In the 80s while I was an account executive for AT&T most people in my organization worked normal (for then) business hours. By that I mean they arrived close to 8 or 8:30AM and left between 5 and 5:30PM. By 6 PM the office was empty. No one seemed to notice or care how many hours people worked. I had a boss nicknamed "Dry Cleaner Sam" because they joked he was "in by 10, out by 4".
Most of the time I left on time with everyone else. Several times however when I had a big sale pending I would stay late to get the contract in order or to put the final touches on a big proposal or presentation. On those occasions I would get teased by my colleagues. They thought I was nuts for not waiting until morning to finish the work.
How times have changed! I noticed the change beginning in the early 90s. Now what I had been doing voluntarily became expected. Everyone was staying late-sometimes to 9 and 10 at night, even later. 40 hour weeks became 50, 60 or 70 hour weeks. Long hours became a badge of honor for some.
Today 50, 60, or 70 hour weeks is the rule not the exception. Employees are penalized in their appraisals, pay and promotions if they don’t keep up those hours. Not only does this happen in large corporations, those in the professions especially lawyers feel the affects of this change.
What happens to children when both Mom and Dad have to work 60 hour weeks? I actually know attorneys who have two nannies, one for days and one for evenings!
I’m sure it is no surprise to workers that research is already showing that those who put in 50 hours a week have higher rates of hypertension which is a precursor to heart disease. Nancy Cleeland of the LA Times says, "Studies in Europe, Japan and the US have linked increases in cardiovascular risks and disease to a global push for greater productivity."
I recall one manager in my office noticing that all of the managers had gained weight in the year that we had been in that branch. When I looked around I saw he was right. We weren’t taking time for regular meals and the vending machine we used was filled with candy bars and high calorie snacks. It is no wonder that obesity is also a huge problem in the US today.
What once felt like a badge of honor because only a few were doing it, now feels like a requirement for everyone. No one dares make suggestions about lightening the load or leaving early to spend time with the family. Lawyers on the partner track know that is not an option if they are to bill the required number of hours. Others realize that long time unemployed workers would willingly work those hours just to have a job.
What can you do? The first step is to consciously put your health first. That means getting enough sleep, eating properly and getting some exercise. You will have little value to your firm if you are ill and not able to work.
Second begin to think of yourself as a free agent. This means that you take the responsibility for keeping your skills up to date. You also take courses, write articles and become known in your industry as an expert. You establish a good relationship with your network of contacts, people who understand your value and will help you if you need it. A free agent knows he/she can find work anywhere and can create good business for the firm or for him or herself if necessary. The less you are dependent on that job in your company or firm the more options you will see.
For many this solution will seem risky. The risk of doing nothing is even greater. Businesses today are totally bottom line focused and there is little loyalty to workers unless they have something unique that the business needs. If you have strong relationships and the skills, you are valuable to your current employer, to other employers and to yourself. You hold the keys to your own future.
Take stock of you health. Find a way to have healthy meals, get enough sleep each night and exercise at least 3 hours a week.
Make a learning plan. Where do you need to upgrade your skills? What skills do you know so well you could teach them to others? What expertise do you want to develop?
Who is in your network? Who are the 20 people you could contact if you needed a new job? What clients would follow you? When did you last have contact with them? Make an appointment with someone you haven’t seen in a while. Plan to meet with the others in the next month.
What makes you stand out in your work? Find something you want to be known for and start letting people know. You can be the "Go to" person for _______.
Hire a coach to help you. A coach can hold you accountable for creating and implementing your plan. If you want to do it but get bogged down by daily tasks, a coach can help. I particularly like to help busy attorneys who want to create a book of business for themselves.