Do As I Say, Not As I Do

How many hours do you typically work per week? 40? 50? 60? 80? Last week I talked to someone who had logged multiple 100-hour weeks at a client site (yes, that’s 14 hours a day for 7 days…). There is no right or wrong answer here. Everyone’s situation is different. The critical question is how you feel about your answer. When you think about your answer, what thoughts run through your head? What emotion are you feeling? What do you feel in your body?

If your thoughts are that you work way too much, you feel unhappy, frustrated, or angry about the hours you work, your shoulders are hunched forward, and your head is down, that is an excellent opportunity for coaching. We can explore the reasons behind this – do you have a problem saying no and setting realistic boundaries? Do you feel you have to work this many hours to retain your job? Do you love working this many hours, but your friends and family resent it? That is not the focus of today’s blog post.

If you think you are a highly productive person with a tremendous work ethic who has no issue working 60+ hours per week, your emotion is positive, maybe pride, your shoulders are back, and your chin is up, this blog is for you.

My Journey

I consider myself a hard worker, and my bar has always been higher than 40 hours per week. In the early years of my career, before my wife and I had kids, we worked many hours and loved it. We were programmers writing a new student system from the ground up, and it was fun. Most nights, we would head home from work, eat, and get back online at our side-by-side computers and continue working. I’d call this a healthy work/life balance even though we were logging 60+ hours per week because we were having fun and were together.

Then, I became a manager. I continued to work the same hours (maybe more), and I still loved my work. What I don’t know is how my team felt about that. I want to believe I underscored “Do as I say, not as I do” with them, but even if I did, I don’t know if it rang true. To my first team, if my work ethic drove you to work more than you felt comfortable with, I am genuinely sorry.

Eventually, I was a senior vice president leading hundreds of people. I definitely worked a lot of hours in that role, and one of the critical things I focused on was how to raise productivity with our teams. Again, I want to believe I sent a clear message to my teams that balance was important. And again, I question whether that message rang true. I am sorry if you worked for me during this time and didn’t feel like I created an environment that encouraged a healthy work/life balance. If you did feel like balance was encouraged and supported, please let me know. I’ve got some self-doubt going right now.

The Problem With Do As I Say, Not As I Do

Does my journey resonate with you? Are you a leader that works incredibly hard and tells their teams that balance is important and that they should not use you as their role model?

Here is the feedback I have offered to several clients. It’s simple and perhaps should be obvious, but most of my clients don’t grasp it until I share it.

When you work a ton of hours, and your employees know it, they will feel compelled to do the same. Even if you tell them, “Don’t be like me! I don’t expect you to work the hours I’m working!”

  • Many employees will feel guilty: “My boss is overworked, and I must work harder to help share the load.”
  • Some employees will feel pressured: “I work in a company where employees are expected to work extra hours if they want to advance. Just look at my boss.”

One word of caution. If you are modeling the work ethic you want your team to embrace – you want your employees to feel inspired to work as hard as you do, make sure this is in alignment with your company values. Often I see a leader who has this mindset, and the company values speak to a healthy work/life balance. In this case, something is out of alignment. Either the values need to change, or your leadership philosophy needs to change.

Some Tips

Perhaps I’ve convinced you that you need to change your behavior to encourage a healthier work/life balance for your teams. And yet, if you are a senior leader, you may sometimes need to work 80 hours per week. You’re typically compensated more highly with an expectation that you will be available to go the extra mile. So what can you do?

Stop publicizing it. It’s human nature to talk about how much we are working. You may feel a sense of pride in your work ethic. If you don’t want your teams to work that hard, then try not to advertise how hard you are working. Please share it with your boss in a 1:1, not with your teams in an all-hands meeting.

Respect off hours for your teams. When you send an email or a Slack message at midnight, you probably are not expecting a response until the morning. But your employees may still feel compelled to respond. Whether it’s a feeling of pressure (they expect me to respond, so I better respond now) or a desire to get ahead (if I answer now, I’ll be seen as a go-getter and more likely to get promoted), many of your employees won’t be able to help themselves, even if you’ve told them not to respond in off-hours. Write those midnight messages, but don’t send them. Outlook, Gmail, and Slack allow you to schedule a message to be sent later or save a message as a draft so you can send it the next morning. This has the added benefit of not publicizing that you are working at midnight.

Consider the “I love what I do” angle. If you are still clinging to the “Do as I say, not as I do” message, this may soften it. “Yes, I work many hours. I’m not going to deny it. But to be clear, I love what I do. So for me, this feels healthy, not draining, and it’s how I want to spend my time. If you are working extra hours and it’s not energizing, or it’s impacting your personal life, let’s figure out how to address that.”

Schedule time with Josh.

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