Having been in the professional world for a few years now, I’ve seen a variety of approaches taken by employees (all over the workforce) regarding what length workweeks become their norm.
And at first, this can seem like a choice up to an employee and the employee alone. While a good supervisor should encourage taking vacation and be aware of how many hours their employees are putting into to work, at the end of the day, only the employee can make their own choices. Still, it turns out that working consistenly and significantly longer workweeks will often impact co-workers.
I will note that when I say things like “significantly longer hours”, “extended workweeks”, and any other similar terms, it’s up to your discression what amounts of time they refer to. If you really want my opinion, I think up to 45-hour workweeks could potentially be sustainable, while anything above that is setting an employee up for eventual burnout. Many would argue this number is 50, and I’m sure others would argue above that. I believe this varies depending on the person; not everyone is the same. This depends on the individual and I am listing a series of impacts below that, should they be intentionally mitigated or prevented by an individual choosing to work additional hours, may not necessarily occur.
I stand by workweek lengths being an individual’s decision. This post is simply meant to open up thoughts around how that decision can sometimes (not always), have unrecognized impacts.
So, with all that being said, how does one person’s decision to work extra hours affect other people?
1. Your time is finite.#
This is the number one point I want to get across. Here’s what happens, in extreme circumstances, when an employee willingingly dedicates their life to work.
They take on everything they can. They feel like they have to (or want to) say yes to everything and be a part of everything, whether for future career moves, reputation, or other. When this happens, and the employee eventually runs out of time to do all the things they’ve promised to do, they have no option but to get someone else’s help. It’s simple, really. Time is finite. All of us have worked the occassional long workweek for an upcoming deliverable, test event, company priority, etc. And that time has come out of what normally is spent on other life things. When you already give all of your time to work, there’s no extra time to pull from. You need someone else’s help.
This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if a task could be handed off to someone else with enough time for them to fit it into their schedule as works for them. However, it can be assumed in this case that the initial imployee tried to make everything work up until the last minute, when they eventually realized it was too late and they would miss a deadline. As a result, the subsequent employee will get a last-minute task request, maybe related to their current work or maybe not, dumped on them when they had no initial part in agreeing to help with that task.
This is clearly an extreme example of what can happen, but it does happen and it’s vital to be aware of how a single employee’s personal choice around time management and boundaries can extend to someone who has a different set of time management expectations.
2. Your stress levels affect other people.#
This one is probably the most obvious, but important nonetheless. When you’re taking on long days, accepting wearily-high amounts of meetings and working late into evenings, the stress and angst will get to you. We’ve all been there a few times before, but maintaining this kind of schedule is setting you up for permenant levels of stress that make it more difficult to realize when it’s affecting those around you.
Additionally, if you’re a team lead or manager and said stress slips out in a manner that indicates that you’re too busy for those you lead, it doesn’t bode well for your team feeling like they can trust you to have the time for them when they need it. When you take on enough work to work 10-20+ extra hours, you’re likely running low on time during the workday to meet with all the teams you’re involved with. As a result, people who need you may find it hard to reach you without meeting extra early in the morning or really late in the afternoon.
3. Your team follows your lead.#
If you’re in any sort of leadership position, you have team members looking up to you. Even if you try to preach taking vacation and having work/life balance, your team will find it hard to believe that it’s okay to do so if all they see is you working constantly. Unfortunately, this means that more people than just you may become at risk of burning out. Early-career employees need examples that help them learn how to balance work with life. All employees need to know that it’s okay to have a family and priorities outside of work.
4. “Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part.”#
There’s a reason this is a common saying. If you’re working 10-12 hour days, and at 6 pm need help from a colleague, you can’t expect them to drop their life. Again, there are some exceptions here and this may occassionally happen when abnormally important events are happening. However, frequently planning to do work that requires other colleagues at a time outside expected work hours is a no. If you like your long hours, be sure to make sure they don’t require pulling other people in for last-minute tasks that should have been done earlier in the day.
5. You’re more likely to be a single point of failure.#
When you’re working hours upon hours over a standard workweek, you’re inevitably taking on more and more work. As a result, you may end up as the person, for at least one project and maybe more, taking on everything that no one else has yet claimed. Then, back to point #1, when you run out of time, get sick, or want to go on vacation, you and your team end up stuck because you’re so deeply entwined in so many projects. Further, your busyness may make it difficult for you to keep your work and status up-to-date with your team, leaving them unaware of what you’ve done or left off with. When you accept grandiose amounts of tasking, be sure that you’re not a single point of failure and that you always have a team not just behind but alongside you.
I hope this was a helpful read. I think this is a subject worth discussing.