The New Norm: Making the Too-Long Work Day Work For You

Six months into my “9-to-5:30 job with occasional overtime,” the position has turned into an 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. every Monday through Friday gig. I receive no extra compensation for these extra hours.

Q: This year I accepted a position with a new company. I was hired with the understanding that overtime would be required a couple of days toward the end of each month. Six months into my “9-to-5:30 job with occasional overtime,” the position has turned into an 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. every Monday through Friday gig. I’m salaried and receive no extra compensation for these extra hours. Plus, I feel misled. Is there anything I can do?

I acknowledge you for speaking up. It’s easy to go along with the 12-hour work days, not speak up and to have that lead to resentment or burnout down the track. Instead of waiting for this to happen, take steps now to set up something which works for you. I have outlined some suggestions below.

Set a time to speak with your manager ASAP.

If you are working considerably more hours than you were led to believe, which it sounds you are, then I would definitely set a time to speak to your manager. You’ve been in your new position for six months, so it is probably time for a review. The review is useful for you, as well as your boss, to discuss and manage expectations of your performance and career progression.

Ask for a review of your compensation structure.

During the review, if it becomes apparent that the “normal” working hours are closer to a 12-hour day than a 9.5-hour day, then you should definitely be reviewing your compensation structure. Without knowing which industry you’re in, or what job you do, it’s hard for me to advise on specifics. However, if the role is now very different from what was outlined during the interview, then in my experience, a discussion is warranted. If you aren’t able to get a higher base immediately, then negotiate to be included in the bonus pool at year end.

Setting boundaries.

In any new job, most of us are keen to show we are committed to the new role. Unfortunately, what starts out as trying to make a good impression by staying late and starting early, looks as though it’s become the new normal. It may be a simple conversation with your boss, setting a boundary and reminding her/him that the original expectation was from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. — and that a twelve hour day was supposed to be the exception, and not the rule.

Look for inefficiencies and come up with a plan.

In many offices, there is a lot of wasted time. Unproductive meetings can take chunks of time — particularly if you’ve arrived on time, and meetings start late. And minutes spent walking to the coffee machine, chatting with colleagues about the weekend and surfing the internet also can add up. I’m not suggesting you never get a coffee, or say hello to colleagues, but take a look at ways you can streamline your time so that you can complete your job within a normal work day. Skipping non-essential meetings a couple  times a week for example can free up time so you can leave early on a more frequent basis.

Remember time for self-care.

If 12-hour days are required going forward, then be sure to make time for self-care. Leave your desk periodically throughout the day — perhaps for a quick walk around the block for some fresh air. Some companies have gyms in their building. A 30-minute break from the desk for a quick workout can rejuvenate so you are more efficient for the rest of the day. Avoid eating lunch at your desk on a consistent basis. Ensuring you have a good self-care routine can significantly improve your time in the office and help offset the side effects of long work days.

Seize learning opportunities.

Aside from the long hours, if it’s a good company and you like your colleagues and your job, then be sure to make it work for you. Be proactive and seize learning opportunities. Perhaps you have a choice of projects you are working on. Or you could seek out more responsibilities, and some parts of your job can be given over to junior staff or interns. If you are going to be investing these additional work hours each week, then look for opportunities where you can use the time to advance your career. And make a point of bringing up your commitment in your review. The additional hours could be an opportunity where you get to fast-track your career.