This week I was really pleased to be asked by the Financial Times to comment on the unfair demands placed on our free time by our employers and organisations.

Where do I begin? 

First, you need to be on solid ground. “If you’re doing an outstanding job, you’ll be able to say ‘I’m going home on time because I’m hitting all my targets,’” says Fergus O’Connell, author of The Power of Doing Less.

Jane Barrett, founder of the Career Farm coaching consultancy, adds: “Do a bit of due diligence – are these hours the norm in your industry?”

Finally, ensure the battles you fight on this front are the ones that are important to you. Tellingly, people often become much better at saying no to unreasonable demands on their time when they have children.

How do I approach my manager?

The aim should be to educate your boss to show them that you have a life outside work.

“You might say, ‘Look I spend Saturdays with my kids and I can’t do these things if they’re not actually urgent’,” advises Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University. “Many people don’t realise they’re doing it or that it is causing you stress. Staff acquiesce because of job insecurity and by doing so reinforce the boss’s behaviour.”

Also, provide them with concrete examples, advises Ms Barrett: “You could say: ‘You’ve called me on five of the last six weekends and this isn’t sustainable. Can we talk about extra resources?’”

Mr O’Connell advises pointing out to your boss that if you do not recharge, your productivity will suffer: “It is worth reminding them that overworked people become hopelessly inefficient.”

What if I cannot approach my boss or they are not interested?

One avenue open to you is to tell HR you are working extremely long hours, says Prof Cooper. “HR people don’t like this because they worry about the cost of high staff turnover, being an employer of choice and employee stress.”

This works better if it is a shared problem and others will complain with you. Again, here you should offer evidence, not opinion – keeping a log of incidents will be far more persuasive than just saying your boss does not respect your time.

Are there any coping strategies?

You need to stop enabling your boss’s behaviour. “It’s very tempting to check your emails on Saturdays,” says Ms Barrett, “But if you reply to them, you send out the signal that it’s OK to send them.”

Mr O’Connell suggests helping your boss to be more organised: “People who behave in this sort of way often do so because they don’t plan and they’re constantly firefighting. So plan for your boss – put together and drive an agenda that includes you going home on time.” He adds that you can also respond to requests by saying, “I’ll take this call at 8:30pm, but I’ll do it from home.” This shows willing, but makes a point.

Rhymer Rigby
The writer is author of ‘The Careerist: Over 100 ways to get ahead at work’

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