If you’ve been working in a team, in an office, for any length of time, you’d surely have noticed that the people can be starkly divided into two categories – the people who stay back and work till its late, the people who pack up and leave sharp at their clock out time. As far as I have seen, the people who stay back are perceived as people who work harder than others – both by themselves and others. For every manager who has insisted people go home on time, I’ve seen probably ten managers who encouraged the staying-late behavior and rewarded people for putting in more hours.
My opinion – a rather strong opinion – on this matter is that people should not stay late for work. Just think back about the basics. Are you working because you have nothing better to do? Or are you working because you need money to live your life? Most probably it’s the latter. Therein lies my opinion. I feel it’s sad if anyone sacrifices their family time, their hobby time, or even their just-me time for the sake of working a few more hours. If you are not even living a life you wish for, then what are you working hard for?
It’s Not Really Rewarding
It is seemingly rewarding – but it’s often not. You would have seen that people who stay late get praised and a lot of times they are the ones who get the hard tasks finished. But when it comes to being rewarded for it, it’s not really worth it. If you have any doubts just look around at your office. The ones that are well rewarded are usually the ones who leave office on time. There’s a reason to it. More often than not, people who leave office on time, surprisingly, are the ones who are more productive, and plan their work better. That’s another thing to debate, I know. But the more important point is, late hours does not imply faster pay raises.
It Cripples You
Here is a difficult question for you – What is more important – achieving your current week goals, or achieving your five year vision? It’s a tricky question because obviously you should not default on your current commitments in favor of your future dream. It’s also wrong to simply be drowned in day-to-day commitments without a vision for your future. If you exhaust all your energy thinking about what you can contribute for the day, how are you going to plan for your future? Not a single one of such people I’ve come across, worked towards, or even cared for their long term goals. Day after day they just slogged with whatever tasks they’ve taken up for the day.
Of course you already know that it damages your health and fitness to spend prolonged amounts of time at work on a regular basis. But it’s more than that. It also affects your health in indirect ways. For example you don’t have enough time to relax and recharge – this tires your mind, reduces your productivity. So you end up working even more to cope up. It becomes a cycle. Also, the more time you spend working, the less time you have to socialize with other people. It is actually very important that you have face-to-face interactions that are not just for work. It is linked to mental health, longevity and even physical health. In other words, make time for your friends and family – you will live longer.
It’s Bad Culture
If even a few people in a team become available for after-hours, a very bad thing starts to happen. All the planning and task scheduling starts to rely on the fact that people will work late. It is already human nature to over-estimate what we can do in a given amount of time. Adding more hours amplifies this error even more. Sometimes it even unfairly forces other people to put in more hours than necessary. For example, if your manager asks the team whether a task can be completed in half the time, the people who stay late will probably say yes. The others will not want to appear incompetent, so they will also say yes. I’m not saying it’s bad to be competitive, but I’m saying for most jobs, working with commitment for the agreen upon 9-to-5 is already competitive enough.
You’re Probably Slacking
Except for a very few workaholics, I have hardly noticed any correlation between higher hours and better productivity. The people who stay late spend more time doing things like chatting, taking breaks, browsing the internet. They have too much distractions to finish their job on time. It is to make up for this that they stay back late. Also, because of not managing time properly during the day, they often get stuck delayed on their tasks. So they often don’t have a choice, but to stay late and finish their task. I say this because even for the very hard working people I know of, staying focused for more than a few hours is not possible. If you are a hundred percent focused on your work, for about 6 hours a day, you are already ahead of most of the people working day jobs.
But There’s an Exception
One exception is when you consider your job as the most significant feature of your life. Then you are living the life you wish by working late. But I doubt this is the case. Most jobs today don’t really give the fulfilment of contributing meaningfully. I’m not saying it’s because they are not useful, but rather it’s because any meaningful task today has to be broken down so much that in isolation, it’s very hard to feel what you are doing is meaningful. Or in other words, your company’s product might be impactful, but your contribution is most probably a small cog in it. If you want to find out if this exception applies to you, think whether you are working late because you are motivated to solve a problem or to make a contribution? Or are you working late because you want more salary or to get ahead of competition? Simple.
It would be wrong to say that no one should stay late at work and it’s simply enough if every one just works the time they committed to. There are scenarios where you have to – and you must – give importance to work and sacrifice a little bit in other areas. So I will put it like this: Valid reasons to stay late at work –
- There’s an unexpected problem at work and it needs to be resolved right away. But it’s just an isolated occurence. You need to be late just the one odd day.
- You are driven and completely motivated by your job. You are trying to churn out an impactful product / service that would give you so much satisfaction.
- You are the CEO of your company. If you are CEO (or another designation that’s right there on the top), it’s not really possible to expect it to be an 8-hour job. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it is.
If those three points don’t apply to you, there’s no reason for you to stay late. You’re probably making a mistake by being occupied with work more than necessary. You need to fix this and manage your time better.