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Most German corporations are now banning out-of-hours work, with government regulations stepping in to tighten these measures in order to improve work-life balance in the country... I don't know if other countries like USA and UK will ever follow suit, but until then it seems that most employers in the English-speaking world equate "going the extra mile" with also working out of hours.

I am in a situation where - for a number of reasons I don't want to elaborate - it is getting unsustainable and energy-draining for me to work too long, and while I was one of the best employees of my company (junior manager level, promoted twice within the company), I think the only way for me to regain my balance is to work 9-5 and completely switch off from any work after that.

The question is: how can I do so without appearing as less passionate and motivated than I used to be? As an individual contributor I sometimes worked 9 to 10 pm for entire months. That may have also contributed to my promotions.

My employer generally has no rules set in stone about working hours as long as we deliver and are productive, but I fear there might be unwritten political rules in the Anglophone corporate mentality that determine progression and promotion.

My direct supervisors/line manager would not mind because he is rarely in the office anyway, but my concern is more about perception by other coworkers, my own reports and other superiors I work together with as a team but whom I don't report to (For example, there is one influential colleague who apparently has been asking why I am leaving "so early" recently. He is not my manager, but he has good connections...).

I am genuinely motivated in my work but I simply have more things in my other areas of life. I also think that my perception of exhaustion is making me less productive at work.

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    Ironically studies have down that working as you have been lowers productivity! – daaxix Jun 8 '14 at 5:11
  • @daaxix - That is true on average. But that study also acknowledged outliers. For all you know the op is an outlier. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 9 '14 at 13:25
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The way I see it is that you should get your job done within the regular 9-5 working hours. If you regularly have to work more hours (I'm not saying the occasional spike due to deadlines), then for me it means that there's something wrong; specifically, either (a) there's something wrong with management, because they are assigning more work than you can reasonably handle in the normal working hours, or (b) you are underperforming, and not delivering as much as you should. (Don't take (b) personally... I'm writing in general here. When I say 'you' I mean any employee in the world.)

As far as I can tell, doing a lot of extra hours actually lowers productivity. It increases a lot of stress and exhaustion (as you seem to be realising) so it's a lose-lose situation (for you and for the company). It's better to go home, relax, get a good night's sleep, and come back refreshed in the morning. It goes a long way when you feel fresh enough to think clearly.

I don't know what your company culture is vis-a-vis extra hours, but in doing a lot of extra hours earlier on, you have now placed yourself in a situation where it is difficult to stop doing them (or your productivity will appear to be visibly lower). There are different ways you can deal with this, such as having a chat with your superiors (who may take it differently depending on their nature and character). What I think I would do would be to gradually decrease my working hours over a period of time, so that the decrease in productivity is distributed over that period of time and does not cause any sudden changes that your superiors might not like.

  • in response to (b) - our productivity can be a bit difficult to measure here because our work involves a lot of innovation/R&D work - sometimes we find a solution quite fast and way ahead of deadline, other times we have no clue but the deadline is there nonetheless so we need to try multiple solutions till we find the one that works. – ForProfessionalPashion Jun 7 '14 at 12:41
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    (b) is usually not the case, except in people who don't work hard (either because they're lazy or because they're incompetent). It is more often a case of mismanagement, in the sense of underestimating the complexity of tasks and failing to provide sufficient resources for their completion. – Gigi Jun 7 '14 at 12:45
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I don't know your corporate culture -- but in the one I'm used to, folks are judged by what they accomplish, not which hours they accomplish it in. If you can be highly productive, highly innovative, a good organizer and team leader and team educator, and so on... management will notice.

If you're concerned, I agree with others that the right answer is to ask your manager what you need to do to earn your next promotion. That will probably involve a discussion of what direction you want your career to go in over the longer term. (Not everyone wants to eventually become a manager, and some companies are starting to realize this and have long-term technical tracks.)

  • +1 deliver a lot of results and you're showing passion and motivation. – mxyzplk Jun 7 '14 at 17:04
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You are right that many companies equate overtime with dedication, and they reward that with promotions and raises. Shifts are beginning to happen in some companies, as employee engagement and retention are moving to the forefront of business conversation, and it is employees such as yourself that are driving this concern, particularly as the gap between top level execs and entry level employees has grown astronomical.

What's happening recently is that people like yourself are starting to leave companies that reward this kind of imbalance for companies that understand the need for balance. Such companies are being honored as great places to work, and working for one of these great companies is something employees brag about. In investment circles, these companies are being touted at great investments because happy employees drive innovation and productivity.

This is a slow movement, and we have a LONG way to go. You may find there is no way to compete with overtimers in your particular organization unless you also are prepared to work overtime. Some thoughts:

  • talk to your manager. Ask what is expected if you are hoping for raises or promotions.
  • if you are hoping for promotions, demonstrate leadership/management skills. Read leadership/management books.
  • make sure people notice what you are doing - quick emails perhaps as you complete steps, especially if you can tie it to a question so you are not wasting people's time ("Task X is almost finished, and I was thinking we might reprioritize task Z over Y because of... Any thoughts?")
  • consider other organizations that are friendlier to their employees.
  • What is not applicable in my situation is the fact that my manager doesn't really bother about working hours. In fact, he is rarely in the office, and my other superior is also in another office. We usually catch up via e-mail/phone so that is not the main issue. The issue is the perception by the company as a whole, i.e. my colleagues, my reports, other senior staff I work in teams with but whom I don't directly report to. I have no obligation to explain anything to them, but what if they "think" wrong? – ForProfessionalPashion Jun 7 '14 at 13:48
  • You might influence what other people think about your level of commitment by making sure they notice the things you are doing (bullet point 3). But if your colleagues are all working longer hours than you are, they might think you are less committed than they are, and I am not sure you can influence this much. Changing corporate culture is very difficult for leaders to do; your chances of shifting it from a non-leadership position are pretty low. – MJ6 Jun 7 '14 at 14:53
  • Well... I am a junior level leader. Instead of chancing the corporate culture, can't I just enlighten the perception of those individuals that matter? – ForProfessionalPashion Jun 7 '14 at 15:28
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    You will be fighting culture to do so. If you work in a culture that values overtime, getting your co-workers (who are working overtime in order to do well in that culture) to appreciate your passion (when you are not working the same hours they are) will be an uphill battle. If you can't change culture, all you can do is make sure they notice what you are doing (bullet point 3) by communicating regularly. Whether that information influences their opinion is beyond your control. – MJ6 Jun 7 '14 at 16:28
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I've recently found myself in a very similar situation. I work in the UK and we don't have any such laws introducing, but due to a project being significantly misrepresented by a client and then under quoted by us for 9 months I was working long hours almost constantly. It led to high levels of stress and lower productivity per hour, but was necessary to complete the work.

Luckily things have now quietened down and I'm working more sensible hours again, 9 - 5 with the occasional overtime. As I work for a small company I report directly to the owners of the company. One thing I found very helpful was to keep a log of exactly what I was doing in my overtime, that way my employers knew what I was doing during my working time, and what was extra. So when things returned to normal hours with less overtime they already knew what to expect in terms of output from me.

As you've already done the overtime for a long period of time this is difficult to do retrospectively so what I recommend you do instead is keep a log for a few days of what you are doing during your normal office hours. It doesn't need to be an exact minute to minute log, but a general overview of how you break your day down. You can then show your manager this as a general representative of what they can expect from you during normal office hours. Explain that you've been working a lot longer, in some cases almost twice as long as the normal day over a significant period of time, which is why you've been able to produce so much more output.

If you have a reasonable manager then they will be impressed with your contribution and the overtime you've put in, but will tell you to stop putting in so much as you'll burn out, which from your post it seems you are. No one can keep up that level of work for ever. If they don't then you can explain that you can't keep up that level of work and you can point to the new laws coming in that you won't be able to produce that level of work any more. Your manager is then aware of how much you have been doing and what to expect of you from now on.

In summary:

  1. Keep a log for a couple of days showing a break down of your daily output. Only include work for normal office hours.
  2. Have a meeting with your manager and explain to him the situation that you've been working such long hours over the last few months. Show him your log and explain this is what you normally do during office hours, anything extra over the last months has been overtime.
  3. Explain that you cannot keep putting in so many hours, both due to the new laws coming in and your own health / other reasons. Tell him you're worried about the impact the reduced work coming from you may look like to him.
  • thank you I think this is very valuable and detailed advice. What is not applicable in my situation is the fact that my manager doesn't really bother about working hours. In fact, he is rarely in the office, and my other superior is also in another office. We usually catch up via e-mail/phone so that is not the main issue. The issue is the perception by the company as a whole, i.e. my colleagues, my reports, other senior staff I work in teams with but whom I don't directly report to. I have no obligation to explain anything to them, but what if they "think" wrong? – ForProfessionalPashion Jun 7 '14 at 13:47
  • I think you may have missed the point. This isn't about explaining to them because you have to. I don't have to explain to my managers either. It's about making sure they are aware of your contributions so they can't make assumptions when something changes. They can't "think" wrong because you've told them the exact reason why your performance has gone down. I've put Tell your manager your worried about the impact of reduced work coming from you may look like to him at the end of point 3 in my summary, perhaps you should put that at the start of point 2 instead. – Styphon Jun 7 '14 at 13:50
  • Sure, I get it, but what I'm asking is: if my manager doesn't object to it (he is truly indifferent as to whether I work from home or at the office), should I document my work to the other people involved so that they don't make any assumptions, even if they are not my superiors? – ForProfessionalPashion Jun 7 '14 at 13:52
  • I've just seen you're edit, perhaps it was me who missed the point. I thought it was your managers opinion who mattered, not your co-workers. In that case I don't have much experience to offer for co-workers as I don't really have many and they all knew the hours I was putting in. – Styphon Jun 7 '14 at 13:52
  • No worries... basically there's one colleague who is not my manager but quite influential in the company, and I heard that he sometimes asks around "Hey, where did this guy disappear? Has he left the office on time again?" – ForProfessionalPashion Jun 7 '14 at 13:55

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