When women entered the male dominated workplace we were confident we had the fortitude to climb the corporate ladder with our kids and family life slung over our shoulder. We knew we were great multi-taskers and time managers. So, there should be nothing barring us from climbing the corporate ladder to success.
But as we started climbing the ladder, what we didn’t count on were the changes men would make in the demands of the workplace. To men, work is a competitive place, where they consistently seek new ways to determine status and dominance. One of the changes they made was to no longer value getting work done quickly and efficiently so you didn’t have to stay late. According to the new values, only expendable employees went home after 8 hours and worked a mere 40 hours per week.
This new value worked against women who wanted to get in, get done and get home to their families. Now to compete with men, they felt pressure to stay longer. How much longer? Over the years, the time spent at work in order to get ahead has been driven to the extreme – if you aren’t squeezing every last drop of energy out of yourself and giving it to your career then you aren’t doing enough.
My Long Hours Means I Am Important
When I was a 2nd Lt in the Air Force, my fellow 2nd Lt, Terry, felt the need to walk around the building every morning letting everyone know that he came to work at 7:00 am. He spent his first 45 minutes walking around with his coffee cup in hand telling everyone how important he was. He usually got to my desk around 7:35. Finally one day, he came by at 7:40 bragging to me that he arrived so early that he had to make the coffee because no one else had arrived yet. I looked at him and I said, “I didn’t get here until 7:20 but I’ve already done 20 minutes worth of work.” And then gave him the “and what have you accomplished so far” look.
Everywhere I’ve worked there are several men who equate the time spent at work to their level of importance. What they actually accomplish while at work is irrelevant – it is all about presence – I am too important to go home. I’ve known some that believe the organization and the building itself will implode if they arrive too late or leave too soon.
Over the years, the number of hours men spend at work became subject to one-up-manship. The need to work 50 hours a week became 60, then 70, then 80. For some the ultimate claim was having a wife that was so unhappy with the time he spent at work, that she was threatening to leave him. That then got trumped by the wife who set off the “wife alert.” This when the boss’s wife calls her husband to let him know an employee’s wife is at her breaking point and the husband must go home immediately. Having the boss step in and tell a man he must take some time off is the pinnacle. Of course the husband could never leave right away – he had to wait until his boss saw him again and said “I thought I told you to go home?”
It was all about driving towards the extreme…an extreme with no limit.
Managers also engaged in the game and helped drive it through Empire Building. Managers had to demonstrate the importance of their department within the organization by creating the illusion that it had so much work it could barely keep up. Managers made requests for more personnel and employees were “highly encouraged” to stay late to maintain the illusion of too much work. If an employee did not stay late then he did not support his manager’s upward mobility and was deemed expendable.
How many times do we hear about people working 16-18 hour days and 100+ hour weeks?! A couple of years ago I was flying home and watching an airline video where they interviewed a woman gazillionaire who claimed to work 16 – 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. I think we are supposed to be impressed and in awe. We are supposed to feel not worthy. OMG!! I only worked 65 hours this week, no wonder I am not getting ahead and getting rich!
Give me a break!
At the time I was working 15+ hour days full of stress trying to salvage a failing project. I know the toll it takes on you to work 80-90-100 hours a week for an extended period! I know most people can’t or won’t do it for very long – a few weeks or a few months at the most. So when I hear someone talk about spending massive hours at work, I take a good look at them. If they don’t look like they were run over by a truck, then I know they are just bragging. They may “spend the time” at work, but there is a difference between being there and working.
This is a critical distinction that women need to understand – that men already do!
The difference between men and women is that women see what needs to be done and work to get it all done. Men see what they can get done and do just that. When our plates are full, we run and get a bigger plate. Men don’t. If more gets piled on a man’s plate, it just falls off.
Men have a limit as to how much work they can do and how much stress they can handle in a day. And they are very insync with their personal limits! You will see this play out when there are stressful times and everyone has to work long hours.
During those stressful times men hit their limit and leave. They just leave. It may be 2:00 in the afternoon and they are gone. When they return to work the next day, they go back to working closer to normal hours.
The women however keep working the longer hours. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I have seen this play out. When you are the only woman in the office, it feels like a heavy burden – like you are carrying the weight of office. So we need to do a reality check – are you trying to do more than what is expected? What happens if you back off like the guys did? Can you keep working hard and use this as an opportunity to take the lead on the project?
I believe that if I am going to the one working late to get a stressful project done on time to high quality standards, then I am going to take over as the lead and take the credit. What is surprising is that the guys let you! So don’t just keep working the long hours and theb let someone else get the credit. After the guys hit their limits and back off, make the project yours!
Take A Good Look Around the Office
If men are working longer hours, but not getting bigger plates to fill then it means they are just filling up their existing plate slower. Take a look around your office and see if this is what is happening.
Do you have a Terry who comes in super early? What time does he leave? Most of the guys I’ve worked with that come in super early also leave early – they still work a set number of hours per day and leave like clockwork. I have often questioned what men who arrive so early do at that time of the day. Are they really working? How do we know? To the guys it doesn’t matter what they do. I think in the male mind, arriving early means you are taking charge of the day. It creates an image and that is what is important.
How long do the guys take for lunch? Does it take them 15 minutes before lunch to coordinate where they are going, then they are gone for one hour, then come back and chat for another 10-15 minutes? Do they arrange lunches to discuss business? Those lunches usually run long and the business discussion lasts about 10 minutes. I hate going to those because I start stressing about all the real work I have to get done.
How much time do they spending chatting to each other? Women may have the reputation for talking a lot but the reality is men talk more than women. Women can talk and work simultaneously. Men do one or the other. Take time during the day to stroll around the office and see how many conversations you see – the guys sitting back in their chairs telling war stories. Listen to the conversation – it may sound like work, but evaluate how constructive and productive you think it is.
A lot of managers come in early and/or stay late so they can get their work done. I got into this habit – it was “my time.” I didn’t like other people coming in early or staying late and interrupting “my time.” I like my team to work as close to 40-45 hours per week as possible.
What I like is for them to come by my office towards the end of the day and tell me what they got done and what they were planning on doing the next day. After we talk, I don’t monitor how long they stay – we laid out a plan and that becomes the expectation. So make it a habit to stop by your boss’s office towards the end of the day to coordinate.
You may have a couple of male colleagues who are already in this habit. As a way to fill up their plate they may be monopolize the last hour of the day but don’t let that deter you. If they are in the boss’s office for more than 20 minutes, they are BS-ing. When you stop by if they are sitting back in their chairs talking, very relaxed, interrupt them. Your boss is like everyone else at the end of the day – wanting to finish his work and go home. If you help shoo out your colleague who is just there for face time you help keep your boss productive. That does register!
Our Reality Check
Don’t go into the Blue Zone and play the men’s – I am at work 12 hours a day because I am important – game. Men want to project the image that they have very large plates by being at work long hours. But the reality is that there is no correlation. As women we don’t want to burn ourselves out by filling up very large plates every day.
When those times come that long stressful hours are required, we need to see it as an opportunity. After the men hit their limit if you continue working long hours, make the project yours. Seize you opportunity to shine.
Then when you completed the project, don’t forget to recognize and celebrate your accomplishment – your way!
Empowered women establish their importance by what they accomplish.
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