Everyone needs to work extra hours now and then but if you’re consistently working late or at weekends, it’s time to question your work-life balance. Leave the situation unchecked and you risk burnout, which could damage your health as well as your career.
It starts with a late night here and the odd weekend there and before you know it, working extra hours has become the norm. The more you are perceived as being able to manage your workload, the more your manager is likely to expect of you and may even pile on more.
‘Don’t leave it until too late if you’re feeling burdened by long hours,’ warns Clare Whitmell, who blogs on careers at www.JobMarketSuccess.com.
‘Ask for a meeting with your line manager and negotiate priorities and workloads. Go to this meeting prepared – track your activities for a week before you go so that you can give your manager a clear picture of where you’re spending the most time.’
Learn to say no
Everyone has a limit in terms of workload. If your limits are regularly pushed, by working extra hours or taking work home for example, you need to re-draw the lines. And that means saying ‘no’ next time you’re asked to take on more.
‘First, be clear about the request. What are you being asked to do, by whom, why and when is it needed by?’ asks Colin Lloyd, Regional Director at Personal Career Management. ‘All of these factors will determine how you say no to taking on a piece of work – just make sure the reason given is legitimate and relevant.’
In an ideal world, your manager would accept your carefully reasoned refusal and re-arrange resources or priorities in the team. In reality, that may not happen, warns Colin.
‘Be aware that you might be asked again in a different way or by someone more senior. Revisit your first answer and be consistent again, make sure you have a legitimate reason for refusing to take on the work and communicate the facts dispassionately.’
While it’s fine help out, be clear about the limits of your involvement. For example, you may not have time to write a report, but you could offer to supervise someone more junior in the team who has time to do it.
Colin says: ‘If that’s the case, be clear about the amount of hours you can spare and the responsibility you are willing to take for the final piece of work.’
Learn how to delegate
Delegating shouldn’t be something you only do when the pressure is really on i.e., when you don’t have time to handover a task properly or supervise the person doing it.
‘There will always be tasks where it’s quicker to do it yourself than explain to someone else, but invest the time now and you’ll get it back in the future, as well as helping to develop your team,’ says Colin.
Don’t just off load the dull stuff. There should always be a genuine career development opportunity involved in a project you hand over. Done correctly it will give you more time to take on more senior/interesting work or projects which will develop you, adds Colin.
Finally, remember that you can delegate up, as well as down.
‘Maybe the work you have to do is beyond your level of expertise/authority do what you can and talk to your manager about what needs to be done and why you can’t do it. You may be able to delegate it upwards.’
You may feel you have no choice but to work extra hours, but everyone is responsible for their own work-life balance and that means asking yourself some tough questions.
‘Notice and challenge your own thinking when it comes to checking emails when away from work. Are you really that indispensable?’ asks Dr. Sally Ann Law, Personal and Executive Coach.
‘Be honest with yourself about what part you’ve played in allowing the current situation to occur and then be proactive about taking control back.’
Sally Ann continues: ‘Remember everyone has a right to time for themselves. Make sure you schedule time for yourself and that you communicate to others what your needs are and ask them to support you.
‘If you have a family, discuss together what everyone loves best about the family and what they wish were different. That will help guide your decisions about what changes to make and in what order.’
She also advises making the most of your time off. ‘Make plans to do fun things and see friends – otherwise it can end up feeling like you’re killing time until work starts again.’
Being in control of your work-life balance also means saying no to social requests sometimes, as well as work ones. ‘Don’t immediately say ‘yes’ when people ask you to do something, both inside and outside work. Give yourself time to decide whether what’s being asked of you is something you would like to do, have time to do or feel you ought to do.’
Sally Ann’s final piece of advice is to be realistic. ‘Don’t try to be perfect at everything. Decide what’s really important, and realistic, and stick to that.’
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