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Dear Work Therapist - How much do I have to work to be valuable?

Edited

Dear Work Therapist,

Workplaces can be very unhealthy environments. In my last job, my boss expected me to work long hours because that's just what a "good and commited employee" does.

I often had the feeling that I need to decide betwenn: prioritising my wellbeing, OR having a busy and overworked lifestyle, but been seen as valuable emploeyee.

So my question ist: How much do I have to work to be valuable? And, when do we start appreciating people who managed their work within a normal workday instead of appreciating the persons who overworked? Do we really want to glorify stress and overwork as well as night shifts? Is a person who works more hours, more valuable than a person who is creative, productive and efficient in their ‚normal work time’.

10 comments

Sajit Nair Community Leader Aug 08, 2021

Hi @Svenja , I've been in similar place in one of my previous companies.. where I was singled out for leaving early when I completed my work.
.. while others sat and just 'looked active' while being on social media sites.

I learned that its better to speak to your supervisor about your priorities and work style, if it does not work.. jus remove yourself from those toxic situation/companies and move on to companies which value your dedication to work. 

:) 
Best of luck.

Like # people like this

Such important question @Svenja 

I understand both you and @Sajit Nair, I've been in these dark places, even turned into a stressed, underperforming, and tired human being. Only for the cost of "staying busy the entire time just to feel valued by the CEO."

Some people need more time to be productive and/or finish their tasks. But others are capable of doing the same amount of work 3 times faster. I can't accept being put in a situation where I'm spending an insane amount of time at the office or online working, just because I have the ability to high-perform. 

I think your boss doesn't deserve you :) 

Like # people like this
Dave Liao Community Leader Aug 08, 2021

@Svenja - Svenja, timely question! I've seen so many peers on the brink of burnout.

I feel there are two issues at-play:

  1. Finding the right balance between work/life - the struggle is real.
  2. Understanding your company's / team's / management's expectations of what that right balance is.

Focusing on #2, ideally there should be transparency around those expectations. If someone just cluck-clucks about teammates disappearing right at the closing time, is that their problem, or is there a misalignment in performance with what's been communicated from above? Has anything been communicated clearly?

It's okay for management (or teammates, or whomever) to glorify stress and overwork, but these glorifiers should understand the cost to that stress/overwork. They should make their expectation clear up-front. Teammates should know that when joining the team.

Hopefully, there's even room for teammates and management to collaborate to find a balance between what's wanted, and what's possible in a sustainable way.

Dear @Svenja ,

You ask an important question for both individual workers and managers. At the heart of your question is uncovering expectations that everyone understands AND agrees to.

This is important for information when one starts a new job, when one starts a new project, when one switches teams, when one expands responsibilities, etc. Because unless expectations are clear, then there will never be enough work done since there is no marker for success. A company wouldn't open its business without a goal just as an individual wouldn't be hired without an expected set of outcomes. Ask yourself:

  • When working on a project, are roles and responsibilities clear?
  • When working with your team, does everyone know what each other does?
  • Is your team's identity tied to goals?
  • Is your role clearly tied to your team's success?
  • Perhaps most importantly, is any of the above documented somewhere?

If this is all clear, I think that you'll know when work is done. In this case, the definition of done is outlined by milestones that contribute to outcomes. However, when expected outcomes are unrealistic, sometimes people overwork themselves to meet expectations. And when that happens, the expected scope of work is probably too large for one person. As @Sajit Nair suggested, requiring "overwork" can be translated to "unrealistic expectations, so talking with your manager might be helpful. Here are some questions to guide that conversation.

  • What are the biggest priorities for this project/ your role?
  • What is the minimum viable outcome and what is the better-than-imagined outcome?
  • How does the outcomes of your role impact the outcomes of the team?
    In other words, when your role does not make (or exceed) expectations, how does that change things for your teammates/company? Knowing this will help suggest where to lean into and what's less important.

Glorifying over-work is like glorifying outputs and not outcomes. And someone as thoughtful as you are being right now, I think that you should work for teams that focus on optimizing for outcomes vs outputs. And if you are able to accomplish what you need to do in a balanced way, I think you should be rewarded for finding a way to manage your time well. 

I hope this resonates with you! But if not, I hope you trust your gut. Your instincts are telling you something is off because you are correct.

Like # people like this
nina_schmidt Community Leader Aug 12, 2021

Thank you for that @Christine P_ Dela Rosa 

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this
Daniel Eads Atlassian Team Aug 09, 2021

I love all the comments here and the very keen "glorifying outputs and not outcomes" observation from Christine.

Several years ago I listened to a podcast (apologies to the original source; I thought it was Freakonomics but can't seem to support that with a search) where a company in New Zealand had trialed a 4-day option. The premise was that everyone got paid their normal wages, but if you had finished all your work for the week by Thursday, you just didn't work on Friday. People could enter or leave the program as they wanted, and there was no shame in being a 5-day style worker. The podcast interviewed someone who'd stayed consistently on 4 days/week, and she commented about how much better she felt about her job because she was prioritizing the right work and getting enough time over the weekend to recharge.

Jack Brickey Community Leader Aug 10, 2021

As a leader I look for the following when assessing an employees:

  1. Quality results
  2. Teamwork, Collaboration, How they treat others
  3. Initiative
  4. Ideation
  5. Communication
Like # people like this
Laura Holton Community Leader Aug 17, 2021

Thanks for raising this @Svenja, I've been in this situation before it's hard to know which way to turn or how best to appease the situation! 

It's a hugely topical and important question you raise, especially with burnout on the horizon for so many. 

I agree with @Teodora _Old Street Solutions_, your boss definitely doesn't realise the value you are bringing to the company and doesn't deserve you!

This looks like a really valid concern @Svenja and sounds familiar to many, I guess. I always feel it boils down to making expectations clear to each other. When even this is impossible to do, then I'd say this is a sign of a not-so-well functioning work culture.

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this
Fadoua Community Leader Sep 23, 2021

@Svenja I am not a therapist or not even qualified to help a therapist 😊I hope I don't sound harsh, however if your boss was a true leader they would have seen your devotion and hard work. 

You never should feel any guilt if you try to balance work and personal life. We are given after work hours and weekends to relax so we are ready for the next day or next week.

This is what I think about overworking people and this is a personal opinion:

  • they slack too much and try to make up at the very last minute
  • they are swamped with work, the boss has to intervene and delegate tasks fairly
  • Struggling to finish the work because they were assigned to the wrong position
  • they are perfectionist and it takes them time to get their work done

You are valuable as long as you get the work done in the best way you can, respect your peers, help whenever you are needed, and try to learn more so that you can take more responsibilities.

Best,

Fadoua

Like Christine P_ Dela Rosa likes this

Wow, that is just not right.  I find that clearly defined objectives let me know what I need to do and if I am achieving the results expected by my boss.  Boundaries are important.  You cannot sustain long work days and be productive.  

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