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What is ‘working hard’ anyway?

As I’ve mentioned before, I not-so-secretly think that people who come in early and stay late just to look good to their bosses are dumbasses.

Here’s what I think when you work more than 40 hours, staying late until 9 p.m. at night in the office almost every night, or even weekends….

You are:

  1. Not asking for enough money per year so that overtime is justified and even welcomed
  2. Probably wasting time chatting with your co-workers while not getting anything done during the day
  3. Concerned that your results aren’t actually up to par, so you put in long hours to look better
  4. Don’t have the skills to actually do the job so it takes you longer to finish
  5. Are being overworked and should learn how to say ‘No’ more often
  6. Avoiding going home because you hate your partner and/or family life (..heard this one before)
  7. Working in the wrong areas — you may be working hard but you aren’t productive


Although I will admit there are other reasons that could be justifiably OK.

If you are doing it to:

  • learn a new job because it’s a new career
  • climb the ladder (all the while knowing how silly it is, but you’re just playing the game)
  • working all those hours because you’re being paid an insane amount of money that justifies it
  • avoid traffic — some cities are nasty at 5 p.m.

… those are the only exceptions I can see to working more than 40 hours, although if it’s to avoid traffic, I’d come in early and leave early.

You have a REASON to work more than 40 hours because you have a GOAL.

But hey, if you’re willing to work overtime for free (yes, for free, if you are being paid an annual salary) for a company who doesn’t really care about you, then maybe you have other reasons that I’m not seeing.


When I talk about ‘working hard’ in a company to make a difference so you can ask for more money, there is NOWHERE where I mention doing it just for appearances only.

That is by far, the worst reason to work late in the office.

I’ve worked plenty of unpaid overtime in my life.

I did it because for the reasons above — it was a new job I wanted to learn how to do well, or I wanted (or thought I wanted) to climb the corporate ladder.

I made a choice, bit the bullet and toiled.

But other than for those reasons, people who are supposed to know their jobs, shouldn’t have to stay late to pretend they’re working as hard as, or harder than their colleagues to get a raise without actually doing anything productive.

I’ve seen people deciding stay late at the office, standing around, CHATTING TO EACH OTHER.

Why should I be the only donkey who stays and actually works hard or works more when no one else does it?

It’s false economy because I’m really just devaluing my own personal time by indirectly supporting my own enslavement.

Obviously, I don’t do this any more unless I get paid hourly (in which case, I am happy to stay until 10 p.m., sitting and billing while I’m in useless meetings that go nowhere).

Very happy.


If you can get things done in a shorter period of time, and the quality is just as high as someone who took twice as long, you are far more valuable to the company.

And don’t forget to mention that at your review, and bring it up so that your boss is aware that you aren’t just an Office Dumbass trying to fool her with your fake late nights.

Personally, I never have a fear of not being able to find another job — even being fired.

I see it as a great opportunity, because what you want, is to be with a company that recognizes your true skills and talent, rather than being with a company that thinks face time and perception is more important.

Even if people half-joke and try to peer pressure me by saying: “Oh you’re leaving already? I’m staying until 8 p.m. to finish my work“, I always reply: “Good for you. See you tomorrow.


Plenty of people work hard. Working hard in the right areas, matters.

For example:

Person 1: Always trying to fix problems that arise from a lack of organization. Spends her time running back and forth like a chicken with its head cut off, works late nights, weekends to catch up to her messy work habits (it’s like a nasty snowball, disorganization.)

Person 2: Spends time trying to find a system that works for them to be more organized. Spends her time looking for ways to be more efficient, to cut extra steps out of her work. Spends her late nights and weekends working to try and get the best system in place.

Those two are working just as hard, there’s no question about it. Guess which one is more productive?

In the long-run, it will be Person 2 (in case you haven’t guessed), who will have the right work habits in place to do her job with as little mistakes as possible.

Person 1, will continually make mistakes, spend more time, and become exhausted by her work snowball.

Person 2, will eventually not have to do as much, and will be ahead of the work snowball by a long shot.

I’d rather be Person 2.

Do you work late a lot? Why?


  • SP

    I rarely work late in the office, but have been known to work from home in the later evenings or some weekends. Why?
    1) international collaborations sometimes require calling into an evening meeting (this is not super common right now, but being in a science world, it is certainly not unheard of)
    2) Work that I believe in and am passionate about has a deadline, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it done. This happens, but not frequently enough to be bothersome.
    3) Business development / proposals. Proposals are a HUGE effort in my industry. Each is a very technical proposal that requires a unique system design for each RFP, total project length being proposed is ~4 years, $150M is considered a small proposal, and lots of collaborations to coordinate. But they aren’t funded very well. At my last job, they were funded, but you also ended up working extra to meet deadlines. At my current job, they aren’t funded really at all. Most people do them “on the side” for free. You also don’t have to do them, but I really get a thrill from this kind of work, and if we don’t win new stuff, eventually the jobs will dry up.

  • Tania

    I’ve turned the corner on working a shorter time but getting more done per hour. I prioritize my tasks first thing in the morning. On a few days I may check my email first but on other days I do the big higher priority tasks first before I touch anything administrative. I find email can turn into a time filler. If I limit how much time I have for email, I move a lot faster through it. I do stay late at least one night a week and do use that time for projects that benefit from less interruption and yes for process improvement (as you mentioned above). Improving and changing a process can feel very time consuming but if done right, the department will get more and more efficient. I admire working mothers in this regard. They get their stuff done in less hours because they need to. I’ve observed my co-workers and have tried to follow their example to not waste time even though I’m not a mom myself.

  • Corianne

    Yes I’m person 2! Only reason I stay later (like half an hour to an hour later) is to finish urgent stuff that I haven’t got to because all the damn fires got in the way or because my system has fallen apart. Generally though I try to keep to my hours. It also forces me to work harder and get things done in time.

    As my weeks vary in busy-ness I try to prep what I can (draft emails, set up email campaigns, draft texts, update to do lists, think of things I should do but are not on my to do lists, etc) when I have quiet time. Most tasks don’t require much time but sometimes there is an emergency and then I’m glad I have my system and I’m prepared.

  • Izabela Michalska

    I work much more longer than I should. I know that and I’m angry. Sometimes I manage to do a lot of things from my “to do list” in 4 hours and I can call it a day, but more often – I get distracted with internet, or I think over and over one problem and could not solve it, and as a consequence I can’t start next thing on my schedule – finnaly I work all day (and part of night). Nightmare.

  • Ramona

    Used to work 16 hours/day back in 2009, when I started freelancing full time. Stupid me. Fortunately it lasted for 2-3 months, since I started earning more and increased my rates. Now I work 2 hours/day and still get a lot of important stuff done. My income is better now than before.

  • maz

    I used to work late (8/9 ), sometimes even week-end when required. I loved my job but granted, money was a big factor. Also my contact stipulated that 48 hours a week was standard, my MD was always very generous. I stopped working 4 years ago, had my 3rd kid. I ( & my hubby ) own my home ( I’m mortgage free ) am debt free and got a healthy bank account. So yes 15 years ago, my friends used to tell me to have a break, have fun, go on holidays. I’m glad I never listened to them. Most of them still work “hard”, pay rent/mortgage and sadly, got debt &/or live on credit card. I do intend to go back to work next year when my youngest starts nursery but this time, I’ll be more relaxed. I might even work part time. It’s very satisfying to know that all those years of “hard work” aka endless hours in the office have paid off. ( In case you wonder, I am 41 yrs old & technically I don’t”need” to work anymore, it’s a choice )

  • Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial

    I work late sometimes, but I also get paid by the billable hour, so time worked is directly proportional to pay. in general, I try to avoid getting to the point of having to stay late, but sometimes clients drop big deadlines on us last-minute that we can’t prep for because then we’d be spending their money and we can’t do that without their authorization which they are too stubborn to give until a week before a major event. Those probably only happen a handful of times per year though (on average, maybe 2-3?). Otherwise, I might work late here or there, but it’s certainly not a frequent occurrence.

  • Dan

    I’m lucky enough to have left a company so disorganised that I (as one of the last links in the chain before immovable deadlines) would inevitably end up regularly staying late to do my job with other peoples (late) information.

    I’ve now joined a company where other departments are held to account by the board and expected to hit their own deadlines. Making it easier for me to hit mine.

    It was horrific at the old place trying to manage people outside of my sphere of control and manage up to the board to try and get some leadership on the issue. I don’t miss it.

    Moral of the story, if your staff are staying late then manage it or lose them.

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