Career Coach: Managing your after-hours work demands

August 27, 2011

Have you ever gotten an e-mail from your supervisor’s secretary late one afternoon, just as you were wrapping up for the day, saying: “The boss needs to see you now”? Or worse, the summons came late Friday afternoon when you finally made plans to take off and enjoy the night with your family?

What is it about 5 p.m. that seems to entice managers to find more pressing things for their employees to do?

Recently, I have heard from employees lamenting the fact that their bosses pile on more work or ask to see them after hours and on the weekend. Granted, some of these requests are legitimate. After all, there are some jobs that require critical immediate decisions and actions. But, do all jobs? Do all these tasks have to be done right away or can some of them wait until the following morning or after the weekend is over?

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average productivity of U.S. workers has increased more than 400 percent since 1950. At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum work week length — but not the United States. Technology makes us available 24-7 (or at least everyone thinks we are). Two out of three employees reported that they receive e-mails from their bosses over the weekend, and one in three said they are expected to reply, according to a 2011 survey by Right Management.

Some of you may be thinking “those people ought to be lucky they have jobs today, and should stop complaining.” It’s true that people should feel fortunate to have a job, and many are working hard to do well— in many cases even putting in extra hours, especially with reduced staffs in many firms today. But the real issue is what can we do to better manage expectations for after-hours work without getting fired?

·Good communication is important in any conversation you have with your boss. Clear, concise comments, delivered in a calm tone and face-to-face are your best bet — e-mail or texting your concerns is not the best way to approach these issues.

·Ask your manager to prioritize your assignments. Sometimes bosses are not even aware of the vast number of projects they have dumped on their employees.

·Present data to your boss about the hours you have worked. Maybe you’re supposed to work 40 hours but your manager has had you working 60 to 70 for the past month. Perhaps you were initially helping out since staff had left and positions had not yet been filled. Document what you have been doing and calmly share it.

·Work with your manager to set more realistic expectations. This can help eliminate — or postpone — the extra work your boss throws at you.

·Before you talk to your manager, practice what you’ll say. Have someone role-play the scenario so you can practice how you will respond to questions or issues. This will give you increased confidence when you do finally meet.

·If the conversation gets heated, take a break. It’s better to come back to the issue again when both parties have had more time to reflect.

·While you might have the goal of getting your boss to change his or her practice of dumping work on you after hours, sometimes just getting them to listen to your concerns and be willing to talk with you again might be a good first step. If they do listen, follow up (within a day) with a note or e-mail thank-you for their time and willingness to listen.

Bosses can also do some things:

·Managers, rethink “the boss needs to see you” e-mails or messages from your assistant without any explanation — they can come across as a summons and be very stressful for your employees, especially if they don’t know why you want to see them.

·If you want healthy (less-stressed) employees, don’t send e-mails after hours on weekdays or weekends in jobs where the work does not have to be done right away.

·If you have to send an e-mail regarding work after hours, let your employee know if he or she has to respond right away. Certainly don’t flag it as urgent if it really isn’t.

·Allow your employees time in the evenings or weekends to see their families and friends, to engage in their hobbies, and to reconnect with their communities. Not only will they come back more refreshed (and possibly more productive), but they may just become more loyal to you as well.

Joyce E. A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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