A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
January 31st, 2014 by William

Come in Early, Stay Late

In a 2010 study published in Human Relations, a group of researchers led by University of California Davis business professor Kimberly Elsbach conducted extensive interviews of 39 corporate managers. They found that managers generally considered their employees who spent more time in the office [face time] to be more dedicated, more hardworking, and more responsible. On the surface this doesn’t sound so bad however, according to the study, “it appears that managers in corporate settings use face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime.” The take away is that if working long hours is the norm in your office and you work normal hours, i.e., you pride yourself on getting your work done in eight hours, then you’re setting yourself up for this to quite possibly be held against you at review time.

In my career, I’ve seen a lot of people do this–work extended hours for little better a reason than to try to impress the boss. So how prevalent is the practice of working long hours so as to impress the boss.

In the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force study in the December, 2006, issue of Harvard Business Review, authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce outlined their conclusions about American’s obsession with work. They state that; “professionals are working harder than ever and that the 40-hour workweek is a thing of the past. In fact, the 60-hour workweek is commonplace.” Hewlett and Luce say; “62% of high-earning individuals they studied worked more than 50 hours a week and 35% worked more than 60 hours. Most respondents indicated they worked on average 16 hours a week more than they did five years ago. This is because bosses tend to think that ‘presence equals productivity,’ so workers often feel forced to provide proof of their commitment by working more hours.”

Thus “face time” at work is commonly used by bosses to assess their employees on traits such as “initiative,” “dedication,” “leadership,” and “teamwork.” In fact, psychologists have shown that working extra hours has effects on other types of employee evaluations, even if the actual work behaviors of the employees do not support these evaluations. Yes bosses will actually ignore the fact that an employee is a marginal contributor yet praise them because they are there from the crack of dawn to late into the evening.

There’s also another side to this. It seems that the boss’s assessment of an employee is also coded positively or negatively depending on how the boss interprets the “motives” for the employee working the extra hours. An employee’s extra “dedication” might be viewed with suspicion when other employees are not putting in the extra hours. The take away is that you don’t want to be the only one working long hours. This is especially true if your boss isn’t the type to work extra hours just for the sake of working extra hours, i.e., he/she isn’t a workaholic. He/she will undoubtedly see you as a threat. And aside from your boss’s negative perception of your work hours, your colleagues will undoubtedly label you a suck-up sycophant. The other thing to keep in mind is that if you find yourself having to work extra hours just to get your job done then “you have a personal problem.”

Myself, I liked coming into work early when I was fresh and there were fewer distractions and interruptions. This would be a favored behavior of all the poor slobs who have to work in one of those “open offices” I talked about a couple of weeks ago. It may be the only time they can accomplish their work without interruption.

The bottom line is that you need to be judicious before setting off and establishing a trend of coming in early and/or leaving late.

The problem with just coming in early is that if you really only work eight hours you’ll find yourself being the first one to leave in the afternoon. This, of course, will raise the eyebrows of all including the boss−how easy it is for them to forget that you came in early. Actually the boss may come in late and thus not know you got in early therefore you don’t get credit for the sacrifice.

No matter what you do you’ll find yourself between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If you stay late you’ll find yourself stuck staying late because if you decide to leave early you’ll be center stage in the spotlight. Once you begin expanding your work hours on a regular basis, working “normal” hours starts to look like slacking off. In other words, if you establish a pattern of coming in early and staying late, your extended hours become your new normal.

Over 150 years of research proves that when employees work sustained long hours it kills profits, productivity, and the employees themselves, yet as the Brain Drain Task Force study above shows workers still keep putting in long hours and bosses still expect that behavior. The 40-hour work-week was a business decision, based on empirical data of increased efficiency and employee morale, and has been embedded in America’s history for the last 100 years, yet it’s funny how quickly we, as a society, have forgotten this.

For every extra hour worked, there is a direct cost to the employee. By working more hours in a day, employees are forced to make trade-offs without considering the long-term effects on both themselves, and the organization. Does your organization struggle to make its goals despite everyone working virtually 24/7? This means that all those hours spent by everyone are meaningless unless they are focused on the betterment of the organization, i.e., unless they equate to better results. In other words working long hours just for the sake of working long hours is useless. This is especially true in an organization that’s bankrupt in the areas of empowerment, trust, respect, or that really cares about work-life balance. In fact show me an organization where everyone is putting in long hours and I’ll show you an organization that’s rooted in the blame game.

The problem with the whole come in early, leave late behavior is that many managers will praise their employees not for the value, or results, that the employee added to the organization, but merely for their physical presence. For bosses it’s easy to count hours but much harder to “lead,” i.e., draw from each employee the best results while being supportive of a healthy work-life balance. The irony is that bosses will use the come in early−leave late dictate when times get tough without realizing that it does more damage than good.

Having to work extra hours just to impress the boss, or match everyone else’s work hours, is just more evidence that dysfunction has overtaken your organization. And if you find yourself in an organization where long hours are the norm, yet it struggles to keep its head above water, then you’re in the wrong organization. My advice to you is the same as T. Boone Pickens:’ “Work eight hours and sleep eight hours, and make sure that they are not the same eight hours.”


One Response to “Come in Early, Stay Late”
  1. Wow! Talk about a posting knocking my socks off!

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