As 40 raps her tired knuckles against my birthday this year, I have seen a distinct change in how I operate. The little hell cat that used to go out every night after work in her 20’s (I did shift work, it was kind of OK to hit the clubs at midnight back then) and dance toting a long neck and a water bottle is far more at home with a camomile and a book these days.
In fact, my best mate of 20 years who used to be the guy I would have most of my crazier adventures with chides me on a regular basis.
“Oh my,” he says, “I almost don’t recognise you.”
Sometimes, I don’t even recognise her either. She was a hell of a lot more neurotic, that’s for sure.
I am glad I was a little nutty though. Because the one thing I have learned from the 5am finishes and the buying of clothes from the fast fashion stores on George street to give the illusion I have been home has taught me something.
That work hard, play hard is a steaming pile of poo.
You’re example may not be as extreme as mine, but there is still a culture that affirms that you’re entitled to party hard after working hard and this somehow makes it all better.
It doesn’t. It honestly doesn’t make up for it or mean anything worthwhile.
So here are some of the wool pulling ways the modern workplace has you swallowing ridiculousness in order to keep you tied to an unsustainable work hard play hard mantra.
We’ll get some Thai and open the bar fridge
Once in a while during peak periods, this is OK. Like if you work in finance and its end of year or when it all gets a bit campaign crazy in agency land around spring.
But if you’re finding you’re eating dinner at your desk with a brewski in hand is a regular occurrence, you may also find yourself being groomed for an increasingly insane workload.
Encouraging you to drink while you work may seem like a nice thing to do, but let’s face facts- its bribery. And its bribery based on knowing that something is being taken from you in the shape of your evenings.
Once, twice, three times a charm. But the minute it becomes your regular working life, make sure you weigh up how much you are losing against what value that job really has to your long term plans.
It’s why we pay you the salary we do
Now this dandy little chestnut plops into the conversation whenever someone knows they are taking advantage of you.
Have you ever noticed though that while they’re very keen to remind you that you’re receiving a handsome salary and perks, that your contract will also stipulate the hours you’re meant to work in a week? And that even if it has caveats to include after hours work and extension of hours, that doesn’t mean you work 6 days a week and 12 hours a day?
What most people don’t realise is that labour laws don’t allow for you to be placed in a situation where you need to keep an overly extended working week on a regular basis. This is regardless of your individually negotiated contract.
If you work harder than the average working week you could be entitled to time in lieu, increased wages, meal allowances and a whole lot of perks you aren’t exercising.
So if they want to pay you the salary to match the hours, you make damn sure you get the compensation in perks and financial remuneration to match.
Set a good example for the rest of the team by staying
I once had a job that required us to stay at our desks until the allotted time had run down on the work day clock. It also meant keeping up appearances when it was busy.
There were a lot of clean desks in that office and some very skilled solitaire players. And we all knew this was the case, but we had to keep playing the game because the boss thought somehow his thought bubble was a humungous cone of silence.
Whether you’re being scalded for leaving at 4:45pm after starting at 7am (that happened too) or you’re the proud owner of a desk so shiny the boss can see his forehead veins in it, it doesn’t matter.
What looks professional is actually one of the most inefficient, time wasting and unproductive use of that company’s time, money and resources.
I know that sounds brutal, but come on. If they’re more concerned about looking busy then being busy, you’ve got a dead company waiting to happen.
You may be important enough to be needed to oversee things, but there isn’t much to oversee once the inefficiency catches up with the company.
Instead, try to encourage a policy that better uses the company’s time so you have jobs to go to. Or find somewhere else to work before they take you down with them.
If you don’t do it, who will?
It’s wonderful to feel as though you’re the only person the company can rely on. And maybe you do have a skill-set that’s so totally amazing that you can’t be emulated. But that doesn’t mean you should always be the only person responsible for a workload that is continually more than two people.
Sharing knowledge, collaborating and delegating are the tools of smart managers. In these days of contracts, job share, internal up-skilling programs and part time allocations, there is no need for you to be the sole shag on a work rock island.
So rather than allowing yourself to be the soon to be burnt out office star, look at ways you can get help. Reject the flattery in favour of a solid plan towards a manageable workload.
Once we’ve finished this project, we’re home and hosed
That finish line is delicious. You can almost taste it. And yet deep down inside you know that the finish of this line will be met with another race to grow in its place.
There’s always another project. It’s up to you to take your holidays, grab back your evenings and look towards the weekends.
So many freelancers and agency workers know this is the case, yet we merrily trip around on the finish line fantasy, waiting for a different outcome.
It’s hard when you get happiness from that sense of seeing something go live. It’s terribly addictive to know that each new product or campaign is covered with the sweat and tears of your worker DNA.
But you can’t buy the line for too long before the shine well and truly comes off the apple and that taste of success is ashes in your mouth.
You’re a responsible adult person. Kick yourself out of your chair for lunch. Hang the “I’m home for the night” shingle on your phone. Set the out of office to state you are on holidays. Stop checking your stupid bloody emails.
And get out and be a non-worker for a while.
Don’t let the joy you get from success replace the space you need to be someone who has a break.
Why I don’t buy the work hard play hard mantra
As cynical as it sounds, I have seen the juniors who want to impress the boss who work they bum off only to be replaced by the next set of juniors willing to do the same thing.
I’m mates with many refugees of the white collar professional world’s who have chosen to rework how they manage their career and place focus on something a little more interesting than being the boss’ drinking buddy.
And I’ve been made redundant from a job I worked hard at and garnered respect all because I was an item on a balance sheet to a HQ that wanted to off-shore the business.
It’s never personal. And that’s part of the problem.
You’re giving your personal life to something that doesn’t really feel that same level of personal investment in you.
We want job security and recognition. Having people care about who we are and rely on us is something some of us crave as part of our working lives. Because of this, it’s easy to get caught up in the desire to want the praise and accolades or be the cool person who is always in control and in the know.
But it doesn’t matter if you’re over-worked, unhappy and missing out on the fundamental things in life like relationships, friendships, your kids lives, socialising, enjoying yourself and sticking your toes in the water on occasion.
And that’s why work hard, play hard is a bunch of bull.
If you’re ready to cut the cord with the culture of overwork, join us for ‘the myth of work-life balance in a get-ahead culture’ as part of Vivid Ideas on June 7th.