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I’ll bet that as some of you read this column, you’re thinking ahead to the end of the day and estimating how many extra hours you’ll stay back tonight.
Some of you will have deadlines to meet and don’t have a choice, but others will be prepared to slog out the night in your dimly-lit office. You’re thinking, that will show my boss just how dedicated I am, won’t it? Staying late proves my loyalty to this company and shows I’m committed to making this job work, right?
According to a number of studies (and my own personal experience) hardly anyone cares that you work late – even if you work hard – and you will just end up frustrated, unproductive and tired. So very, very tired.
I have always hated working late, ever since my very first job and I’m not going to lie, it’s a problem given the industry I work in. Journalism doesn’t exactly follow a regular 9-to-5 work schedule and, especially when I worked in newspapers, I would often work 12-hour days, sometimes longer.
I mostly enjoyed the work, but I very quickly started to resent the fact that I was expected to stay late even when I didn’t need to. I did, begrudgingly, but only because I was always told that’s what you do. Do the hard yards and work late to prove yourself to the company. That will certainly get you that promotion you’re angling for. Won’t it? (Insert sarcastic laughter here).
I found very quickly that friends stopped inviting me to things, people would say things like, “I’ll see you after work, if you can make it this time,” and my life revolved around the people, lives, gossip and drama that went on within the four walls of the office. It wasn’t really healthy and it was most definitely not conducive to a happy and productive me.
It was a negative and all-consuming cycle I was stuck in and, funnily enough, it only stopped when I moved back to Singapore eventually – a country that, apparently, only pays lip service to work-life balance initiatives.
According to one survey, 90% of Singaporeans work beyond their official hours because of unreasonable deadlines and a heavy workload. About 70% choose to stay behind and finish at work, while the other 30% carry their work home.
Interestingly, nearly half of those polled said their companies are insincere about work-life balance and don’t practice what they preach. That means 42% choose not to question their bosses about the ‘policies’ for fear of them turning around and slapping them with a poor performance review.
In short and generally speaking, Singapore seems to equate working hard with working late, and it’s just not true.
In my current job, I now have a busier day, more pressure and more responsibilities than I have ever had – but I always try to be done by 6.30pm. And I tell my staff to try and manage their own workload so that they can do the same.
Of course there are exceptions to this, and there are times when it’s 100% necessary to stay late – or work a bit from home at night – but those days should really only happen when you’re working towards a big deadline or trying to solve a problem which you can’t in good conscience just go home and forget about.
To get around my hate of working late, I work hard and I work smart – ticking off tasks as the day goes on and keeping my head down until the next thing is done, with short breaks in between.
I have got my time management down to a T and I expect the same of others. Why? Because I know what it’s like to feel overworked and I know it only leads down a path of resentment and unhappiness, ultimately resulting in a resignation that shouldn’t have happened.
I see plenty of people regularly working late and in my opinion, there’s no excuse for it to become a habit. What are you really achieving by keeping up appearances? Your boss might be happy, true, but he or she isn’t going to be happy when the person getting results from working longer hours leaves because they’re exhausted. It’s just not a long-term solution.
I’m not saying it’s a perfect system (I have eaten lunch at my desk far too many times) but I would rather get my work done, shut down my PC and be home by 7.30pm so I can put my feet up with a glass of wine and be ready – and happy – to do it all over again tomorrow.