Perception Matters: Working Late or Hardly Working?

July 12, 2017

Perception Matters: Working Late or Hardly Working?

My first "real career" was strategy consulting. I joined straight from university, keen to launch into an exciting world of cool projects and travel. And it was such an amazing experience and a great kick start to my professional life.

But the culture surprised me sometimes. We worked hard, of course. Consulting is a tough gig, and rightfully so - clients are paying good money for great advice. Working closely in a team environment, working long hours, spending almost every waken moment together.

Not all days required super late nights, though. I'm a big supporter of working smart and getting things done, and then spending any remaining time on other activities such as working out or relaxing with my partner. But it seems as though, in the consulting world, working hard is (sometimes) defined by the number of hours you work.

It became a bit of a contest, who could work the latest.

Some people frequently worked to 2am, 3am, even all nighters. I've never been afraid to roll my sleeves up and put the hours in to get things done (I still do!). But it becomes unhealthy and unproductive when working late becomes a perception thing, a way to keep up appearances of "hard work".

Not all people in consulting behave this way though. One of my project managers was great at helping the team achieve balance. He'd suggest we leave early when we'd had a few late nights, or when we didn't have much to do. And, perhaps not surprisingly, he usually had the happiest teams and most successful project deliveries.

In my opinion, if you find yourself constantly "needing" to work really late hours, you either:

  • Have way too much on your plate, and perhaps need to prioritise or delegate,
  • Have little to do but struggle to leave early, fearing it might make you seem lazy, or
  • Work ineffectively and have trouble focusing and being productive during normal hours

I'm a self-confessed career-maniac but I still feel okay to close out the workday when I've achieved what I set out to. In fact, I try to work as productively as possible so I have time for much more each day.

If you're in struggle-town right now, either finding it hard to get things done during regular work hours, or hanging around at work to be seen as dedicated and hard working - try this:

  • Know what you spend your time on and if you're wasting time on meaningless tasks
  • Time yourself during routine tasks and ask your work buddies how long things usually take them
  • Communicate with your boss and/or colleagues so they know your work rhythm and that you can deliver awesome quality work within that rhythm (they'll soon recognise and value your productivity!)

Have you worked in a similar environment, where you felt it necessary to conform to "untold" rules? Let me know in the comments below!

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