Note: Inc.'s Ask a 20-Something series offers sage advice for navigating all manner of workplace issues, from the perspective of a young employee.
Dear 20-Something: I'm passionate about the startup I run, and I expect the same passion from my employees. Sometimes, that means putting in extra work on nights or weekends. My experienced employees get it, but some of the junior ones seem to consider it an affront to their entire existence. How do I get them to understand that this is a) necessary and b) how you prove yourself worthy of promotions?
The answer to your question really depends on how you define "sometimes."
Most rational people understand that occasionally working late or during a weekend is an occupational hazard for, well, most occupations. Once or twice per month? Not a big issue. But startup life can be really intense, especially for early-stage businesses, with all hands on deck at pretty much all times. That's usually part of the deal when people sign on, whether it's agreed to explicitly or not.
If that's your situation, your junior employees need to adjust their expectations--and you can help with that. Have a genuine conversation about why they feel it's inappropriate, and why you believe you're not asking too much of them. Remember, you're the boss. If you can handle this with both compassion and firmness, they'll probably respond pretty well. Maybe they'll ask for overtime pay--a very reasonable request.
If they steadfastly refuse to ever work outside of regular business hours, you have a choice. You can put your foot down and risk alienating a talented employee, or motivate them to get more done during their normal workday. Personally, I think the latter is more humane--and a good litmus test: If they're super productive and still end up with leftover tasks, you probably need to spread the workload more efficiently or (if you can) hire another employee to help.
But when your definition of "sometimes" significantly outpaces what your employees consider normal? Danger, Will Robinson. I feel pretty comfortable guessing that this is your issue right now, especially because you're probably a lot more passionate about your startup than many of your employees are.
That's not an indictment. Just a statement of fact. You can't expect the same level of enthusiasm and commitment from your employees. You just can't.
Now, your experienced employees probably knew what they were getting themselves into. That's why they get it. Your junior staffers, on the other hand, may have had no idea they'd be expected to work nights and weekends when they signed on--and that's why they're pissed off. It's a great reminder to make your expectations about work hours clear from the outset when you bring on new people.
I hope you're at least compensating them for the extra work. I've been in their shoes before without any form of financial compensation, and it absolutely sucked. A former boss once told me that I was expected to work nights and weekends because that was the industry standard. That I should have known simply by virtue of my career choice.
On those nights, I'd finish my work and try to go to sleep. More often than not, I'd lie awake staring at the ceiling, my thoughts coalescing around a single idea: Working nights and weekends may have been how you got ahead, but you have no right to demand the same from me. I prided myself on my time management skills, so if I was putting in hours outside the office, it meant I was truly overworked. Maybe even doing the work of multiple people. And I wasn't earning multiple salaries for it.
You can understand that frustration, right? It feels disrespectful, and even your most passionate young employees want to be treated with respect. It's unhealthy, too: Just last week, I wrote a story about the health dangers of staying connected to your workplace around the clock. According to one study, the expectations alone of responding to emails after normal work hours can result in anxiety and strain for both employees and their significant others.
Now, this doesn't mean I'm never willing to work outside of regular hours. And it's not like money is the only incentive there is. If I'm working on a project that I'm really excited about, I'll make time for it. Even on nights and weekends. And if I feel like I'm doing my job well, that personal satisfaction will sometimes outweigh the annoyance of working when I'd rather be sleeping.
And that's your solution. If you need your junior staffers to work late regularly, try to give them work they want to do, not work they have to do. Make it worth their while--if not with overtime pay, then with perks, special recognition, comp time, or performance bonuses. Otherwise, you'll find yourself needing to replace a bunch of junior staffers, on top of everything else you're doing on nights and weekends.
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