It's 4:25 p.m. at the end of a busy day and the secretary begins cleaning up her desk to go home in five minutes. But wait, at the last minute, her boss, The Congressman, bursts from his office with a handful of papers. He's got a dozen letters he needs typed, and it's going to be hours before she sees her front door.
The congressman's top aides already knew they would stay late, maybe even to midnight. It happens regularly, three or four nights a week. They're not all that happy about the extra-long hours, but what can they do?
They work for a workaholic.
"It's a very demanding, crazy way of life," says one of those aides, who tries to keep up with his boss' dawn-to-late-evening work habits. "He knows no time restrictions." The aide plans to stick with the job for awhile, but knows he can't keep up the pace too much longer.
When he moved into the White House, President Carter told his staff: "I am concerned about the family lives of all of you. I want you to spend an adequate amount of time with your husbands-wives and children . . . you will be more valuable to me and the country with rest and a stable home life." Stories from the White House indicate that's a memo many have forgotten.
The former editor of a Washington educational book-publishing firm recalls the unpaid after-hours labor she put in for her workaholic boss.
"She thought nothing of scheduling a staff meeting in her home on Saturday afternoon," says the editor, who fled to another job when she could no longer put up with her boss' demands. She "set the tone for the whole office. lShe didn't go out to lunch, so we ate at our desks and kept working. She didn't take vacations, so I felt guilty when I took mine."
A former Marine major in the Pentagon left the Corps recently to become a management consultant because he got tired of "playing along" in a workaholic atmosphere where so many fellow officers were bucking hard for that next promotion.
"Lieutenant colonels and colonels worked ridiculous hours, and they wouldn't let their staff go," he says. "Sometimes they just wanted to look sharp for those above them."
At 4 p.m., for example, the office chief would say, "'I want that study tonight,'" recalls the 24-year veteran. "His office would have to stay up all night to prepare it so he could drop this tidbit of wisdom on the general's desk the next morning." Often, it was something that could have held a day and be completed during regular hours.
A young lawyer worked night and day for his prestigious Washington law firm, sometimes going for as long as a month without a day off. Then the time came when he thought he should be made a partner and was told he would have to wait a year.
"Why am I doing this?" he asked himself, and walked out the door. He still works hard now in his new job, he says, but not on the weekends "if I can help it."
But back to the president's memo. What if you think his advice was sound? Can you go home to your family, if your co-workers ignore the clock striking the workday's end? Should you still expect that pay raise or promotion if your're the first to leave?
"Washington is a high-energy town that attracts high-energy people," says career consultant Penelope Garner of "Taking Charge," her own firm. "Lots of people come to D.C. thinking to change things," and that's who you may be competing with.
"My career is my life," say Susan Davis, 32, who heads not one but three businesses, including "Successful Woman," which markets training and educational programs for women. She considers herself a workaholic, putting in 15- to 18-hour days "because I want the businesses to be a success. That doesn't leave much time to play."
"If you want to see how far you can go, you have to put in the time," says Patricia Huff Bill, an aide in the office of Rep. Robert W. Daniel Jr. (R-Va.). Bill offers an Open University class that asks, "Is working on the Hill REALLY the romantic job everyone envisions it to be?" Her answer: "I would say no, because no job is as romantic as one envisions."
"The people working on the Hill are here because they want to be," she says. "This ain't something that was thrust on them unawares. A lot of them are political animals -- they enjoy working with issues."
Washington psychiatrist William Thompson, who has seen the problems workaholic can create for themselves, their families and their co-workers, agrees that in many cases "working 10 and 12 hours a day is not all that bad. That's how great goals are accomplished." He believes it is the mid-level employes "who bear the brunt" in a workaholic atmosphere. They "burn the midnight oil" for a project, "but they don't get their names on the results."
Nevertheless, say the career experts, you should be able to keep your workday at eight hours and still move ahead in your profession.
"There are bound to be difficulties," warns Marilyn Machlowitz, a staff psychologist for the New York Life Insurance Co., whose study of workaholism is to be published as a book the first of the year. But, she says, "Smart organizations are now doing performance evaluations that look at the quality of your performance and not how many hours you put in."
"If the people who are making the pay decisions are making them on the quality of the work -- and if your work is good -- then you'll get the pay raise," says Garner. "But make it known you're doing quality work."
Davis urges her employes to talk the situation over with her if they feel pressured by their workload. As a boss, she says, "It's easy to forget not everyone is as enthused as you," and, "Everyone isn't going to benefit the same from your successes." She says she expects her staff "to work late if necessary" but they can take compensatory time off.
Garner suggests you take a good look at the firm you are working for. If it's top-management policy to keep you at your desk day and night -- and some Washington law firms, she says, are notorious for this -- you might be better off quitting "because you're not going to be able to change them." If it's only your boss, find a new boss in the company.
Garner offers a cautionary note. Many women have grown up thinking they have to run farther and faster to get ahead, and "managers play on that. We all are made to feel we have to prove ourselves."
Bill, whose husband Josh is an aide to Rep. Robert Bauman (R-Md.), says they have reconciled themselves to the Hill's long hours. Still, she says, on a Saturday afternoon when her husband accompanies Bauman to meetings on the Eastern Shore, "from a wife's point of view I might be annoyed. But I realize its part of the job. We recognize the necessity of laying the framework for our careers."