My first job out of university was a contract position. It came with a decent starting salary, but no medical coverage and no vacation time. The only way for me to either get money to cover additional expenses, or to get banked vacation time, was to work overtime.
A few months into my contract, they offered me a permanent full-time position that came with medical coverage and vacation days. Overtime became a careful option for me when my manager requested it from the team. I had to balance between my need for a bit of extra money and my need for time to feed my first love, stone-sculpting.
One week, I was asked to be available on-call for the weekend. They were frantically looking for someone on Thursday, and I offered to do it because I didn’t have plans and my co-workers had families to tend to.
A few weeks later, they again asked for someone to be on call–this time, making the request a few hours before the end of the day on Friday. I reluctantly agreed to help out again, wanting to be a team player.
During the following week, I uncovered that the team requesting the on-call resource had known they needed someone for weeks, if not months. I was not impressed, as I didn’t see why I was being asked on a Friday afternoon to be on-call that very weekend–when they knew they needed someone weeks ago.
I brought this up with my manager, explaining simply that I felt they (the requestors) disrespected my time and my life outside of work by managing their planning so poorly. I reinforced that I was willing to help out in a true emergency, but in all other situations would need to be asked to support overtime or on-call availability by the Wednesday before the weekend. I asked whether this was unreasonable and my manager said it wasn’t.
In hindsight, this was a bold move for someone less than 2 years into a job, straight from university. After all, I was setting boundaries that my co-workers feared would have them fired if they did the same.
The result was telling. A few weeks later, they were once again looking for someone to be on-call over the weekend, and didn’t even bother asking me. My manager went directly to another co-worker of mine, who accepted the task with enthusiasm. My co-worker became the default on-call employee after the second time that happened.
And the impact on me?
I was at that company for nearly 8 years, and was never penalized for setting my boundaries for overtime or on-call availability. On the contrary, I worked my standard 8 hours a day (with a lunch break) and everyone always knew that something was wrong when I stayed later than usual. I also received 3 promotions in my time there, and resigned after I was offered an amazing opportunity elsewhere.
To this day, I work my standard hours and am viciously protective of my time. My peers and my leaders know that if I’m at work late, even by a half hour, there is something exceptional happening that demands I be there. Otherwise, I accomplish all of the work that needs to be done in the 8 hours I’m at the office. Everything else is either not that time-sensitive or I have scheduled time to work on it another day.
When I now hear people humble-brag about how many hours they work, or simply stay well beyond their regular working hours, I wonder to myself: Why? Are they unable to allocate their time properly at work? Do they not know how to delegate to others, or are getting involved in things they don’t need to? Are they uncomfortable with saying no or raising their hand when they have more work than is reasonable? Or do they simply think that they are the workplace hero by giving work their own time?
I’m sure it’s some combination of some of those and other factors. But if you find yourself in a situation where you’re doing overtime without question, it might be a good time to start asking yourself why. Just remember: you’re the only person who can protect your own time.