t enjoy it (financially wise).
If you’re taking on yourself more because you need the experience – that’s totally fine. Just make sure to stop from time to time and ask yourself – ‘am I still acquiring the right experience in this process?’ Because I can assure you – reality changes all the time – and at some point – either your needs or what you do may have drifted too far from what you have envisioned that would help you build your career.
If you’re super enjoying what you do – that’s great! Two things: First – just make sure you’re not becoming too ‘fanatic’ and start neglecting your other life, and mainly your family. Second – be careful not to slowly drift into a comfort-zone that will numb you over time, and after a few years you’ll suddenly figure out that you didn’t acquire enough varied experience during this time and it’s hard to find a new job.
If you believe that devoting this extra effort is what it takes to get a promotion – then go for it. But a word of thought – my personal experience shows that with proper allocation of time and simply delivering high quality products – you don’t need to invest any extra hours. You may need to extend your scope of responsibilities though. Just stop from time to time to run a reality check of whether this is actually paying off. I’d also advise to put a deadline, and maybe even communicate it with your superiors. Because if this ‘promotion’ doesn’t happen after a year or a bit more – there is a good chance it won’t happen at all.
If you’re taking more on yourself because no one else is going to do this (either it’s nobody’s role, or some of the people are simply not doing their job) – then you should be careful. Management adores people like you, but different types of management will address it differently.
If your management is smart – they’ll promote you, or at least reward you for your great work and sense of responsibility. That’s fine for a period of time. However, doing this for too long – and you’re risking wearing out. In that case – you need to put boundaries for yourself!
If your management is lame, however – they will abuse this quality of yours, and either let you keep doing this and do nothing to reward you for it, or even worse – send more stuff your way, because… you are the type who fills vacuums…
In the latter case – you’ll need to put boundaries to your management.
If your managers are expecting you to work long hours, and maybe on the weekends as well, and you’re doing all of this because you are afraid to lose your job, then ask yourself this: Is working in a culture that constantly requires you to work after hours or doing stuff you didn’t sign up for and don’t want to do, is the culture you want to spend your time with?
Also, ask yourself why you are so afraid to leave this job? (willingly or not) If you don’t believe you possess enough experience to find a different job then first – try! Maybe your assumption is wrong. I’d try several job openings before reaching such a conclusion anyway. But whether you have enough experience or not – I wouldn’t recommend such a working environment for a long period of time. And while working there – focus on doing the things that will get you the experience you need in order to find a better place.
If you’re willing to carry the extra burden only because everyone around you is doing the same – then we are still stuck on a ‘cultural’ thing. As a believer of a work-life balance, to me such a culture just doesn’t sound right. And BTW – I spent part of my career in such places. It doesn’t necessarily result in better productivity. If something – it results most of the time in high churn and departure of employees.
That being said – if you are a true believer of what the company does, and you are willing to focus on the potential impact rather than the culture – then this is a case when you need to set some boundaries!
If (and that’s the last one, I promise) you are working after hours and/or taking on yourself much more than your official scope of responsibility only because you have no idea what else you can do with your life, or just evading home because you’re not ready to deal with the reality there for whatever reason – then you do have a real problem – but it’s not your workplace. You are running away from dealing with some personal stuff and your work is your hiding place. My recommendation – be honest with yourself, admit that this is what’s happening – and then decide whether to deal with it by yourself or seek professional help. Either way – this is not an issue of boundaries, and not even related to your workplace.
Where I stand
I don’t like working hard. I don’t like working long hours and certainly not on the weekend. I’ve been there and done that. I no longer believe that hard work is a key to success. Instead – I prefer to work smarter. I do tend to increase the scope of my official role, as this is my nature. I have done so pretty much for every workplace I’ve been in.
However, I also learned over the years how to be super efficient with my time, how to set proper boundaries and how to delegate. I am working normal hours and yet – I accomplish a lot and certainly move the needle for my workplace.
You can do the same. Start with self consciousness and being honest as for why you do what you do, and take it from there.
That wraps up the post for today.
If you found this post/series useful – let me know in the comments. If you think others can benefit from it – feel free to share it with them.
Thank you, and until next time 🙂