Editor's note: Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.
A reader writes:
I just finished interviewing for a promotion and was given some unusual career advice from the vice president of my division. He said that even though my working hours are 8 am to 4 pm, I should not be so quick to leave work at 4 pm. I was told that I should stay late once in a while to give the impression that I'm a "go-getter" even if all of my work is finished.
I responded along the lines of, "I do my work when I'm here (as opposed to screwing around) and the company should be happy that I don't waste valuable time chatting and taking smoke breaks during the day, forcing me to stay later to finish my work."
Why should I stay late if my work is finished? I work diligently during the day, hitting my goals and getting excellent scores on my reviews. Why should I be forced to stay late just to impress on someone that I'm a hard worker?
The advice of my VP got me thinking...has staying late at work become mandatory for career success? Under that premise, wouldn't someone surmise that efficiency is not the key to recognition but rather dedicating more time to the job is the way to career success?
Has it become mandatory? No, of course not. But it might be unofficially mandatory at your particular company, which would be a sign that your particular company has a silly culture and/or that your manager isn't very good ... probably both, although it's possible that the manager is fine, but saddled with silly expectations from above and is trying to clue you into those.
The best-case scenario here is that the VP is trying to convey to you that you need to find ways to make your results more evident to those who care about them. But it's more likely that you simply work at a company or on a team that focuses on face time over results.
If I had a manager tell me this, I'd do the following:
1. Say something like, "I have really high productivity. When I'm at work, I'm focused 100 percent on work and nothing else, and I'm churning out results because of it. In fact, you've commented in the past on how productive I am." (You have to tailor this to fit the situation, of course; if you're not incredibly productive, this obviously won't ring true.)
2. Then say, "Being that productive allows me to work a reasonable workweek, and that's important to me. I'm not sure if you're telling me that you'd like to see higher productivity from me, or if you're more concerned about perceptions from other people. If it's just perception, let's figure out how to make perceptions match the reality of the situation."
3. If the manager then told me that she agreed I was excelling at the work, but that "the company" expects people to put in longer hours, then I'd say: "Has the company considered the retention implications of valuing hours worked over actual results on the job?"
4. And then I'd consider whether I wanted to stay there.
Not everything silly or annoying is worth quitting over, of course. Finding another job is a pain, and it comes with its own risks--the new employer might be reasonable on this issue but even more frustrating in some other area. Plus, there might be enough that you like about your current job (the work, the pay, the co-workers, the benefits, whatever) that those things trump this.
Ultimately, after having this type of conversation with her manager, if you don't find the answers you hear satisfying, then you need to decide whether you want to (a) suck it up and put in some extra hours on occasion, even though it's ridiculous, (b) not put in those extra hours on principle and deal with whatever consequences that has for how you're perceived, including possible impact on future raises and advancement, or (c) leave. Any of those are legitimate decisions.
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