Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are You Your Own Worst Oppressor?

Do you have an oppressive work ethic?

Feeling obligated to work extra hours late into the evening and on weekends is not uncommon, especially in young companies or during massive projects. The excitement of being part of something new and larger than ourselves is motivating. Our work ethic kicks in and we do what it takes to get the job done well and be the true professionals we are.

But when is enough enough?

A woman in my exercise class showed up after being away for quite a while. When I asked what had kept her away from a regimen that I know she loves she said, of course, “work”. She works in a rapidly growing company and her boss, the owner of the company, depends on her a lot. Unfortunately, he doesn’t usually acknowledge her dedication. But that week, he finally had extended her some public appreciation.

She said during recent office renovations she had stayed at the office all weekend. Her boss stopped by the office to pick up some athletic gear before going out again and was surprised to see her there. She told him she had to be there to let the workers in and oversee their moving of the equipment. She was surprised that he was surprised, but not surprised that he just took it for granted that she would take care of everything.

That Monday, he recognized her in front of the company at an all hands meeting. She was happy that he had said a few nice words, but frankly, I was thinking, why don’t the employees have a share in this company? She doesn’t get paid extra for those hours, and she is not part owner of the company. If he hadn’t stopped by the office on personal business, the owner would not have realized how much of her own time she put in. Needless to say, she told me that she didn’t expect to continue working there for an extended period. And after we talked, she has started coming back to our exercise class regularly.

I asked her what changed that allowed her to come back to our 6 pm classes. “I just decided to slip out. Someone else can handle anything that comes up", she told me.

Giving herself permission to just leave the office when there is still so much to do is a shift in her attitude that is a direct result of her boss stopping by the office on the weekend and being surprised to see her working. He should have been aware of what she was doing to ensure the entire company would run smoothly come Monday morning. Although she appreciated being appreciated, it also made her realize how much of her life she had devoted to the company without any appreciation.

In my article How to Find More 'You' Time I gave tips on how to lighten your workload. I didn’t address your personal work ethic. I heartily endorse having a healthy work ethic, but not an oppressive one.  Of course there will be times when short term projects keep you working late and on the weekends. The key phrase here is “short term”. Working all hours of the week should not be a regular practice; that is not a “healthy work ethic”.

Work can and should provide a creative and fulfilling outlet. But make sure you also plan for time for yourself, cultivating other interests, and enriching your relationships with your family and friends. Don’t be your own worst oppressor – no one will appreciate that.

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