AFR: My boss is a workaholic. How can I keep up without ruining my life? - Michelle Gibbings

Thank you to the Australian Financial Review and Euan Black, work and careers reporter for inviting Michelle to share her advice on how to keep up with your boss if they are a workaholic.

The problem: My boss has always been a total workaholic – it’s what makes him happy. The three of us who report to him have long resisted letting his weekend work schedules stop us living our lives (emails will wait till Monday etc). But this has gotten harder lately because he’s found and hired someone just like him.

Now, one person in the team works all the time, like our boss, and the rest of us are feeling shown up and regularly out-of-the-loop.

How can I make sure I’m still visible, and considered for pay rises and promotions, without sacrificing every evening and weekend in front of my laptop like my new colleague does? I like my team and what I do, but not at the expense of the rest of my life.

The advice: Clarifying your boss’ expectations is a good place to start, according to Gibbings. He may not realise he’s created an environment in which people feel like they need to work on the weekend. So scheduling a conversation will give you both an opportunity to understand how you can best work together.

“I’d be framing it along the lines of, ‘I’m really keen to contribute as much as I can to this role, and I’d love to have a conversation about how we work together. Are you open to it?’” Gibbings says.

“Now, if they say, ‘no’, well, you know exactly where you stand in terms of the nature of the relationship, but they’re more likely to say, ‘yes’. And then in that conversation, I’d be really digging into that sense of expectation.”

Gibbings says the aim of this conversation should be to clarify your boss’ expectations while making it clear that having time to rest and recharge is important to you. (Research also shows that rest is an integral component of high performance.)

“It might be that they say, ‘actually, there are some times when I need you to work on weekends, particularly if there are issues that are critical’, and then you can go, ‘okay, well, how do we then have an agreement about what that looks like? How can you flag to me those emails that are really critical because there’s an issue that’s urgent that we do need to deal with over the weekend and outside of standard working hours?’,” Gibbings says.

The conversation could lead to new policies that require employees to schedule non-critical emails to be sent during business hours, or allow others to ignore these messages when they’re sent outside them.

“What you’re trying to do is actually have a conversation around those ways of working rather than [making] assumptions.”

As for how to ensure you’re still considered for pay rises and promotions, Gibbings says it’s important to showcase your work rather than assume that others have seen it.

“If you’ve got regular one-on-ones, one of the things that can be really helpful to do is, two days before that meeting, send them an email [that lists] what you’ve achieved since your last conversation and [explains] what you’re working on,” Gibbings says.

“Sometimes we assume that people are seeing what we’re doing, [but] they won’t necessarily see it, so you need to tell them what you’re doing.

“And, secondly, build relationships beyond your boss so he’s not the only one who can advocate for you, and attest to the quality of your work.

“Depending on the size of the organisation, you need advocates beyond your boss if you want to get promoted.”

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