Why Does My Boss Act Like I Should Be Working More Than 9 to 5?

Most of us work more than we live, which is to say we spend considerably more time at the office and with our coworkers than we do with the human beings we actually want in our lives. It also means that the stressors and anxieties of work become a significant part of who we are — and can be a real drag even when we’re not at the office. We here at MEL, however, don’t want all that stress to get to you — or worse, kill you. That’s why we’ve enlisted Terry Petracca, the hippest HR expert we know, to help solve all your work-related woes.

My working hours, as set forth by my manager, seem to be meaningless. I’m allegedly supposed to work 9 to 6, but the unspoken reality is that any time I leave work right at 6, my manager clearly disapproves. I don’t get paid overtime, and yet the company culture seems to be that we all have to work 10–12 hours a day to prove… something? The fact is that my work is getting done inside regular office hours, but I’m worried that not pointlessly staying late every night is going to affect my future with the company. If they want me to be here all evening, why don’t they just make those the regular office hours and pay us accordingly? — Jeff V., San Diego
Many managers equate time on the premises with productivity: This is categorically NOT true. The most productive country in the world — Luxembourg — has an average work week of 29 hours, and every country in the top 15 puts in fewer hours per week than the U.S., which ranks fifth. Let’s add in the facts that the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world with no statutory minimum vacation and public holiday leave and that U.S. employees forfeit half their vacation time.

Bottom line here: American employees work very hard and are very productive (#5 is something to be proud of), but other countries have found different paths to success.

One of the differences between leaders and managers is that leaders are strategic, determining “what” and “why,” while managers focus on “how.” Managers are tacticians, not visionaries, and they’re evaluated by delivering the tangible and intangible goods. They need to hit their deadlines, produce the quantity and quality for which they’re responsible and generally make sure the work is getting done. The easiest way to do so, whether on a factory floor or in the office, is by having eyes on the team. On an assembly, people are clocking in and out so you know they’re producing the goods. In the office, “bed checks” (i.e., walking around and making sure everyone is there at 5, 6 or 7 p.m.) are the manager’s only way of ensuring that people are working hard. Consider it the occupational version of “Trust, but verify.”

I wonder whether your assertion of company culture is true, or if you’re viewing this in isolation. Have you walked around at 7 or 8 p.m. to check what’s happening in other departments? Does your company have an engagement survey where this can be raised and verified? Are your colleagues equally frustrated and/or depressed by the show of unnecessary after-hours?

You need to take charge here with facts: Read the Glassdoor reviews of your company and bring them to the attention of senior management if the excessive hours are showing up. Similarly, collect data to prove your department’s success and discuss them at departmental meetings. It’s up to you to prove to your manager that you (and your colleagues) can deliver outstanding results during regular work hours (with occasional longer days when really necessary). Because it doesn’t seem like they’re going to figure it out on their own.

Don’t just complain to your coworkers about everyone else you work with — let Terry help. Email her all your office-related anxieties at askterry@melindustries.com. Or, if total anonymity isn’t required, leave a question in the comments below.