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Working After Hours—The Truth, The Pitfalls

Posted On: February 27, 2015

No one loves seeing a hardworking employee more than the employer. When employees work after hours staying late at the office it is a physical sign of their loyalty and energy for a business, for a product, for a belief. But consistently staying late and maxing out has pitfalls. 

Many of the largest companies in the world started with a person just like that—a person willing to work beyond their means with an unstoppable tenacity. So many goliath brands started as the brainchild of a single person working out of a garage, no less. Companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Disney (to name the biggies) were started by creative men willing to give all they could to realize their dreams. These dreamers started with available space and long hours and the pulse of their desire driving them forward.

At this point it might sound as though working long hours like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos is the ticket to advancement—as though their kind of mindset is the best strategy an employee can implement if they want to get ahead. But there is a huge chasm between originators and staff people. This distinction between an employee and a founder is critical to really get how consistently staying late at the office won’t necessarily get what you want and might even hurt you.

There is only so far an employee can climb in a company no matter how hard they might work. Steve Jobs wanted to sell a computer. Jeff Bezos wanted to sell books. They didn’t set their sights on the powerhouse companies of today called Apple or Amazon and could not have predicted their success when they first launched. As founders they called the shots, they set the goals, they built the structure. Conversely, employees take direction, meet the goals and keep the foundation firm for future building.

This is when talk of a powerful work ethic comes up in conversation…and the point at which the heart of the virtue gets misconstrued. Having a strong work ethic means the driving force that propels someone to do a job is the principle that says the work itself is intrinsically rewarding. This virtue is what kept Walt Disney going.

A strong work ethic doesn’t only show up in people who stay after hours to work late—indeed working late might broadcast a very different message. Working late night after night might signal work during the day isn’t done with diligence, isn’t attended and therefore needs an overwhelming amount of attention during each day. A work ethic that is carried out in the parameters of a workday might be noted as an asset to a company.

How Employees Hurt Themselves By Working Too Much:

Consistently working past closing time: It might seem like a smart move to work past closing—it shows a diehard dedication. But everyone knows a well-rounded student is more interesting and valuable than one with a perfect GPA but no social or community engagement. Consistently working past office hours signals an imbalance to employers, not dedication.

Scheduling group meetings late in a day: Forcing others to work late because you’re opting to work late is simply disrespectful and might not work to your advantage anyway. Employees mindful of the importance of work-life balance may blow that whistle and alert managers that too much is being asked with disregard to personal lives.

Taking on projects when plates are already full: Being a yes person has its perks…for everyone around you and rarely for yourself. Taking on more projects is a numbers game and eventually the burden will take a toll on your health, yes, though the first affected are usually customers. If failing to meet the expectations of customers isn’t a red flag for an employer to reconsider your part in a company, nothing is.

Ignoring health and working while ill: The well being of a company has its roots in the wellness of the workforce. Aside from the fact that no one likes to office next to someone with a contagious infection, coming to work sick just makes no sense. An employer might even send you home. There is no need to prove your illness or try to push through—working sick really does make everything harder.

Occasional late nights throughout a year or the anticipated busy planning week before your annual sales meeting might be within reason. Capturing the title of “hard worker” should really be attained through consistent high achievement, excellent performance and thoughtful contributions to the advancement of a team, department or brand. All of those standards are achievable during work hours and are expected standards to meet on a job.

For employees looking to impress and achieve consider maintaining a strong, professional work ethic during work hours and then invest in the future of you after work. What part of life inspires you? Go after that with tenacity when you can. Bringing your rested, inspired self to work will make superiors take note of your contribution more than late nights at the office.