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The Ugly Truth About Working Late

Wednesday, January 18, 2012 by Slaughter Development

Over at the Harvard Business Review blog network, Ron Ashkenas asks an important question to professionals: Should you stay late or go home?

Anyone who has ever worked in an office knows what it’s like to see the clock slip past 5:00PM. We all have gone in on weekends, rolled into the parking lot super early, and put in weeks that were well beyond the official forty hours. According to Ashkenas, not only do we all work late once in a while, but the problem is getting worse:

A recent study suggests that nearly two-thirds of U.S. companies report that their employees have worked more hours over the past three years. It’s likely that there are similar percentages in other countries.

This growing trend is predicted to continue. An unintended consequence of our global, connected world is that customers, clients, partners, and colleagues expect immediate responses to their demands. At the same time, jobs are in short supply in many fields, so nobody wants to disappoint. As a result, more employees are putting in longer hours, and many regularly face the dilemma of whether to stay late and finish a critical task or put it aside until the next day.

The author of this piece admits that he enjoys working late and that he has an “understanding family.” But in reality, most people who work late dodge the real issue. The fundamental issue is the relationship between productivity and satisfaction. Just because you’re putting in lots of time doesn’t mean you’re getting much done. Furthermore, people who are exhausted and overworked are among the most likely to stop work due to their dissatisfaction or problems with their physical health.

Image courtesy of Flickr user 2create

Ashkenas also makes another point:

And don’t stay late just because you want to be perceived as a hard worker. Mostly everyone sees through that ploy.

We covered that issue in a recent blog post about productivity and workplace heroics. As we noted then, ” It’s easy to adore people who can achieve amazing feats, but it’s more important to ask why we need flashes of superhuman effort in the first place.”

If you find yourself asking the question about whether or not you should stay or go home, the answer is easy: go home. Unless you are saving lives, the work will probably still be there tomorrow. Come back when you are rested and relaxed. You may just find a fresh perspective to be the most productive and satisfying approach of all.

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