8 April 2014

When You Work With Workaholics and You’re Not One

Your boss drops a project on your desk on Friday afternoon, just as you were getting ready to leave for the weekend. Your co-workers send you email at home in the evening, or work through lunch when you prefer to use the time for errands.

Trying to achieve a good work-life fit can be challenging under the best of circumstances. It can be all the more so if your manager or co-workers seem to expect you to be available at any hour of day or night. How can you preserve some boundaries — while demonstrating your commitment to your job — when you work with workaholics? Try these tips adapted from a recent Work & Family column by Sue Shellenbarger in The Wall Street Journal.

Make it a top priority to show that you work hard and are good at what you do. Let your manager see how much you contribute even if you’re not available 24/7.  Update her often on your results. And try “to figure out what the boss really needs and deliver it consistently enough” that your hours in the office — or what you do outside of it — become a non-issue, Shellenbarger suggested. When your manager knows you’re a high performer, it’s easier to set limits on things like co-workers’ after-work emails. And you won’t need to show your dedication by eating a tunafish sandwich at your computer instead of leaving the office at lunchtime.

Communicate often and well about your progress and plans. Anticipate the questions and concerns of your manager and others. You may be able to pre-empt some after-work calls or email messages, for example, by sending your boss and key co-workers quick updates before you leave work on your progress that day on projects that affect them. If you manager may drop an assignment on your desk just before you go on vacation, provide reminders of your plans in varied ways — by phone, email, and face-to-face –– in case your original message about it got buried. If you’re working on projects A and B and your manager still asks you to do project C at the last minute, ask for her help setting priorities or delegating: Can project A or B wait until you return? Can you hand one off to someone else?

Check your assumptions about what’s expected. Don’t assume that you need to maintain the work habits that others in your group or department do. Your manager and co-workers may not expect you to respond right away to email that you get at home after work — they may simply want you to have the information when you arrive at work the next day. If you’re unsure, ask. You may also be able to limit after-work communication from co-workers by setting up an auto-response for email that arrives after work — not just when you’re on vacation — saying that you’re unavailable and will respond to messages the next business day.

You’ll find more tips in Shellenbarger’s “When the Boss Works Long Hours, Must We All?