When You’re the First to Arrive and the Last to Leave

At nearly every job I’ve had, including this one, I’ve had a tendency to be one of the first to show up at the office, and one of the last to leave.

My reasons for this:

• Once I fall into a routine, coming in early and leaving late becomes my mode of operation.

• Mornings and evenings—when there are fewer people around, no meetings to attend, and the news cycle has yet to begin or has already ended—tend to be the most productive times for me (you’ll notice that if you email me, I’m more likely to respond late at night, or early in the morning).

• I have a tendency to take on too much work and need the additional time to get everything done.

• I believed that my capacity to take on extra work and dedicate the extra time to my job to get everything done was, if not bad for work-life balance, good for climbing up the career ladder. The go-getter is eventually rewarded, right?

Once, at one of these jobs, a senior-level colleague who was not in charge of managing me pulled me aside and whispered, “Go home.”

“Wait, what?”

“Go home,” she said again. “Why are you working so hard? We talk about you, you know. You work hard—everybody knows that. But you know what your boss says about you? He says you like staying late. He says you like taking on more work, and that you never complain about it. And he’s taking advantage of that—of you. You are affordable, efficient labor to him and he’s going to keep you around, keep you under his thumb. So, go home. Give yourself back some free time. If you’re here waiting at a night for promotion, you’re not going to see one.”

She was right about the promotion. I went home.

There’s a business principle that many of us use when we’re at work: “under-promise and over-deliver.” It’s the smart way to please your boss or your clients or whomever you’re working for.

But how effective is that really?

I worked long hours and over-delivered and it didn’t propel me up the ladder. Instead, my boss saw me as a good value—two employees for the price of one.

Bloomberg Businessweek put it a little more bluntly recently: “Nobody Cares How Awesome You Are at Your Job.” The conclusion comes from some studies that behavioral scientists from UC-San Diego and the University of Chicago did:

Epley and Gneezy conducted several studies, ranging from a simple survey of people’s satisfaction after a promise was exceeded to actually promising their subjects something and then seeing what would happen when they broke, met, or outshined it. It turned out that there was almost no change in people’s levels of satisfaction when they were given more than what they were promised. Epley finds this particularly interesting in light of all the promises that companies make to their customers. “If you deliver books for Amazon.com and you promise four-day delivery, getting it to people in three days isn’t that beneficial to you,” says Epley. In other words, this explains why I’m only mildly pleased when my plane flight is a few minutes early but I’m furious when it’s delayed.

The reason for this, Epley says, is that promises work a bit like verbal contracts. If I promise you something and you accept that promise, you assume I’ll do it, nothing more, nothing less.

And so I stopped over-delivering and instead did my job (still well!) and went home when everyone else did. My boss barely noticed the change. The truth is, nobody cares how many hours you work—they just want to see some results, and I delivered (and sometimes still over-delivered).

Now, I am self-employed and effectively my own boss. I still come in early and still leave pretty late. Why am I working so hard, and whom am I doing it for? I’m doing it for me.


Photo: Jamal Fanaian


12 Comments / Post A Comment

Aw, Mike, I feel this. The realization of being taken advantage of is the worst though.

Somehow I’ve managed to be the first person in the office for the past few weeks, I think because school is over. Lately I’m really pleased with it–I can move at my pace, get organized, and I like being able to do these things on my own. Contract’s up soon, though, so we’ll see….

The Mole (#2,633)

“…nobody cares how many hours you work—they just want to see some results”
This is spot-on, and many with 0-5 years of experience would do well to understand that. As long as you do in fact show results, that is.

@The Mole I was interviewing a buddy for a project who works in backend development and said the company culture was basically if you can get results and you’re just sitting around waiting for your hours to end, go home. If he needs time off, he takes it, but he makes sure he gets his shit done. I realize this can be common in tech (??) but MAN. That would be the dream.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@The Mole Although they do care if you work noticeably LESS than the norm. Although even there, results help.

garli (#4,150)

@The Mole Yeah not at my job. Since we make physical things here some one needs to be here for support to the floor. The worst is when you really have nothing to do but wait until you’re needed, but you can’t leave.

bgprincipessa (#699)

Re: “also people hate hearing how many hours you work” – yes, this is mostly true. But you know when it especially bothers me? When it’s my boss. Yes, I know you worked on Sunday, I saw the emails. Guess what? You make about 7x what I do. I do not feel bad for you. I am not impressed. This was your choice.

AitchBee (#3,001)

@bgprincipessa YES. My boss looooooves to talk about how he was up until 3am working on a bug (it’s a tech company), and I just want to tell him that I’m not impressed by his inability to manage his time.

Lily Rowan (#70)

@AitchBee Yessss.

potatopotato (#5,255)

@bgprincipessa: Similar? The non-profit boss who tells everyone about how he’s not cashing his paychecks. Dude, the reason we’re going under is that you suck at fundraising, you manage the money terribly, you won’t send anyone for grant writing training, and you butcher or dismiss any ideas anyone presents to raise funds. No, I’m not impressed that you’re pouring your life savings into a sinking ship. I think you’re an idiot.

twofish (#5,481)

My boss is always in early and out late, and he works through lunch EVERY DAY. Now, he would never ask any of his employees to do the same, so we’re left to decide how closely we want to emulate that.
I have one coworker who mimics his hours. If I ask her to eat lunch, she looks panicked, like it’s not allowed.
I have one coworker who comes in late, takes long lunches and leaves late. God bless her for maintaining a bell curve.
I’m trying to play it middle of the road. I figure that so long as my bosses are happy with the quantity, quality and timeliness of my work, I don’t owe them anything more. But I also try not to draw attention to myself by leaving early. Often I just finish my work and then look at blogs until the clock runs out, and post comments (like this one) so that they hear me typing. So far, so good.

@twofish @twofish Are you me? I tend to do this on slow days. I have “work” up on my screen and a tiny window open in the corner where I catch up on my favorite blogs at the end of the day.

eemusings (#6,021)

The other thing about coming in early and leaving late = avoiding the worst of rush hour.

Comments are closed!