Why Staying Late Hurts Your Career
It is 6 pm. “Quitting time” was an hour ago, and yet you are still working at your desk. So are most of your employees — and it will be a few hours before everyone goes home. Most of you will be back in the office early tomorrow, too.
Ask yourself this: Is this really the environment you want to foster? Do you really want to be the type of boss who expects your employees to work 12, 16, even 18 hours a day? Is morale in your office as high as it could be? Is the productivity as high as it should be, given the number of hours that everyone works?
The fact is, staying late on a regular basis is more likely doing more harm than good, in terms of your overall career, your employees’ engagement and happiness, and the productivity of your department. While it might seem that working late is a sign of a solid work ethic and a hard-working department, it is actually a sign that your team is not healthy.
You Are Sending the Wrong Message
For years, young professionals have been advised on the first day of their first jobs to “Arrive before your boss, and do not leave until he or she does.” On the surface, that seems to make sense. You do not want to stroll in to the office an hour after everyone else and cut out at 4:30 when everyone else is working hard. However, if you are consistently working more hours than everyone else, and your productivity is not any greater or your results are not any better, your boss is likely to question what you are doing with your time when you seem to always be working.
The problem, though, is that employees often mirror their boss’ behavior. Most people want to impress their bosses, even if that means burning the midnight oil when they would much rather be at home relaxing. When you stay late every night, you send the message to employees that work is more important than anything else to you is, and it should be to them as well. You also, implicitly, let them know that if they want to succeed and have access to more opportunities — even a leadership role themselves — then they need to follow your lead.
Are you sending the wrong message? Studies show that staying late at the office on a regular basis:
- Harms productivity. When staying late is the rule rather than the exception, there is a tendency to push tasks off until later. It is too easy to say, “I will just get that done tonight,” as a means to give yourself permission to slack off during the day. As a result, it takes longer to get everything done. Committing to leaving on time forces you to be disciplined throughout the day, so you will forgo the long chats in the breakroom or the temptation to spend a half hour looking at Facebook.
- Harms morale. Working late every night makes it virtually impossible to have any type of work-life balance, which is a key part of maintaining good morale. When employees have time outside of the office to pursue other interests, spend time with family, and relax and recharge, not only with their work quality improve, but they will be happier while they are at work. On the other hand, when employees feel like work has taken over their lives, they are likely to be resentful and disengaged.
- Harms your health. Not only does staying at the office well past closing time hurt work life balance and mental health, it hurts you physically as well. Sitting for too long every day increases the risk of heart attack or stroke, and long workdays can interrupt your sleep. When you do not get enough sleep, mental acuity suffers, not to mention you have an increased risk of other serious diseases.
Leaving On Time: Easier Than You Think
You might be thinking, “I cannot leave on time! There is so much to do!” However, if you commit to leaving on time more often than not, a few simple strategies can help you get out the door.
- Create schedules, and treat 5 p.m. as a deadline. If you retrain your mind to view the end of the day as a deadline, you will maintain more focus throughout the day. If you plan your day with the goal of leaving on time, you are more likely to make it happen.
- Practice block scheduling. Set aside time each day to handle certain types of tasks. For example, schedule blocks in the morning and the afternoon to manage email and phone calls, and resist the temptation to “just check” throughout the day.
- Create manageable to-do lists. You will not win a prize for having the longest list, so focus on the top priorities and let go of the little stuff.
- Make plans after work. When you are scheduled to meet a friend or do something with your family, you are more likely to put in the effort required to leave on time.
- Tell your employees to go home. Do not foster a culture in which people stay late for show.
Undoubtedly, there will be times when working a little longer than normal is necessary. However, if you leave on time more often than not, those occasional long days will not be as troublesome — and your employees will not resent you for them.