The examples we set, the monsters we create

I had a conversation with my boss. I don’t remember what it was about, exactly, but in the midst of it, he indirectly suggested that it would be better if I started staying at work longer. I wasn’t setting a good example because I usually left between 16.30h and 17h, which was an abomination, apparently (not his words, exactly, of course).

But let’s set the record straight, before going any further: I wasn’t and never were a clock-watcher. I stayed late when it was needed due to certain timelines without anyone having to tell me so, just as I generally do what needs to be done, whether it’s something on my official task list or not. On average, I worked more than 8 hours a day (which means, more than I was officially paid for). Did there come a time every so often when I’d work less? Sure. But even that was carefully planned and compensated for, usually by working longer in advance. (Though I’m pretty sure, if I could, I could work effectively with fewer hours, too, but that’s another story.)

And most important of all: There was nothing wrong with my performance.

My boss actually concurred when I brought it up. It was just the whole appearance I was giving about it that was not up to the standard that he wanted.

when its all about how it looks

a moment of self-preservation

I admit that, for a brief moment, I considered his words. Not in terms of giving in but more in terms of appearing to give in. It would be easy. I would just start with work later, when others (especially him) would be there to witness it. And in effect, I’d leave later, where more people were leaving too. But I’d still work the same and with the same efficiency. I would’ve game the situation.

And just with that, I would get him off my back, I was sure of it. Life would be easy.

But in the end, I didn’t go through with it. I had enough reasons not to:

  • I cherished my late afternoons and evenings of free time. I didn’t want to give that up for the sake of pretense at a job, no matter what favors it would bring me from my boss.

  • It would feel ingenuine. I just couldn’t become that person. Especially since I abhorred his suggestion precisely because it was just about the superficial appearance.

  • Also, frankly, I didn’t want to give him the impression that he had won. I know this is somewhat childish, but he didn’t even have the guts to address this ‘issue’ directly and have an adult conversation. Instead, he tried to sort of manipulate me into obedience by suggesting that I will not be praised and acknowledged like others if I didn’t show my dedication this way.

  • And, of course, at the end of the day, I still believe in a healthy balance of work and life (and I know that I am efficient at my work, too). I still believe people shouldn’t be expected to work more than they are paid for (whether they are paid for time or for output). So this is still the example I wanted to set and follow. Even just pretending, I would be setting a different example altogether.

a worse culture in the making

In the beginning, the culture there was much healthier. Sure, sometimes people worked longer hours, but it always seemed to have a recognizable cause, like a certain important launch happening, or a surplus of work at that time.

But over time, long hours starting to become the new normal. The more new people joined the company, the longer everyone seemed to be staying at work (which seems pretty contradictory, doesn’t it?). Because many others stayed late at work. Because everyone wanted to leave a good impression at the start. Because it became more and more obvious that showing dedication this way was noticed and praised. Because, of course, the leadership gladly accepted this shift and encouraged it further by emphasizing those who did so. (I think they had always seen this kind of ‘dedication’ as an ideal and how things should be (even when they don’t have to be), but they were not willing to demand it directly and forcefully, which, at least, was lucky.)

But now, the new standard has crept in and they jumped on it with open arms.

when you set a standard you dont want

was it all your doing?

But you know what the sad part is?

Most of the employees would actually complain about this. They would say they didn’t like this way of working and overworking. If they could choose, they would choose differently, but of course.

But in fact, they had made their choice. They had created this monster, all on their own, without even realizing. (As alas, we all sometimes do the same in various aspects of our lives, I’m no exception.)

Sadly, I also think some of them started to be sort of angry at people like me who didn’t seem to work the same amount. And I fully get it and I don’t blame them for it, it does seem unfair. But that’s not a reason for me to start working more, just to make others feel better, is it.

Also, to be fair, I didn’t just stand there and enjoy some unfair advantage given to me. I was clear with my boss, even before getting the job, that I believed in efficiency (and that I was efficient, too) and a good balance and things like that (which makes me wonder, sometimes, how I even got this job to begin with …). And I started proving myself and my dedication early on, through other means than hours at work. And when more and more work started coming in and it became obvious it was there to stay, I acted early to push for hiring additional hands.

when you create your own predicament

Yes, I realize that in some ways, I might have been lucky. Maybe my work demanded less of ‘do it right now’ than someone else’s. Maybe it was less busy when I started, which made it easier to set this standard to begin with (which is definitely more difficult to change later on). And it wouldn’t have worked with just any boss in just any company.

But I did also work hard on creating and maintaining a reality that I wanted. Without it, I wouldn’t have that.

a trade-off

As for this issue, my boss never brought it up again. Not because anything had changed, I think he probably just considered me a lost cause (and avoiding confrontation at all cost, he was for sure not going to bring it up again). But I’m sure this was a black mark on my record from thereon. That was a trade-off I was making consciously (that probably not everyone is willing to make, or sometimes can’t make just like that due to life circumstances). Alas, I also don’t think I set much of an example in the end, the pull of the majority was too strong for that.

By the way, almost a year after I left that job, I was checking on what they were up to. I know that the outside view may not be complete (on the other hand, I know what could be seen ont he outside from the timeI worked there), but it very much seemed like they had done about as much as we had in a third of that time, back in my day. Without overworking. And with fewer hands on deck, too.

But then again, the productivity was never in question, was it? As my boss so openly admitted, it was all about appearance and how he believed things should look. That was all.

There was a condition you hated
You found every chance to berate it
But let us recall
You played a big role
‘Twas you who this monster created


April 21, 2021

Tags: Impact, Intentional, Working hours, Choices, Deliberate choice, Unintentional, Responsibility